There comes a point in every race for public office, when a clear front-runner emerges and the question becomes not, “Who will win?” but, “Will he keep his promises when he does?” That hasn’t happened yet in Houston’s race for mayor. Granted, it’s difficult for a municipal candidate to have too much to say about national headline issues like, immigration reform or universal health care; but if you’re going to run the fourth largest city in the nation (and the fastest growing) you do need to be able to think big. I’ve spoken to all of the major candidates, and they don’t vary much in their opinions on the four main issues that have emerged — roads and infrastructure, the pension deficit (or indeed the city’s finances in general), public safety and the controversial Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Their plans are all different, but they’re all saying the same thing. Yes, everyone should have equal rights. Yes, we want to fix the roads. Yes, the city’s finances are laughable. But what can one person who will hold the office for a maximum of six years do about any of those things that will effectively change the city as we know it? For example, Ben Hall, one of the favorites to win in November, proposes a fantastical system of underground tunnels that will serve not only as roads but as a flood relief system during the worst of our rains. It’s a great plan, in theory, but there are engineers that will spend their entire careers on a project like that — something much bigger than Hall or even the city itself. If executed, it would be one of the greatest infrastructure reforms ever to happen here. But, then again, most mayors do not think long term — and thinking long term would do wonders for Houston. Chris Bell, with his connections in Washington and Sylvester Turner with his connections in Austin would both be in a position to raise awareness in government to get more funding to Houston for financial issues — the pension for public employees is decided by the state, not the city. Marty McVey, with his extensive corporate background could be the financial answer we’ve been looking for — but any candidate who has made it this far is probably financially literate (or employs someone who is) and can make the tough decisions. It’s just a question of how they propose to dig us out of the $1.2 billion hole we’re in. Maybe the best-known name in this race is Adrian Garcia, former Harris County Sheriff. He’s based his campaign on that fact that his job for 23 years as a beat cop revolved around keeping the citizens of this city safe. The average person doesn’t usually bother with voting in municipal elections, but I urge every Houstonian to read up on the candidates — see what they have to say about the issues that matter to you and vote accordingly. This office affects each and every one of us because this is not a man making decisions 1,500 miles away with two whole other branches of government checking and rechecking him — this man’s office is in downtown Houston, in a building clearly visible from most of our commutes, with just eleven council members to question him. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — Houston is at a crossroads. We are one of the energy capitals of the world — close to 200 people move here every single day. We are considered a Beta+ world city — on par with Rome, Cairo, and Düsseldorf, and in fact surpassing Rio, Geneva, and Bogota. That rating may seem arbitrary to some, but to us Houstonians, it just reflects what we already know — we have left the bust-town Houston of the 1980s oil crisis and the astronaut city from Apollo 13 behind. This change has come quickly. Famed for our traffic, it was nothing four years ago compared to what it is now. The section of I-10 just before it intersects 610 west of Downtown is the widest section of highway in the world, and yet at 8 am and 5 pm cars will be standing still bumper-to-bumper for an hour or more. We need to grow as a city — not just as 6 million people — but as one. We need someone with, yes the vision, but also the will, to lead us.
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