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State Sen. John Whitmire elected Houston mayor, AP reports

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State Sen. John Whitmire elected Houston mayor, AP reports

Dec 09, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Patrick Svitek Maia Pandey
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Houston voters to decide whether John Whitmire or Sheila Jackson Lee will be mayor
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Sen. John Whitmire speaks to supporters during a campaign watch party during Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in downtown Houston. (Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune)

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State Sen. John Whitmire has defeated U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in a landslide victory to serve as the next mayor of Houston — the largest city in Texas and the fourth most populous in the country.

The Associated Press called the election for Whitmire at 7:24 p.m. Saturday, less than half an hour after polls closed. With 85 of 450 voting centers reporting, Whitmire led with more than 65% of the vote.

He will succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is term-limited. The office is nonpartisan, though Whitmire has served in the Senate as a Democrat since 1983, making him the chamber’s most senior member.

Whitmire ran on a platform of increasing public safety, fixing streets and reducing cronyism at City Hall. He also promised to improve the relationship between Houston and the Republican-led Legislature in Austin. In his victory speech Saturday, Whitmire promised to expand the city's police force and tackle infrastructure issues with roads and water systems.

"Day one, we will have have a council meeting, and then I invite each and every one of you and bring your friends and neighbors," he said. "Your mayor will meet you at the front door to City Hall to open the door for you."

Though Jackson Lee also focused on bread-and-butter issues throughout the campaign, she sought to position herself as a more reliable Democrat who would stand up to “MAGA extremists.” She garnered support from Turner, who dropped his neutrality in the runoff, and national Democratic figures such as Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.

But it was still not enough to beat Whitmire, who had long been seen as the frontrunner for the office. Thanks to his long time in the Senate, he brought a massive warchest to the campaign and outraised Jackson Lee 4-to-1 — and outspent her 10-to-1 — on the latest campaign finance reports from Oct. 29 through Nov. 29.

Conceding the race Saturday night, Jackson Lee said she is committed to collaborating with Whitmire to serve Houston. Though she did not indicate whether she will run again for her U.S. House seat, the congresswoman said her work is "not completed." The filing deadline for next year’s primaries is Monday evening.

"Being a public servant, I've never stopped working," she said. "I hope you will allow me to continue to work and serve you as I have done in the past because that is what I will do.

While Jackson Lee won national Democratic support, Whitmire relied heavily on local endorsements from State Sen. Carol Alvarado and U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia throughout his campaign. At Whitmire's election night event Saturday, Garcia said he would put "Houston on the map for all the right reasons."

"Let me assure you all that if he strays in any way, I will be the first one to call him on it," she added.

Leading up the runoff, he also led in every public poll of the contest. A Nov. 27 survey found him leading Jackson Lee, 42% to 35%, with 22% undecided — indicating Jackson Lee had been unable to gain much momentum after winning 36% of the vote in the Nov. 7 election, to Whitmire’s 43%.

In October, Jackson Lee’s campaign also faced a hit after the release of an audio recording showing her berating staffers with profanity. In an apparent nod to the incident Saturday, Whitmire said, "People want to go to work for me because we respect people. We don't bully people."

Whitmire’s win came amid fresh questions about his ethics in office. The Houston Chronicle recently published a story outlining Whitmire’s history of “blurring lines between his public and private roles.”

He leaves behind an open state senate seat ahead of the March primary.