ABOVE: Representative Sheila Jackson Lee speaks as student loan borrowers and advocates gather for the People’s Rally To Cancel Student Debt During The Supreme Court Hearings On Student Debt Relief on February 28, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for People’s Rally to Cancel Student Debt )
U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is running for mayor of Houston.
The congresswoman told parishioners at the City Cathedral Church on Monday that she will bid to replace term-limited Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Sheila Jackson Lee wants to come home to be your mayor for the city of Houston,” she said in a video posted by Urban Reform. “I will not be able to do it without each and every one of you.”
This announcement caught Houstonians by surprise, marking a new chapter in a long and eventful career. A native of Queens, New York, Jackson Lee earned a B.A. in political science from Yale University in 1972. After moving to Houston, she joined the Texas Bar in 1975. She worked as a corporate attorney for the firm United Energy Resources (1980–87), during which time she became president of the Houston Lawyers Association (1983-1984). She later served as municipal judge for the City of Houston (1987-90).
She was elected to the Houston City Council in 1990; she served two full terms before departing in 1994. That year, she won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating Rep. Craig Washington. Jackson Lee won her bid to represent Houston’s 18th District, which comprises Fifth Ward, Acres Homes, the Heights, and Bush Intercontinental Airport. She has remained in that position since 1995.
Jackson Lee easily won a court-ordered special election in 1996. It was the start of a long and successful electoral record: she’s won every re-election bid since, regularly picking up at least 70% of the vote. The congresswoman was named whip of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1997; she earned a spot on the House Judiciary Committee in 1998. (She’s also served on the Homeland Security Committee and House Budget Committee.) But her greatest impact is arguably local.
She’s become a Houston political icon, garnering both praise and criticism for her frequent appearances at televised press conferences and local community events. But she has also made a name for herself in Washington, D.C., raising awareness (and legislation) for a slew of pressing local and national issues.
Jackson Lee has sponsored bills on immigration, hunger relief, gun safety, drug sentencing reform, hate crime legislation, LGBT rights, and voting rights. In recent years, she’s continued advocacy for vulnerable and marginalized communities. In 2017, she secured $5 million in increased funding to treat veterans with PTSD. Two years later, she led congressional hearings on reparations for slavery, calling the measure “long overdue.” When the pandemic began in 2020, Jackson Lee opened over 30 testing sites to provide free testing and treatment for youth and seniors with COVID-19. In 2021, she participated in civil disobedience while fighting for voting rights. And she worked with Sen. John Cornyn on a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday. (The bill was signed into law by President Joe Biden.) More recently, she protested the TEA’s takeover of HISD, going so far as to lobby for involvement from President Joe Biden. Now, she could become the first Black woman elected as mayor of Houston.
According to KHOU, Jackson Lee would not have to give up her House seat in order to run for mayor. If Jackson Lee indeed runs in November’s mayoral election, she’ll join a crowded field. Others who have declared include longtime state Senator John Whitmire, former At-Large City Council Member Amanda Edwards, and former interim Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins.
Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) represents the 15th Congressional District (representing north Houston and Harris County). He was elected to the Texas Senate in 1982, after serving for a decade in the Texas House. He serves as the chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, working to change the adult & juvenile criminal justice system. In 2010, when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice wanted $523 million for construction of three new prisons, Whitmire teamed up with conservative Republican Jerry Madden and convinced the Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor to spend $241 million on treatment, mental health and rehabilitation instead.
Chris Hollins is also running to be the next mayor of Houston. If elected, 35-year-old Hollins would be the youngest mayor of Houston since Kathy Whitmire in 1981. He was appointed as interim Harris County Clerk in May 2020. While overseeing Harris County elections, he instituted several programs to boost turnout, including drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting. He also nearly tripled the number of early voting sites in the county.
Mayoral candidate Amanda Edwards served on Houston’s City Council from 2016 to 2020, after which she launched a bid for the U.S. Senate. Prior to entering politics, she specialized in municipal finance as a lawyer.