Mayor Parker says goodbye

Outgoing Mayor Annise Parker spoke about her time as mayor.

Marialuisa Rincon, Staff Writer

Annise Parker’s time as mayor saw our city go through an unprecedented transformation. With the citywide elections taking place tomorrow signalling the beginning of the end of her administration, we asked Annise Parker to reflect and share any parting words for the City of Houston.

Parker’s office on the third floor of City Hall looks nothing like you would expect judging from the exterior of the Art Deco masterpiece on Bagby Street — or even her own lobby.

It is spacious, but cozy; filled with the memorabilia of a woman who for the past six years has led a city through hurricanes, tragedies, biblical floods, controversial policies, economic disaster — the list goes on and on — and brought us out better on the other side.

Last year, Forbes named Houston as both the “Coolest Place to Live” and the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States. Parker says that though Houston had been under the radar lately, that perception is no more, “Houston didn’t suddenly become cool when I became mayor,” she says, “People just started to pay attention.”

About 200 people move to the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area everyday, bringing diverse people together from across the world and expanding our city’s already flourishing cosmopolitan cultural scene.

“My campaign brought overwhelming worldwide media coverage.” Parker says this renaissance has come from the media attention brought to Houston from the steady economy, quality of living — and her election, “and I used it to talk about Houston.”

Becoming mayor didn’t come as a shock to Parker. As a former city councilwoman and controller, she sees herself as the most experienced mayor Houston has had.

“Experience makes a big difference,” she says, “there’s a very steep learning curve.”

Of course, being a native Houstonian couldn’t have hurt either. “I’m proud to be a native Houstonian, but it’s really about loving the city and I don’t think you have to be a native to do that.”

Houston has had mayors from across the country — obviously they were elected for a reason and they greatly advanced our city. But the experience one gets from growing up in a city, knowing its ins and outs and ups and downs, is invaluable to someone who holds the highest municipal office over more that six million people.

One in four people living in Harris County are foreign born — anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time knows how welcoming Houston can be and the opportunities that present itself here. As such, Parker can attest to more than a few things Houston does well — and some areas where it could improve.

It might be hard to say that Houston could improve its multicultural scene, but when you’re the “Most Diverse” city in the country, there’s always room for improvement.

With our quality of life, low cost of living, centralized location and already heavy economic presence, she says Houston is the “logical choice” for multinational companies to build their headquarters.

Parker ran as a “Bricks and Mortar” mayor — she campaigned to improve infrastructure and the dismal roads and transportation system. Her administration focussed on five pillars — infrastructure, public safety, quality of life, and job and economic development. After six years, it’s tough to definitively say one stuck to their campaign promises, but Parker believes she “absolutely” did.

Of course, Parker isn’t proud of everything she’s done. The one instance, she recalls where she “fumbled the ball” was the red light camera debacle a few years ago.

Citizens of Houston protested against the use of red light cameras to fine people who ran them. She says she didn’t want to be the mayor to deny the citizens the right to vote on a petition. However,  Parker calls it “an illegal petition.”

“I believe that people who voted to do away with red light cameras are directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of citizens.”

“The best day as mayor is always the night you’re elected,” she says about her proudest moment, “and then the inauguration.” She laughs, “and then everything else is downhill.”

Tomorrow (if there’s no run off) Houston will elect the person who will lead us for at least the next two years. Being handed a city at such a crossroads will require someone the people can trust and who is sure in their ability to lead. Parker offers some advice, “two years is a very short amount of time — you can do a lot of things — but you can’t do everything.”

Parker says she’s not sure what the future holds. Even though term restrictions prohibit her from being mayor, Parker says she will continue to serve the public, “I am not interested in a legislative position — I want to run something.”

“There’s really nothing on the horizon until 2018.”  That is the year Texas elects its next governor.