Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston

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Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston
By Andrew Stevens

29 March 2010: Having generated headlines for becoming the first openly gay mayor of a major US city, Houston’s Annise Parker could be forgiven for worrying about tackling the city’s $130m deficit rather than proving conservatives wrong. As the successor to its three term mayor Bill White, Parker has a tough act to follow as leader of America’s fourth largest city.

Update 5 November 2013: Annise Parker re-elected

Annise Parker was elected mayor of Houston in December 2009, replacing the term-limited Bill White. Parker, a former city councilmember, was elected in a run-off having failed to gain a majority in the November general election against her chief opponent, former city attorney and fellow Democrat Gene Locke. Parker’s political career began with earlier election attempts for the city council in 1991 and 1995, eventually securing election for an at-large seat in 1997 and becoming the city’s first openly gay elected official. She was successful in securing re-election in 1999 and 2001, being awarded civic honours for her work on the council by local and state interest groups. In 2003 she was elected City Controller after a run-off, running unopposed for re-election in 2005.

Parker is now the first openly gay mayor of a US city with more than one million residents, with Providence RI’s David Cicilline becoming the first of a state capital in (Portland’s Sam Adams is also frequently cited in this regard). Parker was born in 1956 and was raised in the city’s Spring Branch district. She attended Houston’s Rice University, graduating in sociology and anthropology in 1978, but then worked in the local oil and gas industry as a software analyst.

Houston is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and the largest without zoning restrictions. In 2004, its METRORail system went into service, ending Houston’s status as the largest US city without a rapid transit system. In 2003, a city referendum was held on the further expansion of the system, with 52% voting in favour. Critics argued that the campaign for expansion had been bankrolled by contractors who stood to benefit from the planned works. The system will connect the city centre with the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, as well as the suburbs.

Bill White’s record at city hall (2004-2010) was praised for the expansion of council-run leisure facilities and the introduction of performance monitoring. Most importantly, he presided over stable finances and sought to promote consensus on the city council. A former US Deputy Secretary for Energy under Bill Clinton, White was also praised for his mayoral leadership in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, providing resources for the housing of the large numbers of displaced New Orleans residents who had come to the city fleeing disaster. Having won the March 2 Democratic primary, White is now locked in a battle for Texas governor against Republican two term incumbent Rick Perry.

Under its city charter, Houston is governed by the mayor-council model, with 14 city councilors elected from either nine districts on an at-large basis. All elections to the city council are held on a non-partisan basis. Houston’s mayors are limited to three two-year terms, as are city councilors. In past elections, candidates have spoken out against term limits and called for either a doubling of terms or scrapping them altogether.

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City Mayors was established in 2003 to promote, encourage and facilitate good local government. To strengthen local government further, City Mayors has now instituted a Code of Ethics for city leaders who wish to perform their duties beyond all reproach.

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