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Whitmire, Jackson Lee Head To Runoff Election For Houston Mayor


Texas state Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee will face off again next month in the race to become Houston’s next mayor after neither managed to secure a majority Tuesday.

John Whitmire and Sheila Jackson Lee mayoral campaign signs seen in Houston on Tuesday.

In a race that county officials said drew just 17.5% of voters, Whitmire and Lee led a crowded field of 17 candidates to replace Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was elected in 2015. 

As of 10:40 p.m., Whitmire led Jackson Lee by a 43.6%-35.5% margin with 21% reporting. NBC News and other outlets projected a runoff

Vote tallying was expected to go into the early morning Wednesday. But most election experts were predicting neither would cross the 50%-plus-one margin to avoid a Dec. 9 runoff, though Whitmire heads into the race as the favorite.

Whitmire, 74, has served as a Democrat in the Texas Legislature for 50 years and attracted significant support from the real estate community. He began serving in the Texas House of Representatives in 1973 before being elected to the 15th Senatorial District, which represents north Houston and parts of Harris County, in 1983. 

“I’m fired up. I need you fired up,” Whitmire said in a video posted on X, formerly Twitter, late Tuesday night. “Let’s go to work.” 

In other comments to his supporters, Whitmire received “hundreds and thousands” of texts and emails Tuesday saying, “We’re praying for you. We’re praying for the city,” he said.

“So I want anyone that can hear my voice to know that prayer works,” Whitmire said. “I also want anyone who can hear my voice tonight to know that negative campaigning does not work. And for that, I thank Houstonians.”

Campaign signs seen outside of a Galleria-area polling location Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Jackson Lee, 73, danced onto the stage to greet her supporters and urged patience for a long night of vote counting and the runoff fight ahead.

“We’ll see what the night holds, and we’ll work as hard as we can to be successful” to be the next mayor, Jackson Lee told supporters late Tuesday, according to The Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek on X.

Lee is the Democratic chief deputy whip for the U.S. House of Representatives. She has represented Texas’ 18th Congressional District, which includes most of central Houston, since 1995. 

While Houston has long had solidly Democratic leadership, the mayor’s office is nonpartisan. 

The two candidates hold similar stances on real estate, though Whitmire portrayed himself as more bipartisan than Jackson Lee, who vowed to take on what she called “MAGA Republicans.” Jackson Lee tallied endorsements from prominent Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom appeared at a campaign event last week to bolster support for the congresswoman.

Jackson Lee’s platform focused on safer neighborhoods, better streets and an economy built around working families, according to her campaign website. She told The Texas Tribune in a statement that she is “the only front runner who will address kitchen table issues and protect our great City from [extremists'] agendas and policies.” 

In a Q&A with the Houston Chronicle, Jackson Lee said the city’s permitting process “must be streamlined and efficient so developers have a welcoming sign in the city of Houston.”

“My administration will ensure that the office is properly staffed and that the skill set of staff is experienced and understanding of the process,” she said. “The deadlines for approval must be enforced.”

Texas Sen. John Whitmire

Whitmire told Bisnow the Houston Real Estate Council had made some excellent suggestions for improving permitting time, which he would work to implement. Those include reinstating customer-paid overtime, streamlining how plans are routed, allowing more flexibility in recruiting and maintaining staffing, and speeding up the process of implementing a new computer system.

He also said he intends to improve city infrastructure, including streets and its water system.

“Better streets help residents easily access businesses and help businesses move product,” Whitmire told Bisnow in a written statement. “A better water system will allow businesses to build more homes and commercial buildings.”

Jackson Lee’s campaign didn't respond to a similar interview request. 

A number of Houston’s prominent real estate organizations and figures backed Whitmire’s candidacy through donations or endorsements, among them the Houston Association of Realtors, the Houston Building Owners and Managers Association and the Greater Houston Builders Association.

The Texas Association of Realtors pitched in $20K to Whitmire's campaign, his campaign’s largest donation. Other top donors include Shahin Naghavi, a broker at Madison Fine Properties, Cody Lee, the president of Brizo Construction, and Steve Ford, a longtime multifamily developer, who each gave $10K.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Jackson Lee also reported donations from real estate professionals, including $5K each from Roxann Chargois, owner of JMC Realty, and Sohail Hassan, a real estate developer with Marketspace Capital, her campaign finance report shows. Including those donations, Jackson Lee received at least 20 donations of $1K or more from people identified as working in real estate or development since March 29. 

But Whitmire had a financial advantage, with a $9M war chest from previous campaigns to work with, contributing to him amassing almost $10M in cash on hand. He spent $3.3M during the reporting period from late September to late October, dwarfing spending by candidate Gilbert Garcia at $1.9M and Jackson Lee at $1.1M. Lee Kaplan, who had a strong financial start despite a relatively late entry to the race, spent $948K. 

Whitmire is widely considered the favorite in the runoff based on early voting results, although a poll conducted two weeks before early voting had locked Whitmire and Jackson Lee in a virtual tie, at about a third of voters each. All other candidates failed to poll at more than 4%.

In a potential runoff election, however, Whitmire led Jackson Lee by 14 points, according to the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

Jackson Lee has suffered some campaign setbacks. The day that early voting began, Jackson Lee was forced to address an audio recording of her going on an expletive-filled rant against a staffer that was leaked days earlier. The recording allegedly included her calling a not-present staffer a “fat-ass, stupid idiot.” 

That led the Harris County Young Democrats, which previously issued a dual endorsement for Jackson Lee and Whitmire, to withdraw their support for Jackson Lee, saying they have a “zero-tolerance policy for body-shaming and staff abuse,” The Texas Tribune reported.