In her inaugural speech to a packed audience at the Wortham Theater Center, Houston Mayor Annise Parker asked her fellow citizens for their prayers, their patience, their perseverance and, noting that mistakes and failures are inevitable, “for your forgiveness in advance.”
While a handful of protesters outside brandished signs invoking the name of God together with anti-gay slurs, Lakewood Church Senior Pastor Joel Osteen gave thanks in an opening prayer for “raising up” Parker.
“We honor her today and other elected officials,” he said.
After U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore administered the oath of office to Parker and Controller Ronald Green, the new mayor swore in the 14-member City Council.
The ceremony was a festive occasion, with music provided by an Inaugural Orchestra comprised of members of Houston’s Grand Opera Orchestra and the Houston Symphony Orchestra, along with singers from four area choirs. Soprano Barbara Padilla, who was awarded first runner-up last year on America’s Got Talent, led in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and later sang a soaring version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, from the musical Carousel. Local singers Werner Richmond and Mary Griffin also performed. Griffin’s soul music-inspired America the Beautiful brought the crowd to its feet.
In her 23-minute speech, Parker recalled growing up in Spring Branch, where her father worked two and three jobs and her mother always worked outside the home.
City ‘is on your side’
She noted that during her long mayoral campaign she “kept meeting folks who reminded me of my own mother and father. Fathers worried about finding work, or struggling while working two jobs. Mothers worried about crime, about their children finishing school. Families worried about taxes. Homeowners who just want to protect the neighborhood they love.
“The city of Houston is on your side,” she said. “I firmly believe that our city’s future will be shaped by our citizens — not our politicians. I welcome your suggestions.”
Parker acknowledged that Houston faces budget difficulties but declared the city was in “an enviable position,” and she thanked her predecessor, Bill White, for leaving the city “in good shape.”
The city’s problems would not affect the current level of city services, she said. She said she would address other issues — aging infrastructure, pension shortfalls and redistricting — in her State of the City speech in April.
She also took a moment to speak to “my community, to those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
“I understand how much this day means,” she said. “I feel your excitement and your joy, your apprehension and your longing for acceptance. I will gladly carry you forward. But today is simply one step toward a tomorrow of greater justice. And when the time comes, I will just as gladly pass the torch to the next in waiting, and I will cheer for them as you do me.”
Parker said she frequently had been asked to compare Houston to other cities around the world. The only comparison she could make, she said, was “the Houston in my imagination.” That city, she said, was a city of neighborhoods “where the police are known and recognized, and they in turn know the neighborhood, and we are all safer … a city where mass transit really works … a city with clean and safe air … a city safe from the ravages of flood water … a city where the high school dropout rate is insignificant.”
She urged her fellow Houstonians to join her “as I continue to continue to imagine all the possibilities of our great city.”
Parker and her fellow council members still were in a festive mood as they gathered shortly after the inaugural for a ceremonial City Council meeting. New members, together with family members, took their new seats around the “horseshoe” on the second floor of City Hall.
Parker appointed District C Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck as mayor pro tem, meaning Clutterbuck, who chaired the influential Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee and was a frequent ally of White despite her conservative leanings, will conduct meetings in Parker’s absence and would become mayor if she were unable to finish her term. District H Councilman Ed Gonzalez was appointed vice mayor pro tem by his peers.
Overcome with emotion
And although others welcomed her warmly, none did so quite like Sue Lovell, who came of age in public life together with Parker in the 1980s as a leading activist in Houston’s GLBT community.
“Mayor Parker, I could just say that over and over again,” said Lovell, who noted that she had been overcome with emotion through much of the inauguration. “This shows that if you have dreams and work hard, this city will make your dreams come true.”