Shared from the 10/21/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Mayoral candidates pressed on guns, Harvey recovery, dumping

Illegal dumping in low-income neighborhoods, slow recovery from Hurricane Harvey and safer gun storage dominated a Sunday afternoon discussion with mayoral candidates.

The three leading candidates at the forum agreed more often than not that Houston needs to curb contractors and landlords from dumping trash, step up disbursement of Harvey recovery funds and do more to educate gun owners about properly storing their weapons.

The session at Assumption Catholic Church was hosted by the Metropolitan Organization. The advocacy group invited the trio of candidates to say where they stood on some of the city’s pressing issues. Mayor Sylvester Turner faced challengers Tony Buzbee, a personal injury lawyer, and Bill King, a businessman.

The discussion had few of the fireworks of earlier debates. Candidates were asked a series of questions and were instructed to answer “yes” or “no” to each. They had 60 seconds to respond and were told not to make any disparaging remarks about their opponents.

Twelve candidates are running for mayor, but the Metropolitan Organization opted to limit the forum to the three top contenders. The group had limited time, and everything that was said was simultaneously translated into Spanish, making it difficult to accommodate more candidates, said Bryan Lopez, the Metropolitan Organization press coordinator.

But there were flashes of combativeness from the trio of candidates before the overflow crowd of 600 jammed into the school gymnasium, including representatives from nearly three dozen churches and synagogues.

So far, only about 2,700 applications for reimbursement for Harvey-related reconstruction are in process, and questioners asked the candidates if another 1,500 is realistic by next year. Turner said yes, especially since the city has added more inspectors. Both Buzbee and King pounced, saying Houston can do better.

“We’re going to do a lot better when I’m mayor,” said Buzbee.

King pointed out that Houston has had the recovery money for a year now. The rest of the state is rebuilding “We should have too,” he said.

All three agreed to develop a flood prevention plan that would include online maps to warn drivers about dangerous street flooding and hire enough staff to make sure Houston is maintaining drainage ditches, culverts and underground storm sewers to prevent flooding.

King noted that Houston set aside funds to make the necessary repairs several years ago when it began collecting higher drainage and storm fees. But the money has been diverted, he said, to pension bonds, asphalt overlays and traffic lights. He called for drainage and storm fees to go back to their intended purpose.

Turner said the city has already launched several engineering projects to better handle heavy rains. Buzbee said Houston needs to do a better job with improving drainage.

The election is Nov. 5. Early voting begins today and ends Nov. 1.

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