Politics of Houston
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Founded in 1836 and incorporated in 1837, Houston, Texas, United States is one of the fastest growing major cities in the United States and the largest without zoning laws. The city is the county seat of Harris County. A portion of southwest Houston extends into Fort Bend County and a small portion in the northeast extends into Montgomery County.
The city of Houston has a strong mayor–council government. The City's elected officials, serving concurrent two year terms, are: the mayor, the city comptroller and 14 members of the city council. Under the strong mayor-council government, the mayor serves as the executive officer of the city. As the city's chief administrator and official representative, the mayor is responsible for the general management of the city and for seeing that all laws and ordinances are enforced.
As the result of a 1991 referendum in Houston, a mayor is elected for a two-year term, and can be elected to as many as three consecutive terms. City council members, who also have a three-term limit, are elected from nine districts in the city, along with five at-large council members, who represent the entire city. As of 2012, the mayor of Houston is Annise Parker, who is serving her second term.
The city council lineup was based on a U.S. Justice Department mandate which took effect in 1979. Under the current city charter, when the population in the Houston city limits pasted 2.2 million residents, the nine-member city council districts expanded to include two more city council districts. The municipal elections held on November 8, 2011 included the newly-formed Districts J (located in the Greater Sharpstown area) and K (a section of Southwest Houston, Reliant Park, and Fort Bend County located within the Houston City Limits) where 2 candidates won over 50% of the vote. Houston is a home rule city and all municipal elections in the state of Texas are nonpartisan.
Many local lawmakers have been impacted by the city's term limits. Several former city officials—Anthony Hall, Rodney Ellis, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Sylvia Garcia, Martha Wong, Chris Bell, Annise Parker, and Shelley Sekula-Gibbs—chose to run for other elected positions once their terms expired or shortly before they were due to expire.
Former mayor Lee P. Brown denounced the term limits, saying they prevented incumbents from gaining enough experience in city government. A proposal to double the current two-year term of office has been debated—as of 2005, several candidates for the city council have brought up the issue of whether term limits should be amended or eliminated. Some elected officials from the Greater Houston area within the Texas Legislature—primarily Garnet Coleman and Sylvester Turner—have also spoken out against term limits. In 2010, a term limits review commission appointed by former Mayor Bill White called for amending the city charter on extending term limits where elected officials could serve two four-year terms; the proposal failed 8.18.10 after the Houston City Council voted 7-7.
Houston is considered to be a politically divided city whose balance of power often sways between Republicans and Democrats. The affluent western-central portions of Houston—such as River Oaks and the Memorial/Spring Branch area, as well as master planned communities of Kingwood and Clear Lake City—consistently vote Republican, while many of the inner city areas, Neartown, and Alief—are heavily Democratic. According to the 2005 Houston Area Survey, 68 percent of non-Hispanic whites in Harris County are declared or favor Republicans while 89 percent of non-Hispanic blacks in the area are declared or favor Democrats. About 62 percent Hispanics (of any race) in the area are declared or favor Democrats.
|Position||Name||First Elected||Areas Represented|
|City Controller||Ronald Green||2009||City-wide|
|At-Large Position 1||Stephen Costello||2009||City-wide|
|At-Large Position 2||Andrew C. Burk, Jr.||2011||City-wide|
|At-Large Position 3||Melissa Noriega||2007||City-wide|
|At-Large Position 4||Clarence Bradford||2009||City-wide|
|At-Large Position 5||Jack Christie||2011||City-wide|
|District A||Helena Brown||2011||District A serves areas in northwestern Houston. District A includes communities north of Interstate 10 (Katy Freeway), including Spring Branch. As of 2012 thousands of South Korean people live within District A.
As of 2012, according to Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, voters in District A tend to be older people, conservative, and White American, and many follow the Tea Party movement. The voting base is such despite the presence of large Hispanic neighborhoods within District A. In the 2011 election voters favored Tea Party candidate Helena Brown over the incumbent, Brenda Stardig, because Stardig supported a "rain tax," passed in 2010, that taxed churches.
|District B||Jerry Davis||2011||District B serves areas in northern Houston and northeast Houston. Chris Moran of the Houston Chronicle said that the district "is considered an African-American stronghold." Most residents belong to racial and ethnic minorities.
The Houston Chronicle said that District B's constituency "has been shortchanged historically on municipal services and economic development." A lot of illegal dumping occurs within the district. The newspaper added that the district has "a resilient community spirit." Kristen Mack of the Houston Chronicle said in 2005 that the district, prior to the 2011 redistricting, "is plagued by unkempt lots, clogged ditches and substandard streets."
In 1987 District B included Clinton Park, the Fifth Ward, Fontane Place, Kashmere Gardens, Scenic Woods, Settegast, Songwood, and Trinity Gardens. It also included the Lake Houston and the Bush Airport areas. In 1987 the district was 69% African American.
|District C||Ellen Cohen||2011||District C extends from an area north of the 610 Loop, through the Houston Heights area, up to the Braeswood area. The current District C includes most of the Houston Heights,Montrose, the Houston Museum District, and some communities around Rice University. District C also includes the Braeswood area, Meyerland, Southampton, almost all of Oak Forest.
Because of the inclusion of the Montrose, Heights, and Rice University areas, it has the nickname "Hipstrict" for what Chris Moran of the Houston Chronicle refers to as its "progressive, urban ethic." The Houston Chronicle editorial base described District C as a district that should be "politically dynamic."
Historically District C has covered areas within the "Inner Loop" (areas inside the 610 Loop) and western Houston. 20 years before 2011, Montrose was moved from District C to district D to avoid putting too many minorities in a single city council district. Kristen Mack of the Houston Chronicle said that District C, which "covers a diverse swath of southwest Houston", was "One of Houston's most economically diverse districts, it ranges from leafy Southampton near Rice University through more modest subdivisions and vast apartment warrens in the city's far southwest." Jerry Wood, a former city planner and neighborhood expert, said that all of the regions of District C were active in terms of politics.
As 2011 city council redistricting approached, some members of Houston's gay community and some Houston area bloggers proposed returning Montrose to District C. Around 2011 an earlier plan would have combined the Heights and Montrose under a district called District J.
|District D||Wanda Adams||2007||District D extends from the northernmost area within Midtown southward to Beltway 8. District D includes Sunnyside, and it also includes the Third Ward.
20 years before 2011, Montrose was moved from District C to district D to avoid putting too many minorities in a single city council district. While Montrose was in District D, it was not able to have its own residents elected to city council. Instead the district was forced to try to influence electoral contests involving candidates from other neighborhoods. In the 2011 redistricting Montrose was moved into District C.
|District E||Dave Martin||2012||District E mainly consists of Kingwood and the Houston portion of Clear Lake City. The City of Houston has a liaison who works with the District E representative and the residents of Kingwood. In 2006 some Kingwood residents told the Houston Chronicle that the District E representative has too little influence in city council, which had 15 seats during that year, and that the district is, in the words of Renée C. Lee of the Chronicle, territorially "spread too thin."|
|District F||Al Hoang||2009||District F serves areas in southwestern Houston. District F has a significant Vietnamese American community. District F includes much of the Alief, area other areas in Southwest Houston, Briarmeadow and Tanglewilde.
In 1985 District F included far Southwest Houston. It included Alief, Braeburn, Braeburn Valley West, Glenshire, Gulfton, Robindell, and Sharpstown. In 1985 the district was 83% white. In 2011 Briarmeadow and Tanglewilde, areas south of Westheimer Road which were previously in District G, were moved to District F, while the Bellaire Boulevard areas and Sharpstown were moved out of District F.
|District G||Oliver Pennington||2009||District G serves areas in western Houston. District G extends from an area inside the 610 Loop, between Interstate 10 (Katy Freeway) and Westheimer Road, westward to an area past Eldridge Road. Neighborhoods in District G include the Memorial area, River Oaks and Tanglewood.
In 1987 District G was the wealthiest city council district in Houston. It was about 90% white. It served River Oaks and most of Memorial, two very wealthy communities, and it also served Afton Oaks, the Ashford Area, Briargrove, Briarmeadow, Carvercrest, Greenway Plaza, the Galleria area, Lamar Terrace, Park Hollow Place, Shadow Oaks, Tanglewood, and Westpark Village. In 1987 Kim Cobb said that while it includes wealthy areas, District G "also includes neighborhoods suffering from a shortage of city services because of west Houston's breakneck growth during the boom years." During that year, Chris Chandler, a political candidate for District G, said, as paraphrased by Cobb, that Lamar Terrace was the "most troubled sector" of District G "and could stand a thorough cleanup by the Solid Waste Management Department."
|District H||Ed Gonzalez||2009||District H includes some areas north of the 610 Loop. Areas within the district include the Near Northside, areas in the Northside region extending to Little York Road, and some areas east of Downtown Houston. The district also includes a portion of the Houston Heights.
Before the 2011 redistricting, District H included all of the Houston Heights. At the time District H was mostly Hispanic, but because of the inclusion of the Houston Heights, it was becoming increasingly non-Hispanic White.
|District I||James Rodriguez||2007||District I includes neighborhoods in southeastern Houston, including several East End communities. It also includes most of Downtown Houston.|
|District J||Mike Laster||2011||District J includes several neighborhoods along U.S. Route 59 (Southwest Freeway), outside of the 610 Loop. District J includes Gulfton and Sharpstown. The district stretches from the 610 Loop to an area south of Beltway 8. District J includes territory previously in districts C and F.
District J was formed as a district to allow Hispanic and Latino Americans to more easily elect representatives catering to them; as of 2010 Hispanic and Latino people have 44% of Houston's population, but two of the eleven city council members were Hispanic or Latino. During the 2011 redistricting, Hispanic and Latino leaders asked Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston, to revise her proposed redistricting plan of city council areas. Instead of creating a new city council district to serve White communities within the 610 Loop, as the earlier plan had proposed, the revised plan called for making a mostly Hispanic district. Robert Jara, a political consultant of the group Campaign Strategies, drew the boundaries of District J in order to ensure that Gulfton and Sharpstown were together in one area. That way, the Hispanic residents could lobby for influence with their city council representative, whether he or she is of Hispanic origin or not.
As of 2011, 63.1% of residents are Hispanic and Latino. Significant numbers of White, Black, and Asian people live in the district. As of the same year, 17% of registered voters had family names of Spanish/Hispanic origin. Many people living in the district are not U.S. citizens. Jason Moran of the Houston Chronicle said that the area has been referred to as a "Hispanic opportunity district."
In a May 2011 editorial the Houston Chronicle editors said that they support the redistricting plan since they believed that Hispanics need more representation, but they added that the election of a Hispanic to fill the position is not guaranteed because many of the residents are not U.S. citizens and are ineligible to vote. As an example, the editors pointed to the Texas State Legislature's establishment of the 29th congressional district so that a Hispanic/Latino could be elected as a member of the United States Congress. Gene Green, a non-Hispanic White, won the first election for the district in 1992. As of 2011 he is still the incumbent in the area.
|District K||Larry Green||2011||District K is in far southwestern Houston. The editors of the Houston Chronicle said that it is "roughly at 7 o'clock if you pretend that our squiggly map is shaped like a circle." District K's approximate boundaries are Almeda Road, South Braeswood Boulevard, Gessner Road, and Farm to Market Road 2234 in Fort Bend County.
District K was formed in 2011, with territory taken from council districts C and D. As of 2011 it has an African-American plurality, and most of its residents were Black and Hispanic. In a 2011 editorial the Houston Chronicle editors stated that African-American voters likely would have control of the district.
During the administration of Lee P. Brown, starting in the year 2000 the City of Houston began grouping areas into "super neighborhoods." Communities with similar identities, infrastructures, and physical features were grouped into super neighborhoods.
Parks and Recreation Department
The City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department was created by a city ordinance on March 15, 1916. When it was created it had two parks, Hermann Park and Sam Houston Park. As of 2010 the department maintains about 350 developed parks and 200 esplanades and greenspaces inside and outside of the City of Houston.
Houston Airport System
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) operates the Region III Parole Division headquarters in Houston. The Houston VI district parole office is located on the grounds of the headquarters. The Houston I, Houston II, Houston III, Houston IV, and Houston VII are located in other places in Houston. The Houston V district parole office is in Pasadena. The agency also operates the Joe Kegans Unit state jail facility in Downtown Houston.
The Huntsville Unit in Huntsville serves as the designated regional release center for prisoners arriving in the Houston area. Throughout the history of the Texas Prison System 90% of male prisoners, regardless of where they were being released, were sent to the unit for the final portions of their sentences before being released. Starting in September 2010 the TDCJ instead began to use regional release centers for male prisoners. Female prisoners throughout Texas who are not state jail prisoners or substance abuse felony punishment facility residents are released from the Christina Crain Unit in Gatesville.
The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) operates the Houston District Office in Greater Sharpstown, Houston. The closest TYC correctional facility to Houston is the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in unincorporated Jefferson County, near Beaumont. The TYC announced that the Al Price facility will close by August 31, 2011.
The United States Postal Service's main post office facility is the 16-acre (6.5 ha) Houston Post Office at 401 Franklin Street in Downtown Houston. In February 2009 the U.S. Postal Service announced that it was going to sell the Houston Post Office. The party buying the facility is required to build a replacement facility. The postal service operates station branches in other parts of Houston.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Houston Field Office and the Houston office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are in Greenspoint and in Houston. An ICE Special Agent in Charge (SAC) principal field office is also in Houston. The Houston Contract Detention Facility, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America on behalf of ICE, is located in Houston.
Houston is represented in the United States Congress by U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and U.S. Representatives Kevin Brady, John Culberson, Al Green, Gene Green, Sheila Jackson Lee, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson, Ron Paul, and Ted Poe.
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