Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Is Running To Be Houston’s ‘Hope’ Mayor

The Democratic congresswoman's bid is another opportunity for progressives to flex their power at the local level.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said she plans to celebrate Houston's status as a "potpourri" of diverse people.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said she plans to celebrate Houston's status as a "potpourri" of diverse people.
Jemal Countess/Getty Images

NEW YORK ― U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) officially launched her campaign for mayor of Houston on Friday, adding an influential progressive voice to an election that will decide who leads the country’s fourth-largest city.

“I want the 21st century approach to the city to be based on hope and to be based on solutions that are possible,” Jackson Lee told HuffPost on Thursday after delivering a speech to the National Action Network conference in Manhattan. “You can take a city and listen to the different neighborhoods and get real solutions for the nuts and bolts.”

Jackson Lee, House Democrats’ chief deputy whip, plans to use her familiarity with the federal government to ensure that Houston gets its fair share of federal resources. And she hopes to promote Houston’s “potpourri” of diversity, citing it as a national model of coexistence. (The city is home to people who speak 145 languages.)

“If there is harmony in America, I want people to see it,” she told HuffPost.

Jackson Lee first announced her plans to compete in Houston’s nonpartisan mayoral race during an appearance at a Houston church in late March. Voting to succeed term-limited Mayor Sylvester Turner, a business-friendly Democrat, is set to conclude on Nov. 7. If no candidate receives an outright majority, there will be a runoff in December between the top two vote-getters.

Jackson Lee joins an already-crowded field that includes Texas state Sen. John Whitmire (D), Houston City Council member Robert Gallegos (D), former Houston area transit chair Gilbert Garcia, former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, attorney Lee Kaplan, and former Missouri police officer Robin Williams. Jackson Lee, Edwards and Williams each has the potential to become the first Black woman elected mayor of Houston.

Jackson Lee, an attorney who has represented Houston in Congress since 1995, did not share any details of her campaign platform with HuffPost.

Her remarks in the brief interview with HuffPost and in her speech to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network gathering nonetheless suggest that she will be one of the more progressive candidates in the field.

Jackson Lee has vowed to fight the effort by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to take over Houston’s public school system. She noted in her remarks at the National Action Network conference that the Houston school superintendent, Millard House, is Black and that the Board of Education governing the school district is racially diverse.

“We may not all agree, but we know that those trustees care about our children,” she said.

Jackson Lee also promised to take action to limit the evictions of renters who have fallen behind on rent payments.

“Are we in a community, in a nation, in which people get out of their sick bed to go to their house to pack up their belongings to be evicted?” she told HuffPost. “We can be better than that.”

Jackson Lee, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She has led efforts to advance civil rights for Black Americans, introducing the House version of the bill that made Juneteenth a national holiday in 2021. She is currently the chief sponsor of a bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans and a bill that would criminalize certain forms of hate speech.

Although Jackson Lee is a mainstream progressive rather than a leftist of the kind embodied by “the Squad” in the U.S. House, her candidacy is the latest test of a big city’s appetite for police reform amid an uptick in certain kinds of crime that has, at times, aided moderate Democrats.

Speaking to HuffPost, Jackson Lee praised the city’s use of American Rescue Plan funds for the One Safe Houston initiative and promised to release an “intricate” public safety plan in the near future. (The initiative combines traditional law enforcement tactics with outreach to troubled youth and other preventive measures.)

“I believe that ‘hope’ is to give people the understanding that I am not ignoring their pain of confronting the question of crime,” she said.

Jackson Lee joined Sharpton in campaigning for Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson, who is more left-wing than the Houston congresswoman, in late March. And Jackson Lee’s son Jason Lee, a financier turned progressive campaign consultant, was a senior adviser for Johnson’s campaign.

Asked whether Johnson’s win offered any lessons for her bid, Jackson Lee replied, “It was a people’s race. And I hope to make this a people’s race.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the racial makeup of the mayoral field.

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