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The Washington Post Company
Houston Reelects Mayor In Close Race
Bush Family Backed Hispanic Challenger
By Paul Duggan
December 3, 2001
Houston Mayor Lee Brown (D) narrowly won reelection Saturday, weathering a strong Republican challenge in a race closely watched by national officials of both parties.
Brown, 64, gained a third term as mayor of America's fourth-largest city by a margin of slightly more than a percentage point in a race that remained undecided until early yesterday. His opponent, City Council member Orlando Sanchez, 44, had strong support from President Bush and national GOP officials, just as the Democratic National Committee aggressively backed Brown's campaign.
Republicans, eager to appeal to the nation's rapidly growing Latino population, saw the Houston race as an important chance to gain a major-city mayoralty with a Hispanic candidate in Bush's home state. Brown prevented that, with substantial help from Democratic officials in Washington.
"For the next two years, we will work hard, we will work smart, and most important, we will work together," Brown told supporters yesterday in his victory speech at a Houston convention hall. He praised the Cuban-born Sanchez for "running a very tough campaign. I know he loves Houston and I hope he'll continue to work with us to make sure we will have one city with one future."
With ballots tabulated from all 718 mayoral voting precincts at 1:23 a.m. yesterday (2:23 a.m. EST), Brown led Sanchez 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent. The lead changed repeatedly in the hours after the polls closed Saturday night and election workers began tallying the results. Brown won by 4,383 votes, out of 316,631 cast, a 31.5 percent turnout.
"They counted up the votes and we've fallen a little short," Sanchez, a three-term council member, said in his concession speech at a Houston hotel, as supporters yelled, "Viva Sanchez!" He said, "Tomorrow, we will all wake up, we're all Houstonians, we're all working together."
Nationally, both parties have been striving to attract more Hispanic voters after a decade in which the Latino population grew at a huge rate. Hispanics, already a plurality of Houston's 1.9 million residents, are on the verge of eclipsing blacks as the nation's largest minority group.
Though Sanchez is a conservative Republican and most Latinos identify themselves as Democrats, Sanchez garnered 60 percent of the Hispanic vote in the first round of voting on Nov. 6. A poll last week showed him holding that support heading into Saturday's election.
Besides getting a strong endorsement from Bush a few days before the election, Sanchez's campaign received $15,000 from the National Republican Committee. Two members of Bush's Cabinet traveled to Houston to campaign for Sanchez, and Bush's parents, former president George Bush and Barbara Bush, who have been Houston residents since 1960, endorsed Sanchez.
The Republicans "put a huge emphasis on this race because . . . they wanted to come out of the year winning something," said Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic national chairman, reveling in Brown's victory yesterday. McAuliffe campaigned in Houston for Brown, and the national committee said it expended about $75,000 in cash and other resources to help him win.
"It goes to show that when we have the right message out there, our coalition -- African Americans, Hispanics, whites -- will all come together, and we'll win," McAuliffe said.
Ted Royer, spokesman for the Texas Republican Party, offered a different take on the outcome, emphasizing Sanchez's 60 percent share of the Latino vote. "Orlando Sanchez has proven that Hispanics can turn out in record numbers and vote for a Republican," Royer said. "So in that sense, his campaign already has thrown a wrench in the Democratic machine."