Voter Voices: Houston residents chime in about mayoral candidates, key issues

Affordable housing, illegal dumping and infrastructure are among Houston’s most pressing issues, according to a sampling of voters interviewed by Houston Public Media, who also shared their thoughts about some of the mayoral candidates.

HPM Mayoral Debate Crowd
Daily Espinoza/Houston Public Media
Houston residents listen to mayoral candidates during a debate hosted by Houston Public Media on Oct. 19, 2023.

Honesty, transparency and sincerity are not often traits associated with politics and the people who run for public office.

But according to a sampling of voters interviewed by Houston Public Media, ahead of the mayoral and city council election on Nov. 7, those are qualities they care about as they pick the city's next group of leaders.

Houston resident Olga Watkins, 73, said she wants a mayor who is not running for political or egotistical reasons but "because they want the city to improve."

"Don't deceive us," added LaTricia Jules, 48, who lives in Houston's Fifth Ward. "Don't tell us one thing before you get elected and then, once you get it, you do your own thing."

Several community members talked to Houston Public Media about the issues most important to them and their neighborhoods, about the candidates and candidate qualities they prefer and also about the importance of voting in the Nov. 7 election, with early voting ongoing through Friday. There are 17 candidates on the ballot seeking to succeed term-limited Mayor Sylvester Turner, while the city controller position and all 16 seats on the Houston City Council also are up for grabs.

The need for more affordable housing was one of the most talked-about issues among the Houston voters, along with a desire for better infrastructure and flood resiliency and a greater crackdown on illegal trash dumping in and around neighborhoods. Beverly Parker, 76, said she wants to see more sidewalks in Houston, while 34-year-old Sunnyside resident Earnest Andrews said predominantly Black communities such as his would benefit from more schools, banks, hospitals and grocery stores.

"The drainage situation has been a constant battle in northeast Houston. That's why it's one of the most highly flooded places in the City of Houston," said Rain Eatmon, 31, who lives in Acres Homes. "The work has started, but I would love to see a candidate that not only supports the next district council member in getting the work done, but also pushing as hard as Mayor Turner did to get some funding into the community to really shore up a lot of the infrastructure that we haven't taken care of in so many years."

HPM Mayor Debate Listeners
Daisy Espinoza/Houston Public Media
Audience members watch a debate among Houston mayoral candidates on Oct. 19, 2023, at Houston Public Media.

Recent polling conducted by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston shows that Texas Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, both Democrats, are the clear frontrunners in the mayoral race, with Whitmire holding the advantage in a likely runoff. Watkins expressed disapproval about both of their candidacies, saying, "They're the names that everybody knows and they have the money, and they're also old like I am."

Other community members interviewed by Houston Public Media gave mixed reviews of Jackson Lee, 73, who has been a polarizing figure during her nearly three decades in Congress. Tacara Benson, 40, said she trusts Jackson Lee and has confidence in her ability to lead the city, while 62-year-old Matthew Olsen, who lives in Jackson Lee's congressional district, said he does not like her and "definitely am not going to vote for her."

Olsen added that he thinks Gilbert Garcia, the former METRO board chair who runs his own money management firm, might have a chance to win.

"Someone who's fiscally conservative, someone who uses my mucho tax dollars wisely," Olsen said of his ideal mayoral candidate. "Someone who has an inclusive administration. Someone who can do something about the infrastructure in Houston."

While Watkins said she does not want an entrenched politician to be Houston's next mayor, 66-year-old Roshida Downey said she is leery of first-time political candidates who make lots of promises but lack a track record to back up their claims. She wants candidates whose backgrounds align with their campaign talking points and who will find ways to serve the community even if they lose an election.

And it's important for voters to make their voices heard in an election, Downey said, regardless of which candidates they support.

"If you don't vote, then you have no say in what is going on in your neighborhood," she said. "I hear a lot of people say, ‘I'm not going to vote because they're not going to do anything.' You don't know if you don't try, so you have to continue to do it."