Houston News & Search
Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff
Despite racial tensions and a federal lawsuit over access to the ballot box in Pasadena, the establishment won Saturday in an election that garnered national attention as a voting rights battleground.
City Councilman Jeff Wagner defeated businessman John “JR” Moon late Saturday in the heated election to replace outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell. Wagner is closely aligned with Isbell, who has tightly controlled city politics for decades but was term-limited.
Incumbents, including a 91-year-old mayor, also held on to their seats in a runoff in Pearland.
Pasadena mayoral candidates:
John Moon Jr., 58, is a commercial real estate agent and former banker
Jeff Wagner, 53, is a Pasadena city councilman and retired Houston police officer
Pearland mayoral candidates
Tom Reid, 91, is retired from Johnson Space Center.
Quentin Wiltz, 36, works in pipeline coating industry.
The runoff caps the first election cycle to be held since a federal judge ruled that Pasadena intentionally discriminated against Hispanic voters with a now-defunct redistricting scheme that was championed by the departing mayor.
The city of Pasadena is appealing the judge’s ruling, but until it is settled Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal has ordered the city to revert to a 2013 election map that uses eight single-member districts, instead of relying on the six single-member and two at-large districts ruled unconstitutional. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice sent two observers to monitor the May election.
In that election, all eight city council seats and the mayor’s office were up for grabs, leading to two run-offs.
Four races were decided last month: incumbent and Isbell ally Bruce Leamon over challenger Steve Halvorson; Phil Cayten beat Larry Peacock for Wagner‘s District F seat; incumbent and Isbell ally Cary Bass beat out challengers Oscar Del Toro and Allen Munz for District G; and Thomas Schoenbein, who supported Wagner, beat Keith Sargent, April Lance and Brad Hance for District H.
Incumbents District E Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler and District D Councilman Sammy Casados won re-election unopposed. Don Harrison won the District C seat unopposed.
In Saturday’s mayoral runoff, Wagner had not responded to questions from the Houston Chronicle. In campaign literature, he touts his experience as a former Houston police officer and as a city councilman.
Moon is a commercial real estate agent and banker who campaigned as the candidate of change, a break from Isbell’s legacy.
Moon campaigned heavily on his credentials as chief financial officer of Moody Bank, based in Galveston, saying he has the experience and knowledge to make smarter financial decisions for the city.
The runoff took place in the shadow of a federal lawsuit, brought by a handful of Pasadena residents, that shows the tension between a white population in the south of this industrial port city of 150,000 and an increasing Hispanic population on the north side.
Nearly two-thirds of city residents are Hispanic, up from less than one-third in 1990.
The federal judge ruled in January that the city intentionally violated the rights of Hispanic voters with a redistricting scheme pushed through three years ago by Isbell.
In Pearland’s mayoral runoff, incumbent Tom Reid, 91, was ahead of challenger Quentin Wiltz, a 36-year-old who works in the pipeline industry, in early returns over who will lead the fast-growing south Houston suburb.
And in the race for a newly created City Council position, Woody Owens was leading Dalia Kasseb as ballots continued to be counted late Saturday.
The elections reflected a suburb grappling with significant growth in recent decades as new and diverse residents moving to master-planned communities built on the west side of town. City officials estimate Pearland has 120,000 residents. It encompasses parts of three counties – Harris, Fort Bend and Brazoria – and covers 48 square miles.
Campaign rhetoric highlighted the challenges the city faces, including transportation, infrastructure, a landfill and city finances. Race and religion also became talking points, with two older, white, conservative men who had held office before facing two younger, minority newcomers.
In the council race, businessman and former City Council member Woody Owens, 69, ran against 30-year-old pharmacist Kasseb, the first openly Muslim candidate for public office in Brazoria County history.
Rottinghaus, the political scientist, said Pearland’s election was similar to Pasadena in that change comes slowly, and in modest measures, and lags significantly behind demographic change.
“If voters can’t be convinced that change is needed after what happened in Pasadena, it’s hard to believe they can be convinced statewide,” he said. “If rallying racial minorities, younger voters and Democrats didn’t work in Pasadena, it’s hard to believe it’s going to work on a more broad scale.”
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