Upon winning the election, Whitmire told a crowd gathered at the George R. Brown Convention Center: “Great cities solve their problems. Together, we can solve our problems. The first way you solve your problem is admit you have one. And I don’t mind telling folks what a great city we have, but we've got great challenges. It’ll be an opportunity to show the nation what the city of Houston can do. We will not kick our can down the road any longer.”
Our Election 2023 survey reports captured what Houston residents would like the administration to tackle first and which policies they supported.
The latest Kinder Houston Area Survey, conducted last January, found that crime was the most frequently cited issue when residents were asked what they thought was the biggest problem facing the region. This sentiment remained elevated when Houston residents were asked a similar question in August.
According to the Kinder Institute for Urban Research report Election 2023: Priorities and Concerns of Houston Residents, nearly 80% rated reducing crime as a top priority for the next mayor, more than any other issue.
Whitmire has leaned on his previous experience as chair of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee as evidence that he intends to strengthen public safety, vowing to add more police officers and create a stronger community policing program. He also pledged to focus on keeping “violent criminals behind bars and illegal guns off the streets.”
The need for safer neighborhoods weighed heavily on the minds of survey respondents.
According to the report, one-third of residents felt their neighborhood was not a safe place to live. Further, about 20% of Houstonians were either “often” or “almost always” feeling unsafe in their day-to-day lives. Nearly two-thirds agreed that the new mayor needed to be tough on crime, and more than two-thirds agreed that the city needs to improve funding for mental health services and community policing.
Crime has been on a decline in Houston. According to the FBI, after reaching a high of 29,707 reported crimes to the Houston Police Department in 2020, the total fell to 25,987 in 2022, a drop of more than 12.5%.
Following crime, addressing the city’s infrastructure landed on the need-to-do list of nearly three-fourths of respondents. Sidewalks, roads and streetlights all require attention to varying degrees according to the survey.
The Kinder report showed 38% of residents gave “poor” or “failing” grades to their sidewalks, and 42% indicated streets and roads in their neighborhoods were either “poor” or “failing.”
According to his website, Whitmire said he will put a priority on fixing streets while addressing congestion and repairing water mains. He also said he wants to support the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s efforts to help more residents get to and from work and school.
Making housing more affordable
Nearly three-quarters of residents also want the new mayor to add resources for more affordable housing, with nearly 40% of Houstonians reporting they were at least “often” worried about being able to make their rent or mortgage payment each month. Rising costs associated with new neighborhood development was cited as a concern by about 40% of residents.
With the majority of Houston residents being renters, increasing rental prices are monthly concerns. Less affluent areas were more likely to cite the need for more affordable housing, and rising housing costs disproportionately affect Hispanic communities, according to the Kinder Institute.
During his campaign Whitmire drew the support of the Houston Association of Realtors, the Houston Building Owners and Managers Association, and the Greater Houston Homebuilders Association.
In a report from the Houston Chronicle, Whitmire said the city needed new leadership with a housing director who understands affordability issues. Further, he cited the expensive and long permitting process as obstacles for making housing more affordable.
Whitmire also stressed the need to bolster Houston’s economy, through diversification of the economy to attract new jobs and by providing support to small businesses to encourage growth. He also wants to join with school districts and colleges to produce more homegrown talent.
According to election results from the Harris County Clerk’s Office, Whitmire defeated Sheila Jackson Lee with 65% of the more than 131,000 votes cast in a Dec. 9 runoff for mayor. The victory made Whitmire the 63rd mayor in Houston’s history. Voters elect Houston mayors for four-year terms with a two-term limit.
Whitmire’s margin of victory of 28.8% was the largest first-term victory since 1977 when Jim McConn — the last Republican to lead the city — won with 66.6% of the vote. Whitmire’s margin of victory tops that of Bill White, who won with 62% in 2003. White garnered 91% of the vote in his 2005 re-election run and 87% in 2007, prior to the city moving to four-year terms with a two-term limit.