In Houston City Council District H, close competitors with city, community experience face off

Isabel Longoria, Karla Cisneros
Former Houston Planning Commissioner Isabel Longoria (left) will face off against incumbent District H Council Member Karla Cisneros in Houston's 2019 city elections.

Former Houston Planning Commissioner Isabel Longoria (left) will face off against incumbent District H Council Member Karla Cisneros in Houston's 2019 city elections.

A diverse Houston City Council district covering parts of the East End, Heights, downtown and Northside is set for a tight runoff race for its council representative.

District H incumbent Karla Cisneros faces Isabel Longoria, a former Houston planning commissioner.

Cisneros outpaced her opponent in both fundraising and votes during the general election in November, but Longoria has forged a competitive campaign, gaining endorsements from prominent Latino, LGBTQ and labor organizations, and coming within 800 votes of Cisneros in November.

Cisneros was the only incumbent district council member who did not avoid a runoff. However, she joins three at-large council incumbents—Mike Knox, Michael Kubosh and David Robinson—in the runoffs for their respective seats.

While some of Longoria’s endorsements indicate that she has the backing of those looking for the most progressive candidate, Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, said those opinions are more nuanced at the city level.

“That's a hard definition to make in council races where the mayor is more or less setting the agenda,” he said.

Attention around Longoria’s campaign does not dismiss Cisneros’ accomplishments, he said.

“Longoria’s got some interesting endorsements, which are odd or unusual in a council race given that there's an incumbent," Rottinghaus said. “Typically those things don’t line up. ... But I don’t know if it says anything specific about Cisneros’ approach to the office.”

In a district with 37% residents below the federal poverty level, 42% without a high school diploma and some of the lowest health outcomes in Harris County, according to a recently published study, both candidates said they will use their respective experience to support vulnerable members of the community and amplify the area’s strengths.

Cisneros said she draws on her prior roles as a teacher in the area and a member of the Houston ISD board of trustees in addition to her degrees in environmental science and architecture.

“In the classroom it's really inspiring to see so many bright young kids. They just need a chance, and if they don't have it, there are little things, little barriers, that can just completely derail it all,” she said.

To help remove those barriers, Cisneros said she points to her work forming Houston City Council’s first economic subcommittee on education, her “Tech Connect” initiative aimed at increasing STEM education opportunities, and her support of The East End Innovation Maker Hub—a new $24 million skilled trade and career development center underway in collaboration with multiple nonprofit and private entities.

As a former planning commissioner, Longoria says her experience behind the scenes in the city’s development process gives her a unique view of the city.

“Planning commissioners are not allowed to ask about flooding or affordability issues, and those are the loopholes and handicaps I see in my experience in doing this work,” Longoria said.

Her plans for the role, she said, are rooted in both her knowledge of the city’s inner workings as well as her experience as a community organizer with the League of Women Voters, the Mayor’s LGBTQ advisory committee and the AARP.

A proposed expansion of I-45 through much of District H is a looming issue that both candidates said they oppose.

Longoria said she will use her role as a council member to put pressure on Texas Department of Transportation and Houston-Galveston Area Council officials to listen to constituents' concerns. She said her strategies will be more proactive than Cisneros’ approach.

“She’s not being a leader,” Longoria said. “She’s just reacting.”

Cisneros said she counters those claims because she wrote a letter urging H-GAC to oppose funding for the project, organized community meetings to gather constituent concerns, and has spoken against the project during City Council and committee meetings.

It is the community’s involvement, including its organizing groups advocating against I-45 and for its improvement as well as civic and neighborhood groups that Cisneros said she attributes the district’s opportunities to. That engagement was reflected in the district’s 20 percent turnout in the November election, which was higher than a majority of the other district races.

Early voting takes place Nov. 27 and Dec. 2-10. Election day is Dec. 14. For more information, read our candidate Q&A’s here.
By Emma Whalen

Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.


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