Gloves Off: District K City Council Special Election Candidates Forum Recap

The Houston City Council position in District K, which serves from the edge of the Texas Medical Center to the portion of Houston within Fort Bend County, is up for grabs, and nine candidates are vying for the position.

This past Wednesday, April 11, the Forward Times hosted a very engaging community-wide forum where the invited candidates who filed to be on the ballot for the upcoming special election to fill the vacancy left by the recent death of former Houston City Council Member Larry Green, were able to share their vision and message with the voters in District K.

District K, which also includes three management districts – the Five Corners District, Stadium Park District, and the Brays Oaks District – as well as two school districts – Houston ISD and Fort Bend ISD and two Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones – TIRZ 9 & 25, will be represented by one of the nine candidates on the ballot – only 7 of them, however, decided to show up to the recent forum hosted by the Forward Times. Aisha Savoy and Gerry Vander-Lyn failed to attend.

The forum, which was held at the Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center in District K, was moderated by the Forward Times’ own associate editor Jeffrey L. Boney. Here are some of the highlights.
District K remains a burgeoning district in the city of Houston, but many area residents regularly voice concerns about the availability of business offerings and restaurants, safety, flooding and environmental issues. Thanks to some thought-provoking questions from Boney, as well as some community-based questions from the attendees at the forum, those in attendance were able to witness a lively debate over some critical issues.

The seven candidates on the ballot to replace former Council Member Green who participated in the forum were (in alphabetical order by last name):

Larry Blackmon, 68: Former educator, former Houston City Council candidate and local businessman
Martha Castex-Tatum, 48: Former Council Member Larry Green’s constituent liaison
Carl David Evans, 63: President of the Fort Bend Houston Super Neighborhood
Patricia “Pat” Frazier, 58: Community activist who serves on the Harris County Appraisal District’s appraisal review board and who lost to former Council Member Green in 2011
Anthony Freddie, 55: Former City of Houston employee
Elisabeth Johnson, 32: Finishing Master’s degree in public administration at Texas Southern University
Lawrence McGaffie, 30: Disabled military veteran

It was evident from the onset that several District K candidates had a large contingency of their supporters in the house, and it showed to a large degree as some attendees cheered for their specific candidate and jeered at others.

During the introductions, each candidate spoke about their specific areas of focus, as well as why they decided to run for public office.

Blackmon touted his experience as an educator and community-involved advocate, who had been working in the district for years.

Castex-Tatum highlighted her time spent alongside former Council Member Green, helping him implement and execute some of his planned initiatives.

Evans emphasized that he was the only “elected” candidate out of the nine, in that he was “elected” by the members of his community to be the Fort Bend Super Neighborhood President, as well as his fight to get a quality grocery store in the district.

Frazier focused on her work as a community advocate and her familiarity with the issues in the Hiram Clarke area of the district.

Freddie talked about his role at the City of Houston and his work on developing a Super Neighborhood format as being a major factor as to how he can engage the community.

Johnson discussed her focus on finishing her Master’s degree in public administration at Texas Southern, as well as her desire to make an impact in the community.

McGaffie distinguished himself as the only candidate amongst the others who was a military veteran and he emphasized his focus on getting more young people engaged in the community.

There were no major fireworks between the candidates, however, there were some areas that came up where some candidates stood out with their responses.

One of those questions involved the extremely close 9-7 recent vote amongst Houston City Council, whereby they approved new rules for building in floodplains, expanding the regulations for new and substantial changes to homes built two feet above the 500-year floodplain. The question was posed as to whether they would have voted along with Mayor Sylvester Turner if they were on City Council at the time as the District K representative.

Several candidates stated they would have voted along with Mayor Turner, however, Blackmon stood up and vehemently indicated that he would have voted ‘NO’ and explained that it will not solve the overall problem of flooding and that it would be a burden on property owners and developers. Castex-Tatum followed up on Blackmon’s response by stating that she too would have voted ‘NO’ on the new rules, primarily because she stated residents in the district who were impacted by flooding wanted to provide and receive more information.

Between 2015 and 2017, the City of Houston saw three 500-year floods in three consecutive years. The current rules only required buildings to withstand a 100-year flood. Many people have spoken out against the proposal, such as many developers and real estate professionals, claiming that it would be too expensive.

There was also a bit of a disagreement when it came to public safety in District K. Several candidates indicated that crime was an issue in the area, but Castex-Tatum was quick to point out that statistically District K was considered the safest community in the Greater Houston area behind Kingwood and Memorial. Several candidates rebutted that crime was still an issue. Johnson stated that her home had recently been burglarized.

Several audience questions were directed to Frazier directly surrounding beautification in the district and whether signs would be picked up after the election, to which she emphasized that it was a major priority and commitment to her.

There were several other areas of focus that had some interesting responses surrounding the lack of economic development opportunities; the focus on ensuring that Fort Bend-Houston receives the same attention that Harris County-Houston receives; whether there were any ideas and plans that each candidate had that were uniquely different than former Council Member Green’s already proposed efforts, and much more.

Prior to the District K forum, Boney also moderated a forum hosted by the Forward Times between the two candidates in the runoff to replace retiring Judge Zinetta Burney for Harris County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 7, Place 2.

The forum kicked off with attorney Sharon Burney being the only candidate present at the start. Sharon Burney, who is the daughter of current Judge Zinetta Burney, talked about her role as an attorney and her overall involvement in the community prior to running for the seat. Cheryl Elliott Thornton, who is also a practicing attorney, eventually arrived and apologized to the attendees for her tardiness as a result of traffic. Thornton also touted her experience as an attorney and her familiarity with the community she is seeking to serve.

Gloves Off - Forum Audience

Both candidates emphasized that being an attorney was a benefit to the seat and felt their respective experiences would bode well, once elected. Towards the close of their forum, Thornton seemed to hint that the access that Sharon Burney has to her mother’s staff is being used as an advantage to get the upper hand against her, but Sharon Burney quickly rebutted that argument in her response by saying she has been focused on building relationships and gathering information from other current Justice of the Peace officials and that it is not a fault of hers that her mother happens to be the current sitting judge.

All-in-all, both forums were extremely informative and a good first marker towards Saturday, May 5, 2018, when the outcome of the District K Special Election will be determined, and towards Tuesday, May 22, 2018, when the outcome of the Harris County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 7, Place 2 runoff will be determined. Thanks to all candidates who participated and best wishes to them on their quest for expanded public service. Stay tuned!!!