Tony Buzbee and Bill King spent more than an hour last week telling area residents and business leaders about themselves, the state of the City of Houston and what they would do if they were overseeing its governance.
After the August Breakfast Connection hosted by the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, which put the Houston mayoral candidates on display the morning of Aug. 8, multiple attendees said they were not sure which man made the better pitch. But there seemed to be a consensus among many of the 80 or so community members who listened intently inside the Sheraton Houston Brookhollow Hotel.
“I think both candidates are better than what we currently have,” said Kathleen Goerner, owner of Pinspiration, an upcoming craft studio and wine bar in the Heights.
Goerner was referring to Mayor Sylvester Turner, for whom she voted in 2015. She said she plans to vote for Buzbee or King, who lost to Turner in a runoff four years ago, in this year’s mayoral election in November.
Criticism of Turner was a common theme among Buzbee and King, who each took a turn at the podium and then took turns answering questions from the audience. Both said Turner has mismanaged the city’s finances and misplaced its priorities, citing problems with crime, infrastructure, public services and transparency.
“Everything’s broken,” King said. “Nothing’s working in this city.”
Turner, who according to campaign finance reports filed with the city secretary has a sizable fundraising advantage over his challengers, did not attend the event. Jacob Millwee, the outgoing president of the chamber of commerce, said Turner was invited to participate but did not agree to its format or structure.
Millwee said two other prominent mayoral candidates, city councilman Dwight Boykins and former city councilwoman Sue Lovell, were not invited because they had not yet entered the race when invitations were extended earlier this year. Millwee said the chamber of commerce invited six of the nine candidates who are now in the race, with city’s filing deadline set for Aug. 19.
“I would have loved to have been there,” said Lovell, who has ties to the Heights and worked with the chamber during her tenure on the city council.
Goerner, along with Heights realtor Bobby Speer and mortgage lender Gabe Lukish, said they think Buzbee and King are the two best options in a crowded race.
King, who served as mayor of Kemah in the early 2000s, is a University of Houston graduate who has worked as a lawyer and businessman. He said Houston needs to better address the issues of crime and homelessness while also making better fiscal decisions.
Buzbee graduated from Texas A&M and served in the United States Marine Corps before becoming a successful trial attorney, and he touted his experience as a business leader to the audience. He said he would replace Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena if elected and, like King, said the city isn’t providing adequate services to its citizens.
“We can’t even pick up the trash on time,” Buzbee said. “Enough is enough.”
Speer said Buzbee had a “slight edge” in terms of the candidates’ performance at the chamber of commerce event, describing him as more engaging and energetic. Goerner also said Buzbee came across as passionate, but she credited King for being more reserved and experienced.
Lukish said he plans to vote for one of the two men, but wants to vet them more before making a choice.
“I definitely liked both of their points of view. They were well-spoken and very direct,” Lukish said. “They have a plan and have initiatives, and I think that’s a huge part. Once you get in there, you’ve got to know what to do with it.”