A race to replace term-limited Mayor Sylvester Turner is drawing Houston voters to the polls as Texans turn out to cast ballots in statewide and local elections.

Seventeen mayoral candidates are on Houstonians’ November 7 ballots, but two septuagenarian Democrat politicians who currently hold higher offices are the main contenders: State Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Whitmire, 74, has been a state lawmaker for 50 years. His brother’s widow, Kathy Whitmire, served as Houston’s mayor from 1982 to 1991.

He was considered the front-runner when he first announced his candidacy in November 2021.

Jackson Lee, 73, has been in Congress for 28 years. She began her political career in Houston as a municipal judge appointed by Mayor Whitmire in 1987, then served on the Houston City Council from 1990 to 1994.

Once Jackson Lee announced in March that she was entering the race, she and Whitmire became close contenders, leaving other candidates far behind in the polls.

A University of Houston survey conducted earlier this month showed Whitmire leading Jackson Lee with 34 percent compared to 31 percent. The poll also found that in an expected runoff, Whitmire led Jackson Lee 50 percent to 36 percent.

Those numbers may have moved further in Whitmire’s favor after a profanity laced audio recording of Jackson Lee was leaked to the public last week, just as early voting began. In the audio, Jackson Lee repeatedly curses while berating a staff member.

Jackson Lee initially called the recording a “low-handed political tactic” by “political operatives” backing Whitmire, but she later acknowledged the audio’s authenticity and said she was “regretful.”

Jackson Lee has a reputation for cursing and other “difficult boss” behaviors. For years, she has been accused of abusing employees, and she has one of the highest staff turnover rates in Congress.

As the cursing scandal made national headlines, Hillary Clinton endorsed Jackson Lee at an event in Houston on Friday.

Jackson Lee is also endorsed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and failed gubernatorial candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke.

Whitmire is backed by multiple law enforcement and business groups.

The city controller and all 16 city council seats are also on Houstonians’ November ballot.

The Republican Party of Texas has endorsed two Houston City Council candidates: Fred Flickinger, who is running for the open District E seat against Houston ISD school board trustee Martina Lemond Dixon, and District G incumbent Mary Nan Huffman, who is being challenged by attorney and 2019 mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee.

Houston voters will also decide on two ballot propositions that would amend the city charter.

Proposition A would allow three council members to place an item on a meeting agenda, lessening the mayor’s control over issues addressed by city officials.

Proposition B aims to increase Houston’s representation within the Houston-Galveston Area Council in proportion to its population.

Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth, who regained control of local election administration duties when a new state law took effect on September 1, reports a “sturdy flow” of in-person early voting turnout in Houston and countywide.

Unofficial totals through October 31 showed 123,609 voters in the county had cast ballots at the polls, with another 10,274 returning mail-in ballots.

Early voting runs through November 3. Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.