Candidates clockwise starting upper left: Amanda Edwards

Houston 2023 mayoral candidates weigh in on fundraising

By Aswad Walker

Mayor Sylvester Turner has led the Bayou City for the past seven and a half years, steering Houston through countless storms, including the Labor Day Flood (2015), Tax Day Flood (2016), Hurricane Harvey (2017), Independence Day Flood (2018) and Winter Storm Uri (2021).

Turner took office facing a different storm — an out-of-whack city budget that stood to force hundreds of city workers out of jobs. A storm of a different kind swept the nation —a racial reckoning — with the murder of Houston-born George Floyd, and ongoing police killings of unarmed Blacks (Jalen Randle, for example).

The grades Turner receives, of course, depend on who you talk to, even though he’s revered nationally for the job he’s done in H-town. But whether you give Turner an A, F or “undecided,” incredibly, his time as Houston’s mayor is coming to an end via term limits.

Hence, in November 2023, Houston will elect a new CEO.

Thus far, five individuals have announced their candidacy: Chris Hollins, former Harris County clerk; Amanda Edwards, former Houston City Councilmember; State Sen. John Whitmire; attorney Lee Kaplan and police officer Robin Williams.

Because the amount of money campaigns can raise divides the pretenders from the contenders, it is important to take a look at the campaign funding race.

“Money talks loudly in political campaigns,” said Sharon Watkins Jones, longtime political strategist and founder of Watkins Jones LLC, a public affairs and legislative advocacy firm.

“Money buys television and radio spots. It pays for digital and print materials. Money purchases transportation and lodging for stump activities. Money pays for campaign staff, strategy and canvassing. If a political tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, it loses.”

Here is where the funding stands at the moment for Houston’s mayoral candidates, with the latest figures from July 2022:

Chris Hollins $1.12 million
Lee Kaplan $800,000
Amanda Edwards $789,000
John Whitmire

Whitmire has a “war chest” of $9.7 million in his state account, though it is not yet clear how much of that he will be able to legally dedicate toward his campaign due to unclear city codes.

Robin Williams No data available

For context, in 2015, Turner started his mayoral run with $900,000. In 2019, attorney Tony Buzbee had $2 million in his campaign coffers, though his campaign was self-funded. But the fact that Buzbee made it to a run-off with the then incumbent Turner shows the impact and importance of a well-funded campaign.

That being said, Hollins, Kaplan and Edwards, based solely on campaign fundraising, are basically in a dead heat. Thus, the wildcard in this race is Whitmire, and the amount of funds he will be able to bring to the table.

Edwards and Hollins feel good about where their fundraising numbers currently stand.

“I am so grateful for the overwhelming outpouring of support from the diverse Houston community and others supporting our campaign,” said Edwards. “This enthusiastic and immediate response to our campaign will help ensure that Houston elects a mayor that has the experience and vision needed to ensure that we can live in a city where every Houstonian has the opportunity to thrive.”

“The fact that we have received more individual contributions than all our opponents combined is a reflection of the grassroots enthusiasm we’ve generated since launching our campaign,” said Hollins. “Houstonians are embracing our fresh ideas and approach in record numbers, and we look forward to continuing to share our message with voters across the city.”

Kaplan and Williams face the daunting task of raising campaign funds without the name recognition enjoyed by Whitmire, Edwards and Hollins, who made national news for his work to facilitate record-breaking voting during the November 2020 presidential election amid a pandemic.

But Kaplan sees his “outsider” positioning as an advantage.

“I think people are attracted to individuals from the private sector more than those from the public sector, i.e. somebody like me,” said Kaplan. “Many view us as bringing new ideas and a fresh perspective to public office.