One of the first mayoral elections I was eligible to participate in back home after I turned 18 the previous year was the historic 1981 one in which we elected city controller Kathy Whitmire our first female mayor.
The road to the mayor's chair in Houston runs through the controllers office. During the 80's Mayor Whitmire guided the city through explosive growth, the oil bust, a tumultuous relationship with the Houston police and fire departments, trying to get METRO's heavy rail plan implemented and making some groundbreaking appointments in the process.
She even garnered national attention because Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie character had a slight resemblance to her..
She nominated our first African-American and first woman police chiefs in Lee Brown and Elizabeth Watson, appointed Sylvia Garcia as head of the Houston municipal court system in addition to opening up the city administration to all Houstonians.
After ten years, she finished third in a three-way race between Bob Lanier and Texas state rep Sylvester Turner. In that same 1991 city election, incumbent Councilman Vince Ryan, whose district encompasses the Montrose gayborhood, was challenged by the chair of the Neartown Civic Association Annise Parker..
I'm bringing up Kathy Whitmire in the context of this post because their paths to this point in Houston history are similar in some way and different in others. Both are native Houstonians who spent time in the controllers office before taking the plunge into Houston mayoral politics.
Parker lost that initial election to Ryan, but in 1997 the Rice University grad made history by becoming the first openly gay person to win a large city council seat. She would defend that citywide seat twice by winning without runoffs in 1999 and 2001.
Once the term limits kicked in, she ran for and won the city controller's job in 2003, and was unopposed in repeat victories in 2005 and 2007.
Now she's attempting to move from the controller's office and become Houston's second woman mayor. She has been fittingly endorsed by Kathy Whitmire for the job..
Parker was the chair of the Houston Gay Lesbian Political Caucus and is considered the front-runner in this race. I had the pleasure of meeting her as I cut my teeth in Houston's activist community in the late 90's. I know that Annise isn't taking anything for granted as she attempts to make history.
I may be a little biased, but she'll be an excellent mayor for my hometown. During her three terms as controller she implemented changes that saved the city several million dollars in addition to getting a charter change passed that allows the controllers office to do independent audits of city departments. Her tough reviews of city spending uncovered millions of dollars in waste due to inefficiencies, redundancies, and outright fraud.
I had the opportunity to vote for the first woman mayor of Houston, and I'm a little bummed that I won't have an opportunity to vote for Annise in this particular election like I did in 1997 and 1999.
One of the things I have to remind people about my birth state and my hometown is that while the rural areas may be conservative to yahoo conservative, Texas cities are progressive turf.
Houston not only has 2.2 million residents, but the ethnic demographics of Texas's largest city are such that no one ethnic group can grab the mayor's chair without engaging in coalition politics with the others. Translation: Annise Parker has an excellent chance to become Houston's 61st mayor.
But if everything breaks right for Annise on November 3, her partner Kathy will be standing by her side in January 2010 watching her take the mayoral oath of office.