Runoff in Houston mayoral race

November 4, 2009 2:52:28 PM PST
Voters in the country's fourth-largest city must now decide whether an openly gay woman should lead Houston for the first time or if a former city lawyer will become the city's second black mayor.[RESULTS: See results in all races from Tuesday]

[READ MORE: Miya Shay recaps elections and previews runoffs]

City controller Annise Parker topped a field of four major candidates running for mayor on Tuesday, and former city attorney Gene Locke edged a big-spending city council member to earn the second spot in a runoff next month.

A victory by Parker, 52, whose sexual orientation never was an issue in six years on City Council and six years as city controller, would make Houston the nation's largest city to be led by an openly gay person.

"I absolutely believe in my core I'm the best qualified candidate," she said after voting results came in Tuesday night. "I understand I have a responsibility and I am a role model and I've been a role model for a very long time. But it makes me a role model in every community."

Parker collected nearly 31 percent of the vote. Locke, with 25 percent, topped architect and urban planner Peter Brown, a two-term city councilman who spent more than $2 million of his wife's fortune and missed the runoff by about 4,500 votes from among nearly 175,000 cast.

Parker, who gathered with supporters at a downtown hotel, insisted that the attention to her lifestyle wouldn't bother her. "This really is not about anybody but voters of the city of Houston," she said.

As her partner and their adopted children stood behind her, Parker told cheering supporters Tuesday night that the runoff came down to a single question.

"Who do you trust to lead our city through these tough times and give our children the future they deserve?" she asked. Brown, 72, finished with nearly 23 percent of the vote. "It isn't the speech I wanted to give," Brown told subdued backers gathered a theater.

"Money doesn't vote," said Parker, whose fundraising trailed Brown and Locke. "People vote."

A fourth major candidate, county school trustee Roy Morales, 53, who didn't have enough money to run television ads, took more than 20 percent. He was looking to be Houston's first Hispanic mayor and was the lone Republican among the major candidates.

The runoff, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12, will determine who will lead the city for the next two years. The election is needed because no one received at least 50 percent of the vote in the predominantly Democratic city of nearly 2 1/2 million. Houston is about 25 percent black and one-third Hispanic.

"It's been a long journey," Locke, 61, said. "It's not quite over."

Locke attracted endorsements and financial backing from business leaders, cashing in on his three-year tenure in the 1990s as city attorney under popular mayor Bob Lanier, who supported him. Locke cultivated city insiders since then as legal counsel to several government agencies.

Lee Brown, a former police chief, served as Houston's first black mayor until he was term-limited in 2003.

"The job for us doesn't stop tonight," Locke told supporters gathered at a downtown hotel. "It really starts tomorrow... Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work."

Peter Brown's campaign was bankrolled primarily from the fortune of his wife, oil-field services heiress Anne Schlumberger, and the overall race was noteworthy for its lack of fireworks.

Independent pre-election polls showed Brown with a slight edge, although "Don't Know" was the favored response among those surveyed.

Brown touted his "blueprint" for the city, stressing greater efficiencies to create jobs, protect neighborhoods, take better care of resources and combat the city's legendary traffic, recurring flooding and crime. But his campaign pitch wasn't much different from the others.

Parker said her 12 years in public life would allow her to immediately step into the top job. Her six-year stint as city controller, reviewing city spending, is the same job Kathy Whitmire held before she became Houston's first woman mayor in the 1980s. Locke stressed his leadership abilities.

Incumbent Bill White, who is barred by term limits from seeking a fourth two-year term, has not endorsed a successor. The Democrat plans to seek the expected vacancy left by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison if she resigns to run against Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary in March.

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