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Candidates Face Off In Last Houston Mayoral Debate

Houston Public Media joined with KHOU 11 News and Houston Free Press for the last mayoral debate before the start of early voting.

Panelists on stage
The debate was held Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Houston Public Media.

The seven major candidates faced a different format in this final debate. Each candidate was asked one question on a specific topic and got one minute to answer.

All of the questions were from viewers or were submitted by the public through social media. And it wasn’t just the usual topics like the city’s finances, bad roads and the controversial equal rights ordinance.

One question was about gentrification in Houston. All of the candidates agreed something needs to be done to address some of the unique problems that come with it.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner is the frontrunner in the race — according to latest News 88.7/KHOU 11 News election poll.

He said a city initiative giving developers $15,000 per unit in tax rebates has worked in terms of bringing housing to downtown.

“But now we need to focus on giving developers $15,000 to build affordable homes in neighborhoods,” he said. “And we need to keep the tax base constant, so we don’t force people out.”

Another question was regarding Houston’s infamous standing as a human trafficking hub.

Adrian Garcia said as Harris County sheriff, he implemented programs to deal with the problem.

“Once we get through the challenge of finding more officers to provide for the Houston Police Department, I do want to grow those programs,” Garcia said. “But we also need to continue to work with all the other stakeholders – other organizations like Free the Captives and Redeem Ministries.”  

Chris Bell was asked if the city’s civilian police oversight board should have the power to subpoena witnesses.

“We do need more transparency,” he said. “And a civilian review board with investigative powers will accomplish that.”

During the “lightning round,” several viewers asked questions directly to the candidates, who each had 10 seconds to respond. Issues ranged from mass transit to bicycle safety and a Houston-only minimum wage. The candidates mostly agreed with each other on those topics.

But the big issues were not ignored – such as the city’s finances.

City Council member Steve Costello said he has a plan to get the Legislature to transfer control over Houston’s pension system from the state to the city.

That has been tried before, without success.

If it doesn’t happen, Costello said, cuts will have to be made.

“Closing libraries, closing parks, taking people out of public safety that are doing administrative work,” he said. “Those are some of the additions that we’re going to have to do.”

Rebuild Houston, a pay-as-you-go program to fix infrastructure, was also discussed. Most candidates called it a good idea that has been implemented poorly.

Ben Hall and Bill King oppose it.

“We need to go back to what we were doing for 180 years in this city,” King said, “which is to have bond elections where the people get to decide what projects are going to be done, how much we’re going to spend on them.”

Early voting starts Monday, and Election Day is Nov. 3.

 

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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