Sandwiched between a crucial presidential election year and a crucial gubernatorial election year, 2009 has been the period in which just about all politics in Texas really has been local: Nearly every major city has had a decisive mayoral election or, in the case of Dallas, hard-fought referendums that tested its mayor’s power. In San Antonio and Austin, where mayors had reached term limits, change was inevitable—and, mostly, welcome. The young, glamorous Julián Castro trounced the establishment’s choice to succeed Phil Hardberger in San Antonio, while in Austin, back-to-business Lee Leffingwell replaced the laid-back Will Wynn. In Dallas real estate mogul Harlan Crow forced Mayor Tom Leppert into two recall-like fights over city infrastructure; that Leppert won was not only a personal victory but also one that signals the waning of time-honored Dallas kingmakers.
And now comes Houston, which is facing the mandated departure of three-term mayor Bill White in November. Beyond—or behind—civic issues, mayor’s races are always about identity, and because Texas cities are comparatively young, the same evolutionary arguments are replayed time and again. In San Antonio the fight is about ethnic versus Anglo power; in Austin it’s environmentalists versus developers; in Dallas it’s about image—who will best make Dallas the world-class city it perennially longs to be. The Houston mayor’s race has historically