John Whitmire elected Houston’s next mayor

State Senator John Whitmire defeated Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in Houston’s mayoral runoff by a margin of 65% to nearly 35%.

John Whitmire gives his victory speech at his watch night party for the runoff election.
Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media
John Whitmire gives his victory speech at his watch night party for the runoff election.

State Senator John Whitmire has defeated Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to win election as the 63rd mayor of Houston. The tally from the Harris County Clerk's Office showed Whitmire beating Jackson Lee by a margin of 65% to 34% with roughly over 131,000 early votes cast.

“To my people in my campaign and supporters who have told me ‘You have to smile more.’ They don’t know what it’s like to be attacked… and I tell them I will try to smile,” Whitmire said at his election night watch party, following his victory. “Well tonight I’m smiling, and I’m smiling for the city of Houston.”

Whitmire led consistently in most polling ever since his first public announcement that he planned to run for mayor more than two years ago. The most recent poll, sponsored by Houston Public Media jointly with the Houston Chronicle and the University of Houston, showed Whitmire leading Jackson Lee by seven points, but with more than a fifth of likely voters still undecided.

Several trends from that poll seem to have ultimately worked in Whitmire's favor. The senator led strongly among older white voters and conservatives, two groups that are more likely than others to come out to vote in municipal runoff elections.

Black voters, a core constituency of Jackson Lee's, did not show the same support to the congresswoman in the first round of the mayoral contest as they did for Sylvester Turner during his first mayoral victory in 2015. Whitmire also benefited from a plurality of support among Latino voters. And while Whitmire led among men in Houston Public Media's poll, he also tied among women, cutting into another critical Jackson Lee support group.

Sheila Jackson Lee thanks supporters at her election night watch party.
Ashley Brown/Houston Public Media
Sheila Jackson Lee thanks supporters at her election night watch party.

"You worked real hard, you come from all over the city and you have hearts of gold," Jackson Lee said in her concession speech. “And I am very happy to be able to say we worked as hard, and I’m grateful for every vote.”

Jackson Lee said she would make an announcement within the coming days about what’s next for her.

While Houston's mayoral election is officially nonpartisan, Whitmire will enter the mayor's office with half a century's experience in public service as an elected Democrat. He was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1972 and won election to the Texas Senate in 1982. He was first appointed chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in 1993 and continued to hold the post long after Republicans took over the chamber. He leaves as its longest-serving member, with the unofficial title of "Dean of the Senate."

Whitmire is the former brother-in-law of Kathy Whitmire, who served as Houston's mayor from 1982 to 1991.

“We have so much to be thankful for, tonight we’re going to celebrate, I want to shake your hands,” Whitmire said. “But in the morning, we go to work. Thank you, let’s go to work.”