It’s safe to say: The future is female, as women will soon dominated Houston’s city council.
Starting next year, a record nine women will serve on Houston City Council amid a shift toward a younger and more progressive council for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s second term.
The new council will include no more than two Hispanic and no Asian members, however, with Anglo council members holding at least eight seats and the other six represented by African-American members.
It remains unclear whether District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos, the lone Latino on City Council, will be joined by Isabel Longoria, who finished 12 votes behind incumbent Councilmember Karla Cisneros in the District H runoff, according to unofficial returns.
Longoria has yet to concede to Cisneros. Candidates have until 5 p.m. Dec. 22 to request a recount, two days after Harris County will canvass, or officially tally, the votes.
Still undecided is the District B runoff, which has been delayed by a lawsuit filed by the third-place challenger in the Nov. 5 election. The runoff is not expected to occur until at least March.
Aside from its changing gender and ethnic breakdown, the new council will skew younger, with four new members — Abbie Kamin, Amy Peck, Edward Pollard, and Tiffany Thomas — who are 38 or younger. And two freshmen members, Thomas and Sallie Alcorn, will replace more conservative incumbents.
To win their districts, Pollard — who was elected in a majority-Hispanic district — and Thomas both compiled multiethnic and bipartisan coalitions, drawing broad support in districts where African-American residents do not form a majority, said public policy consultant Jay Aiyer. Alcorn, who won a citywide seat, also performed well among Republicans, African Americans, and white Democrats.
“You can’t count on one community to win in Houston,” Aiyer said. “That’s the message that candidates have to create multiethnic coalitions.”
The nine total women on council edges the previous record of eight who were elected in 2005.
The council’s African-American representation also will expand from four to six.
Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, a longtime educator, said she hopes that more minority women leaders will mean a heightened focus on education and health issues, along with a greater focus on equity.
“Women are innate problem-solvers,” she said. “Women are pretty sensitive to everybody. Being mothers and nurturers, we’re not generally selfish about our own needs.”
The wave of new female representatives marks a shift for City Council, where races historically have been dominated by men. Only half of the district-based council races had a woman candidate from 2005 to 2015, according to a 2017 Kinder Institute report, and the number of women hit a 25-year low in 2013 when only two female members had seats.
Alcorn, a longtime City Hall staffer who won an open citywide seat, said women typically are not encouraged to run for office in the ways that men are. She said women “tend to lean toward self-doubt” when considering elected office, adding that she hopes the influx of women leaders will mean more compromise in governing.
Women “work collaboratively,” Alcorn said. “We’re not interested in taking credit. We’re interested in getting the job done.”
Aside from the female majority, the most notable feature of the new council will be the lack of Hispanics at the dais.
Regardless of who wins the District H runoff, Latino council members will hold no more than two seats out of 16, in a city where Latinos make up 44.5 percent of the population, according to 2018 census data.
Part of that disparity comes from Latinos making up a smaller share of the electorate: Houston’s registered voters are 23 percent Latino, according to data from Hector De Leon, a former communications director for the Harris County Clerk’s Office who studies Houston-area voting patterns.
“African Americans and Anglos are roughly 45 percent of the population combined, but they constitute 85 percent of the total vote. And elections are determined by people who turn out and vote,” Aiyer said.
Registration among young Latino voters has increased “dramatically” in recent years, in part because of President Donald Trump and mobilization efforts by political groups, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
Houston’s Latino voting blocs also have fewer options, he said, because of the city’s use of at-large positions, which are elected on a citywide basis.
“The problem is that the minority votes are compacted in one part of the city, so it makes it very hard for them to win an election,” Cortina said. “They get drowned, for lack of a better word, by the votes of the majority.”
‘Diversity without inclusion is meaningless’
To strengthen Latino representation on council and in other offices, Gallegos said he intends to pitch the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the idea of starting a mentoring program to educate young Hispanics about pursuing careers in politics.
In the meantime, Gallegos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I represent the Hispanic community in the city of Houston, even though I’m a district council member.”
Andy Canales, chairman of the Latino Texas political action committee, said he was disappointed by the lack of Latino representation on council.
“We need to make sure that our city council reflects the demographics of our city,” Canales said. “We constantly tout Houston as the most diverse city in the nation, but diversity without inclusion is meaningless.”
Meanwhile, Thomas’ victory in District F, which includes Alief, Chinatown, and Westchase, means an Asian council member will not represent the district for the first time since 2003.
In the runoff, Thomas defeated Van Huynh, chief of staff to incumbent Councilman Steve Le, who did not seek re-election.
Source: Houston Chronicle