Quan, Keller, Vasquez score big runoff wins

Turnout 6% as voters cast ballots for six Houston City Council seats

Gordon Quan defeated Dwight Boykins for an at-large seat on Houston City Council Saturday, while Councilwoman Jean Kelley lost her District G seat to challenger Bert Keller.

In the hotly contested District H runoff, Gabriel Vasquez defeated Yolanda Black Navarro. In District C, Mark Goldberg defeated Maryann Young by a mere 27 votes.

Voters cast ballots in six runoff races for City Hall, representing nearly a 50 percent turnover on the 14-member council.

In complete but unofficial returns, Quan had 58 percent to Boykins’ 42 percent.

With his election, Quan will be the first Asian-American to hold citywide office in Houston.

The At-Large Position 2 seat is being vacated by Councilman Joe Roach, who has served the maximum years under term limits.

“Obviously, we are happy,” Quan said as the returns came in Saturday night. “We were very encouraged with our strong showing in the early voting.”

Partying with supporters at a brew pub on the city’s west side, Quan said the mood was “great” and the room filled up quickly as election results showed him leading Boykins.

The two emerged as top vote-getters out of 11 candidates who ran for the seat in the November election.

In other runoff races, Kelley failed in her bid for a second term representing District G on the city’s west side, garnering 30 percent of the vote to Keller’s 70 percent.

Keller, a commercial real estate broker, came in second behind Kelley in November balloting.

At a victory party with about 200 supporters, Keller said he won in part by picking up votes from other contenders in the original field of six candidates.

“If we win this thing, it’s also because I have gotten a bunch of people with no previous experience in politics excited about this process,” Keller said.

In the District H race, Vasquez defeated Navarro in the conclusion of this year’s most divisive campaign, with 61 percent to 39 percent in incomplete returns.

District H in the Heights and surrounding neighborhoods has been represented the past six years by Councilman Felix Fraga, who is leaving because of term limits.

The race was the most intense of the runoffs because a group of state legislators joined in a mailing that derided Vasquez as an ethnic sellout over his support on the Houston school board for changes in bilingual education. State Sen. Mario Gallegos led an “anybody but Gabe” campaign that ultimately failed.

Vasquez said what made the difference for his campaign was that he “stayed positive.”

“We spent the last 11 months listening to what the people were concerned about and put together an agenda of neighborhood improvement that really addresses the needs of the district,” he said. “We stuck by that, and that’s what we are going to continue to do on City Council.”

In north Houston’s District B, Carol Galloway defeated Richard Johnson in the race to replace Councilman Michael Yarbrough, who is prevented from running again because of term limits.

Galloway had 52 percent of the vote and Johnson had 48 percent.

Galloway, a board member at the Houston Independent School District, was backed in her campaign by numerous downtown business leaders. Johnson, a drug and alcohol counselor making his second run for city office, served for six years as chief of Yarbrough’s council staff.

In southwest Houston’s District C, lawyer Goldberg defeated former City Hall aide Young in a tight race.

In complete but unofficial returns, Goldberg won with 27 votes. It was unclear whether Young would request a recount of the balloting.

The Houston Community College System runoff race similarly was won by 27 votes, and also could result in a recount.

“I expect both of them to seriously talk to us about it tomorrow,” said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman.

Such a recount would cost the candidates $ 60 per precinct in the district, plus $ 60 for the early vote total. There are 51 voting precincts in District C, and 46 in the HCC race.

The District C seat on council is being vacated by Councilwoman Martha Wong, who served the maximum of terms. Wong has been helping Quan behind the scenes.

When the final results were announced, Goldberg was at his campaign headquarters, celebrating.

“I am very pleased, of course,” Goldberg said. “We put a lot of hard work into this and spent the day calling everybody we could when it looked like turnout at the polls was going to be extremely light.”

In southwest Houston’s District F, which includes Sharpstown, Alief and other areas, Mark Ellis defeated Dionne Roberts in the race to replace Councilman Ray Driscoll.

Ellis had 76 percent of the vote to Roberts’ 24 percent.

Ellis, a financial planner, is a conservative who was top vote-getter in November. Roberts, a lawyer, was making her second run for the District F seat.

For the most part, this year’s runoff was low-profile, despite a citywide race on the ballot.

The tightly contested district races generated most of the heat.

After the runoff, both candidates in the at-large race focused much of their time on voters in the five districts that still had council races to decide.

There also were other factors that shaped this year’s election.

At 6 percent, turnout was about half of the 11 percent predicted as heavy thunderstorms apparently kept voters inside.

Quan’s dominance in the at-large race owed much to his prodigious campaign fund-raising.

Quan tapped the Asian business community and other sources to amass a campaign fund that exceeded all other candidates in the race.

Boykins, director of recruitment for Texas Southern University, ran an exhaustive campaign that relied heavily on direct contact with voters.

Boykins also enjoyed the support of many downtown business leaders, whose financial contributions to his campaign helped him get a series of ads on television.

Quan has promised to work toward making city government more responsive to the public.

He supports Mayor Lee Brown’s efforts to establish a 3-1-1 telephone system with multilingual operators directing nonemergency calls to various city agencies.

Quan also said he would support improvements to the city’s affirmative action contracting program.

During the campaign, he repeatedly criticized what he said was a system that favors a few, privileged contractors but not the very needy.

Quan is a strong supporter of the light rail system being planned for Main Street and wants to see it expanded to every area of the city.

Once the results are verified, new city officeholders will begin official duties in January 2000.

Brown is expected to schedule inauguration ceremonies for the first week in January.

From an original field of 61 candidates for 16 offices, six city races went to runoffs.

Runoff elections are called when no candidate in a race receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

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