Mayoral debate held in Northeast Houston

MAYORAL CANDIDATES Bill King and Sylvester Turner

NORTHEAST – State Representative Senfronia Thompson, District 141, hosted a Mayoral Debate last Tuesday evening, at the auditorium of the Forest Brook Middle School on Tidwell Road.

Hundreds turned out in the audience, to hear what these potential mayor candidates had to say about programs for the city, and especially in their areas.

The debate lasted for two and one-half hours, which was streamed live on Fox26 website, and excerpted in small clips on Channel 26 broadcast newscasts.

Opening and closing remarks were made by Rep. Thompson, and HISD schoolboard president Rhonda Skillern Jones, and Dr. Sylvia Brooks Williams.

Moderator Damali Keith asked most of the questions, with one question each from the panel, on specific topics of the city budget, economic development and creation of job opportunities, city infrastructure, road repair, flooding conditions, public safety and number of officers, public transit, and environmental factors including air and water quality.

Represented in the audience were neighborhood organizations, political organizations, education partners, precinct chairs, and media partners, including the Northeast News and three other newspapers.

Answers to most questions were brief, and the atmosphere between the two principals was cordial. The biggest disagreement seemed to be over the management of the infrastructure departments, and whether each candidate would continue the so-called ReBuild Houston program, which pays for street and sewer repairs through a fee on utility bills. King would modify the terms, and pay for it with new bonds, and Turner would continue the program as it exists, with some improvements.

The argument was mainly whether issuing bonds was the best way to finance future city infrastructure work, with King saying Yes, Turner No.

Another major topic was the pension funds owed to retiring police and firement, and whether the program should be modified to reduce future debt. King said yes, Turner said we can’t change our obligation to these public service employees.

Turner emphasized that the city should be working with education to improve opportunies and eliminate inequalities, but King said that there was only a limited amount that a city could do since the school districts, 16 of them in the city boundaries, are separate planning and taxing entities.

King said on the city budget that his first effort would be to reduce expenditures, and make the operations more efficient. He want to retain the cap on city property taxes at 4.5%, saying that the problem is not an income problem, but an expenditure problem.

Turner, on the other hand, indicated that with the growth of population and obligations to pension funds and other needs, the cap was an artificial restraint that was hampering the city from delivering needed services. He favors amending the cap, to allow additional monies for more police and to reduce debt.

Questioned by the Northeast News about economic development initiatives, especially in minority neighborhoods such as Acres Homes and North Forest, King indicated that single family housing was the biggest need, and would drive further development of businesses, stores, and schools. He said the city had amassed about 2000 empty lots that could be converted into a program for new housing with subsidies. However, he favored a program that would treat all of the city equally, not just some neighborhoods.

Turner agreed, saying he would have a program where city subsidies would be available for single family housing. No other initiative were offered by either candidate.

On public safety, King believes more officers could be put on the street with efficiencies in the department, while Turner favors additional hires of 540 new officers, paid for by additional taxes.

Turner suggested that the city could recover more money for their budget by requiring TIRZ districts to share in public improvements and other normal city expenses.

Each candidate had a slogan for their campaigns and programs. King said he is in favor of “Back2Basics” and back to doing great things again. Turner said “If you can Dream It, you can achieve it,” a reference to his own career from Acres Homes to Harvard. He wants to see the diversity of Houston coalesce into a cooperative electorate. In his recent ads, he characterizes King as “too extreme for Houston.”

The run-off election is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 12th from 7am to 7pm. Before that, early voting is from Dec. 2-Dec. 8.