December 18, 2009
USA: Our future is international, says Annise Parker, 53, Houston's New Mayor
. HOUSTON, Texas / The Economist / United States / December 17, 2009 Houston's new mayor Leading lady Time for tight budgets and eating vegetables “SOMEHOW in the United States, we’re almost an afterthought,” said Annise Parker, the Houston city controller, the night before the city’s mayoral election. “I don’t care. I think our future is international.” That kind of blunt talk is central to Ms Parker’s appeal, and the next day, on December 12th, Houston elected her as its next mayor in a run-off. A double victory AP Houston, America’s fourth-biggest city, is now its largest ever to have elected an openly gay mayor. And Ms Parker is one of the two most prominent gay elected officials in the country alongside Barney Frank, an influential congressman from Massachusetts. But her victory is not that surprising. The controller is the second-most-powerful city office, and Ms Parker was elected to that post three times. Her sexuality was not much discussed until after the first round of the mayoral election, in November, which sent Ms Parker and Gene Locke, a former city attorney, into the run-off. At that point some right- wing groups circulated homophobic flyers, but voters seemed not to care. A more remarkable fact is that Ms Parker will become the only woman to lead one of America’s ten largest cities. The Houston Chronicle, in making its endorsement, said that both Ms Parker and Mr Locke (who is black, so that in supposedly conservative Texas’s biggest city the run-off was between a gay woman and a black man) were fine choices but that the controller’s experience was more relevant at the moment. Ms Parker campaigned on fiscal issues and, unlike many politicians, she refused to dress up the facts. Both candidates agreed that Houston should have more police, but Ms Parker would quickly add that there was no money in the budget for them. On the night before the election, at a Christmas party for the Houston Contractors Association, Ms Parker said that if she won her immediate policies would reflect the constrained budget outlook. But after that, she said, she would take a more aggressive approach to economic development than her predecessors have done. She wants to create a development office for the city, and to make use of all the tax abatements and land swaps available to draw new business. Ms Parker joked that she was more of a “custody mom” than a “weekend dad”. Houston had got to eat its vegetables. That straight talk resonated with voters in a highly pragmatic city, and it could indeed be a convincing message in the 2010 mid-term elections. Ms Parker may be a precursor of things to come. [rc] Copyright © 2009 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group.