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With the runoff just days away, Houston mayoral candidates Gene Locke and Annise Parker squared off face-to-face for the last time Wednesday night in a televised debate that featured no fireworks but many phrases that have become well-worn to those who have watched them campaign in recent months.

Appearing together in the studio of KPRC-TV, the candidates whom polls show in a virtual dead heat going into Saturday’s election returned to their favorite topics: crime and competence.

Locke repeated that public safety was his top concern, this time illustrating his call for more police officers on the street by wearing a lapel pin that he said was given to him by the widow of a slain Houston police officer.

“I think the first thing we have to do is put more officers on the street, and I believe we have to do that immediately,” Locke said. “We have to have more cadet classes, and we have to have more overtime for our officers immediately.”

Parker emphasized her length and breadth of public service and her financial accounting background.

“I’m the only candidate in this race with the knowledge and experience to lead our city from the first day in office — the only one with a record as a fiscally responsible leader who understands the budget and the financial situations of our city,” Parker said.

Locke opened the debate with a brief statement condemning generally those engaging in divisive campaigning — a reference to the mailers sent out by anti-gay activists opposing Parker’s candidacy because of her sexual orientation. The only other time issues of sexual orientation came up was in a response to a question about whether benefits should be extended to same-sex partners of city employees. Both candidates said the policy would only be changed by public referendum and neither expressed any intention to bring the matter up.

“I am not running to be a role model,” Parker said. “I am running to be mayor of Houston. … I believe, at some point, the city of Houston will offer domestic partner benefits, but it will require a vote of the citizens. I have no plans to initiate that vote.”

Locke said Parker was not willing to commit to putting more police officers on the street, which he has stressed as the cornerstone of his campaign.

“And I’ll do it without raising taxes,” Locke said.

Parker acknowledged the need for more police officers, but she challenged Locke to come up with a way to pay for them. She said his suggestion of taking funds from a couple of different funds — Community Development Block Grants and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones — has already been done, and she rejected his suggestion of taking away mobility funds currently devoted to roadwork.

“I have said I want to fundamentally change the way we do policing in the city of Houston,” she said. “I have proposed a coordinated response strategy where we work with the 35 different agencies in the greater Houston area, so that in an emergency situation, the nearest available officer would respond to a citizen or an officer in distress.”

Life experiences

Responding to a question about criticism leveled by Parker that he was too much of a city insider, Locke said he would be his own man and that his life experiences had better prepared him to lead.

“I came up the hard way,” Locke said. “I didn’t have a silver spoon, it was a wooden spoon. I worked my way through college, worked my way through law school. At every point, I had to go the hard route. I’m pleased at having to do that because it has given me perspective. I understand what it means to be at the bottom of society, but I also understands what it means when you’ve been fortunate enough be at the top and make some decisions. I think you want a leader like that, somebody who has the ability to work with all the citizens in a community to get things done and make things happen.”

Parker said that she has a broader base of support than Locke, whom she said is the favorite of the business establishment.

“I’m proud of the fact that most of my donors are small-donors from the grass roots of Houston,” she said.

Locke said having the support of business leaders did not mean he would not be an independent mayor.

“I am not beholden to anybody. That does not mean I’m not proud of the support I have.”

Via: Houston Chronicle

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