The high ranked mayoral candidate and top contender for mayor of Houston, Adrian Garcia was interviewed by Afripol (Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center). Garcia is a household name in Houston that needs no introduction. He has a long time presence in Houston politics and professional service. A former Mayor Pro Tempore, Garcia “was most recently Sheriff of Harris County, the largest county in Texas and third largest in the United States. As an executive, Adrian managed a workforce of approximately 5,000 people and a budget of almost $500 million. Previously, Adrian represented District H on Houston City Council and prior to that, spent 23 years as an officer with the Houston Police Department.” The interview took place at his election headquarter and was conducted by Emeka Chiakwelu, the principal policy strategist at AFRIPOL.
“African immigrants in Houston have higher education levels than other immigrant groups. Thus we need to leverage the large pool of well educated African talent and facilitate their involvement in our city government “– Adrian Garcia.
Question:Good day sir. I highly appreciate this opportunity with you. Many of African residents in Houston especially Nigerian Americans have shown great interest in your candidacy and this was the utmost reason why Afripol seek this interview. Sir, first and foremost, could you tell us about yourself?
Adrian Garcia: I am a product of Houston and its public schools, growing up in the Near Northside, and still live there today with my family. I am the only American born in my family, who immigrated from Mexico and chose Houston as their home.Most recently, I have served the community as the Sheriff of Harris County, the largest county in Texas and the third largest in the country. As an executive, I lead, managed, and reformed an agency with budget of almost $500 million, and a workforce of approximately 5000 people. Prior to that, I served on Houston City Council, where I was selected as Mayor Pro-Tem under former Mayor Bill White, and was an officer with the Houston Police Department for 23 years.
Q: What motivated you to seek the office of Mayor of Houston?
Garcia: I believe that Houston needs a leader who will unite the city and set a focus for the future of Houston. I am asking for the privilege of becoming the mayor of my great hometown because this city has been very good to me, and I believe that I am uniquely qualified to lead it. I want to make sure Houston remains as the city of opportunity to the next generation of Houstonians, and I want to make sure every neighborhood and community in our great diverse city feels like they’re a part of our bright future. My nearly 35 years in public service has taught me a great deal about our government. From the front seat of a patrol car, you get a first-hand look at where our City is serving its residents and where it is failing to provide the services it should. My efforts to decrease gang involvement, a major national issue at that time, prompted Mayor Bob Lanier to appoint me to the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office in 1994, and within 5 years I was promoted to be the director of the program. Our efforts were tremendously successful in decreasing the gang violence plaguing Houston neighborhoods through employing creative community policing initiatives, which were centered on building trusting relationships between the patrolling officers and the community. I then took the skills that I learned as a police officer and directed them towards addressing the broader needs of our community by being elected to a seat on the Houston City Council, where I served three terms. Serving on the Council as Bill White’s Mayor Pro tem,
I helped develop and pass initiatives expanding senior homestead exemptions and making homeownership more affordable because experience had taught me that neighborhoods are stronger when people can own their own homes. I had also learned from my experience as an officer that more crime could be prevented with a greater focus on timely data collection and analysis. This led me to work on creating HPD’s Real Time Crime Center, which produced immediate results in lowering crime rates. While I was an ardent supporter of METRO light rail expansion as a councilmember, I listened carefully to the concerns of many residents about the new rail lines. Hearing concerns about the rail construction impact on longtime area businesses, I created the city’s Construction Mitigation Program to extend low interest loans to existing micro businesses who needed a little help to get through the disruptive construction period of a major infrastructure project. Throughout my tenure on City Council, I worked tirelessly and collaboratively to tackle major issues like crime prevention while also supporting the kinds of smart infrastructure and economic development initiatives that helped make Houston even greater. Voters then awarded me the honor of leading a Sheriff’s Office of almost 5,000 personnel and a budget of roughly $500 million, and in dire need of new leadership and reform. When I arrived on my first day, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was $60 million over- budget, and the county jail so overcrowded that taxpayers were paying over $10 million annually to house prisoners in Louisiana.
By demonstrating leadership and establishing reforms aimed at progressive community policing, I was able to keep a lid on crime while delivering four straight fiscal years under-budget. I was also able to dramatically lower our jail population and stop sending prisoners out of state by developing programs and partnerships to make sure that our mentally- ill Houstonians began receiving the treatment they needed instead of yet ticket to our county jail. I am living proof of the promise of Houston, where if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get anywhere you are bold enough to dream. My career has taught me the importance of listening to the needs of all communities and how we can make our City government work efficiently to serve Houstonians with a great quality of life today, while building our infrastructure for tomorrow.
Q: What makes you unique or better qualified than other candidates vying for the mayoral position?
Garcia: I am uniquely qualified to lead the City of Houston because I’m the only candidate in this race with executive experience. I lead, managed, and reformed a major organization, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, into savings of over $200 million dollars while keeping the streets of America’s 3rd largest county safe. In my capacity as Sheriff of the HCSO I hired the first observant Sikh American deputy, Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal, to serve while keeping his Sikh articles of faith, including his dastaar (turban) and beard. Throughout my entire tenure at the HCSO, I promoted diversity in hiring and a professional environment of mutual respect and trust, so that the Sheriff’s Department could best protect all residents in the most diverse and culturally rich county in America. I’m a retired public safety officer who knows what it takes to protect all residents of this city and who also knows what a pension means to the families of those who protect our homes and streets. I have a broad base of recognition and support across all communities here in Houston largely because of the time I have spent creating quality relationships where I responded to community concerns.
Q: Mr. Garcia you said: “Houstonians deserve a fiscally responsible leader who knows how to balance a budget, reform a large bureaucracy and keep our families safe.” Could you emphasis on leadership, safe family and fiscal responsibility?
Garcia: The biggest challenge we face is confronting a challenging, unsustainable fiscal situation while making sure that we are able to pay for public infrastructure and the municipal and public safety personnel necessary for this city to thrive. The unpaid pension obligations currently faced by our City truly cannot be ignored if we are to maintain a prosperous Houston for future generations. While I strongly believe that we must keep our promises to current retirees and employees so that they know their retirement is secure, I believe we need to take a holistic look at all of the city finances, including pensions, to find an efficient Houston solution going forward. Some people approach the pensions as three silos outside of the city’s finances, but I feel that such an approach misses the opportunity to redefine how our pension obligations play a role in our overall city finances. My whole career has been committed to public safety, and I have personal skin in the game when it comes to any pension negotiations. I am committed to bringing all parties to the table to craft a local solution that allows for the City to keep its promises to public employees while still maintaining critical infrastructure and the hiring of the public safety personnel we need to keep Houston safe.
Afripol’s Emeka Chiakwelu and Mr. Garcia (left)
Q: Houston is a very diverse city with many immigrant communities and there are recent African families from Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia and many others. Sir, if you are elected the Mayor of Houston, how are you going to make sure that your administration is inclusive, without leaving any community behind?
Garcia: My campaign slogan is ALL of Houston because diversity and inclusion are part of the bedrock of my philosophy. I am proud that the HCSO under my tenure was the most diverse in the office’s 178 year history. We need to become diverse beyond our population statistics and make sure that diversity permeates deep into all facets of our community. As Mayor, the existence of a more diverse public sector workforce can be achieved by appointing officials who understand the importance of seeking out a diverse group of qualified candidates. Additionally, taking steps to ensure that diversity exists within our business community can be done by improving the permitting process to allow first time MWBE business owners a better shot at creating a successful business. These are just two of the many steps we can take to ensure that diversity does not just remain a talking point. I am truly interested in talking with any group that is interested in getting involved in this mayoral process. I feel that my ideas, vision, and record as a public servant are compelling to groups of all stripes, and I’m actively seeking everyone’s support. One caveat is that I will not be seeking the support of any group with a discriminatory platform, history or organizational philosophy.
Q: Can we see a qualified person of Nigerian or Ghanaian or Ethiopian in Houston occupying an important position in your administration?
Garcia: Absolutely, as Mayor, I will make appointments to commissions that accurately reflect and represent Houston’s very diverse population. Charles W. Corey of the U.S. Department of State said that it has been estimated that Greater Houston has the largest Nigerian expatriate population in the United States. As of 2014 an estimated 150,000 Nigerian Americans live in Houston. According to Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University, as of 2003, almost 35% of African immigrants have university degrees, and 28% of African immigrants have postgraduate degrees. Based on these statistics, African immigrants in Houston have higher education levels than other immigrant groups and US-born whites. Thus we need to leverage the large pool of well educated African talent and facilitate their involvement in our city government.
Q: Apart from Oil and Gas industry, Houston has not fully taken advantage of the emerging economies in Africa. Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia have growing and robust economies with large emerging middle class consumers. If elected how can you encourage international trading and commerce with these African countries?
Garcia: “ALL of Houston”, one of my campaign themes, speaks to my real belief that it is Houston’s rich diversity that will ensure Houston’s continued success, especially economically, in the years to come. One in Four Houstonians is foreign born, and our airport system is about to become the only airport in North America (one of five in the world) with a direct flight to all six inhabited continents. We must remain a welcoming city known the world over, and I believe that I am uniquely equipped to ensure such a future. In 2012, the total trade between Houston and Africa was $19.7 billion. Houston is Africa’s largest U.S. trade partner. As Mayor, I will be scrutinizing our city’s budget and finances. My plan is to promote open economic discussions with experts from all of the different sectors of our economy, including economists and business leaders, to make sure that all our private and public enterprises are creating incentives for international commerce. I promise to advance our city’s needs in the areas that need it the most, to create a sustainable economy that encourages international trade and explores new options with emerging economies.
Q: Houston is the global energy capital. Although that Houston economy is fully diversified but the falling oil price is causing layoffs and losing of jobs. What is the means to enhance Houston to attract more investments especially in the non-energy sector?
Garcia: We must reinforce our existing industrial drivers while also looking to diversify our economy, Houston is commonly said to have four pillars in our economy: the Energy Industry, the Texas Medical Center (largest in the world), Port of Houston (highest foreign tonnage port in the US), and Aerospace and NASA (still our next frontier). I would add that we have a substantial service industry and education sector. Each of these offer complementary elements and emerging opportunities to build new pillars to our economy. In addition to these pillars, Houston’s attractiveness has laid the foundation for our burgeoning, but inadequately supported, Start-Up and Venture Capital economy and our already renowned Arts, Culture and Creative sector to become worldwide attractions. Additionally, we must reform our regulatory functions, become more small business friendly and better market our great city and the quality of our workforce.
Q: Finally, tell us one thing you like about living in Houston?