As the clock struck 6:30 p.m., it seemed it might be a lost night. Eight men and women in suits and ties were mostly alone, save for a few stragglers.
But when the minute hand turned to 6:31, it was as though someone flipped a switch. More than 30 community members began entering the Heights Fire Station to see eight of the candidates for the Houston City Council’s District C seat during a meet-and-greet Tuesday night.
Despite the late rush, it was laid-back environment as Abbie Kamin, Shelley Kennedy, Greg Meyers, Bob Nowak, Daphne Scarborough, Mary Jane Smith, Kevin Walker and Amanda Wolfe made their pitches to those in attendance. The candidates are vying to succeed Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, who is reaching her term limit as District C’s council member.
Heights resident David Adler attended the event in hopes of narrowing down his choice leading up to the Nov. 5 election. There are 13 candidates in the District C race.
“It’s a lot of candidates and a lot of material to wade through and information to digest,” he said. “It would be difficult to really spend enough time with all these candidates to really get to know them, so events like this give me the chance to maybe cross a few off my list and focus more time on those who align with what I’m looking for.”
Amidst a din of noise echoing throughout the fire station, the eight candidates in attendance took the about five minutes each to lay out their plans for addressing public safety, fiscal responsibility and infrastructure and mobility challenges. Attendee Leann Mueller, a 12-year Heights resident, said personal interactions and opportunities such as Tuesday’s provide a sense of candidness unique to the campaign trail.
“You can really get a sense of where their focus is and what they’ve done,” she said. “It’s one thing to look at a pamphlet. It’s another to see them in person, shake their hand and meet them face-to-face.”
Several of the candidates grew up in neighborhoods throughout District C, including the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest, which is key for those such as Adler. One of the most important things he’s looking for is a leader invested more in the community than personal agendas.
“I think there are a lot of good people who run for office, but there are also those who are more interested in their careers than their own communities,” he said. “I look for a candidate that’s truly interested in public service.”
Among the resident concerns expressed Tuesday included the ability to deal with growth when it comes to improving some of the city’s aging or out-of-date infrastructure as well as the mobility challenges that accompany growth.
“I think Houston seems to have exploded in population growth in the last five years more than I’ve ever seen before,” Adler said. “Roads seem to be much more crowded than they’ve been in the past, so those are a huge concern.”
Mueller, on the other hand, came to the fire station with a laser-focused interest – keeping pedestrians in the Heights and throughout Houston safe from incidents such as the one earlier this year, when pedestrians Lesha Adams and Jesse Perez were struck and killed by a car while trying to cross North Shepherd Drive.
The neighborhood is already making efforts right with the “Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25” campaign, but Mueller said they need city help, too.
“We have a very high pedestrian death rate in Houston. The city has got to start paying more attention to that. I’d like to see green paint on our bike trails and easily seeable crosswalks that are viewable when you’re in a car,” Mueller said. “We’re a neighborhood with a lot of families. If the Heights is truly going to be a walkable neighborhood, we need help from the city to achieve that, and we’ll do our part, too.”