Council Candidates Square Off Over Public Safety

There is an open seat on Houston City Council and early voting for the run-off election ends tomorrow. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the two candidates are stumping a similar message from two different viewpoints.

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At-Large Position 3 became vacant last year when Shelley Sekula-Gibbs left Houston City Council to run for Congress. The city held a special election in May. Melissa Noriega won 47 percent of the vote. That's four points shy of what she needed to win the seat. So it comes down to a run-off election with Roy Morales, who came in second with 19 percent. Both Noriega and Morales cite public safety as their top concern for Houston. Noriega says the biggest public safety problem is the police officer shortage.

"People need to feel safe as they move around and are in their homes. We're down a little bit on our police presence. About 2.8 policemen for every thousand is what's considered best practice and we're down to about two. We have about 4,600 policemen and we need about 6,000. We need to work on getting some experienced officers in, we need to work on getting some academy classes through."

Roy Morales also lists public safety is his top priority. But he says the most critical aspect of it is illegal immigration.

"We have a serious problem not only here in Houston, but across the country. When you look at some of the figures that are out there, for example it's been reported that almost 45,000 U.S. citizens have lost their lives to illegal aliens since 9/11. And if we were just to say only ten percent of that was correct, then we have like 4,500 deaths. And that's more than U.S. citizens who have lost their lives in Afghanistan or Iraq."

Morales says he is against sanctuary and would end day-labor centers. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who vacated the position Morales is running for, also opposed Houston's unofficial sanctuary policy.

"We've got to be able to get it addressed on city council. Of course this is a mayor-controlled city, so we've got to make sure that we have people that are willing to address this on city council. We can make sure that we get rid of this perceived sanctuary program. I know other cities are actually defined that way and ours is kind of in a limbo, but it is still perceived south of the border."

Noriega, on the other hand, says city council needs to focus more on quality of life issues and how to carry Houston forward as a successful city.

"I was never so proud of everyone in our city as I was during the whole effort for Katrina. I think that can-do spirit and that Houston optimism and ability to get things done is what we need to use to focus on the future."

The two candidates are the only names on the ballot for the run-off election. They're running for an at-large position, which means all Houston residents who are registered can vote in the election. The run-off is Saturday. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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