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Houston Mayoral Debate fails to lift sluggish challengers

Mayor Annise Parker and other candidates namely; Attorney Ben Hall, Don Cook, Eric Dick, Keryl Burgess Douglas, Charyl L. Drab and Michael J. Fitzsimmons.
Mayor Annise Parker and other candidates namely; Attorney Ben Hall, Don Cook, Eric Dick, Keryl Burgess Douglas, Charyl L. Drab and Michael J. Fitzsimmons.

Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston had a more accurate analysis of the debate of Houston’s 6 of 8 mayoral candidates held two nights ago (October 8). He said the debate did little to change anyone's mind. His words:

"I think that Ben Hall did an adequate job of trying to make some points and try to chip away at the Mayor's lead. The Mayor did a good job at maintaining focus and tentatively making the case that we should stay the course and re-elect her. There's nothing there that seemed like it really upset the general trend of the election."

Houston mayoral election is scheduled for November 5th, with incumbent Mayor Annise Parker seeking a third, and final, two-year term. The other candidates besides Mayor Parker were Attorney Ben Hall, Don Cook, Eric Dick, Keryl Burgess Douglas, Charyl L. Drab and Michael J. Fitzsimmons. Mayor Parker faced these challengers in a broadcast debate organized by the League of Women Voters.

As the only debate for this election, candidates, especially the challengers were expected to take advantage of that moment and properly showcase their manifestoes; make a powerful declaration of their aspirations and values, or even undo the incumbent and soften the harshly blows of her soaring popularity. Nonetheless, none of these happened. In share disappointment, voters witnessed a lineup of sluggish challengers who inaudibly battled to defend their proposals and who nervously stammered over simple questions on city-related issues.

It got so ridiculous that one of the candidates, Fitzsimmons rambled on why did not set up a campaign website even when Google blogs are free. Another candidate, Burgess Douglas said she wanted to be the mayor of Houston because she was a “Whistle Blower,” apparently ‘bold’ to report thieves. I don’t get it! One Don Cook mumbled with words and most times lost articulacy and composure. Eric Dick tried to talk tough on issues but sounded like a high school debater who crammed so much information, and got stuck recounting them.

The floor ended up favoring an incumbent Mayor Parker, and a closest rival Attorney Hall who yet made no single dent on her spiraling popularity. Attorney Hall supported by other contenders tried to pin down Mayor Parker on issues about public safety and infrastructures but were unable to substantiate claims of neglect by the current city government.

Parker has been in office for four years and had to overhaul a troubled police department under Chief Harold Hurtt. In January 2011 for instance, almost one year after Mayor Parker took office, HPD reported a drop in 2010 murders to 7% at 267, compared to 287 from 2009. Similarly, in January 2012 Mayor Parker and Houston Police Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr. revealed how murder rate in the city had been the lowest per capita, since 1965 to 198. A 26.4 % drop from the previous year. Mayoral challengers however relied on other crime statistics and questioned Mayor Parker’s stewardship on community safety matters.

Attorney Hall poked the blame on Mayor Parker for her strategies in keeping Houston jobs in Houston but ran into a hitch with questions about how he paid almost $700,000 in back taxes and penalties this year to qualify him as a mayoral candidate. His response was rather inconsequential. He said that “I Sandra have paid every penny that we owed to every governmental agency.” Parker however countered that, "97-percent of Houstonians pay their taxes on time. If you're a school teacher in Spring Branch ISD, you expect to receive your paycheck on time. If more Houstonians followed Mr. Hall's practice that might not happen."

The 2013 mayoral debate did not appear to sway any voter, but in a poll conducted about three weeks earlier by Rice University’s Center for Civic Leadership, Mayor Parker enjoyed a 20-percentage-point lead over Attorney Hall. In addition, 62 percent of likely voters in the election felt the city was on the right track, and 57 percent rated Parker’s performance as positive. The Houston Mayoral Election of 2013 will take place on November 5, 2013. Runoff would take place on December 14, 2013 between the top two candidates if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.

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