August 20,1982 / Montrose voice 15
Behind the Big Glasses and Cute Bow
Tie: Kathy Whitmire Speaks to the Voice
Photostory by Ed Martinez
Early in 1982, a petite woman in her 30s
overcame formidable political opposition
in the person of the Sheriff of Harris
County, Jack Heard, to become the Mayor
The first woman to hold that position,
Kathyrn J. Whitmire to one an all, had two
terms as City Controller under her belt
before tackling the establishment to wrest
the top city job away from the pols and
pros who were convinced they could hang
her out to dry in a contest between Heard,
the good old boy, and Kathy, the nice
The good old boys were dead wrong, and
they were the ones left with egg on their
faces as Kathy Whitmire swept to a convincing win.
This was not accomplished without considerable blood on the precinct floor, however, as Whitmire's opponents worked
diligently to make political hay over Whitmire's endorsement by Houston Gay Political Caucus. Whitmire sought and
received the support of the gays of Houston, and Heard's supporters felt he had a
cross on which to crucify Ms. Whitmire.
A last minute attempt by a supporter of
Jack Heard blew up rudely in the faceB of
those trying to portray Whitmire as a
future militant gay libber, and the forces
using the smear tactics went down to
Ms. Whitmire then proceeded to Btep
adroitly into the political quagmire of
problems facing Houston by doing the
unthinkable: she appointed a police chief
who was a) black, and b) from Atlanta.
She then had the audacity to get his
appointment approved by the City Council in an 11 to 3 vote.
Then she wooed the man who had built
Atlanta's subway-transit system away
from that city in an effort at solving Houston's monumental transit mess.
Then, as if all that were not enough, she
took on the police and fire departments in
an open battle to free top administrative
jobs from the stagnant clutches of civil
service to make those departments more
responsive to wishes of the fire and police
Not only that, she won those battles
handily, by means of sheer political clout
and clever negotiations with the organizations representing the firemen and policemen who realized that they had been
Not really Wonder Woman, just a smart
young lady who does her homework thoroughly and never fails to give credit to
those around her, Kathy Whitmire is probably one of the shrewdest politicians in
Texas, and that puts her in the same
league with John Connally and a host of
other slick politicians.
She met us in her capacious office and
answered questions candidly and
Are you enjoying being mayor as much
as you thought you would?
Oh yes, I really am. I feel very good
about it, for three reasons: one, I have a
very good staff, which has been a tremendous help to me. Tw#, the City Council has
been very cooperative, and three, because
of both those things we've been able to get
some things accomplished.
We've been able to set some goals such
as getting our budget approved on time,
getting the fiscal year changed, bringing
in a new police chief, getting Borne
changes in civil service... I'm really enjoying that.
What do you think the biggest problem
facing Houaton is right now?
It's hard to pinpoint one thing, but the
item that comes to the top of the list for
most Houstonians is the mobility problem, the difficulty that people have in getting where they're going ... as big as this
city is and as much territory as it covers
and as far behind as we've gotten in public
transportation and in our public thoroughfare system, I would have to classify
mobility as our number one problem that
provides that daily irritant to people in
This is not to minimize the crime problem that we're addressing through the
Is it possible that with the cutoff in federal funds, the sheer size ofthe city and the
influx of people in spite of the recession,
mobility may be one of those problems
that have become chronic, that Houston
may just slow down, or do you feel that it is
Well, all those things come in degrees.
You can't eliminate traffic in any big city
but you have to find ways to make it more
workable and more tolerable to keep it
from getting worse. That is our more
immediate goal, to keep traffic from getting worse that it already is.
We think that a first step in that direction is to have a substantially increased
bus system and that has been the first goal
of Alan Kiepper since he's been in
That's just one step. We're still looking
at more advanced means—rail transportation that we believe that we can develop
as a feasible alternative in Houston. At
the same time, the city is presenting a united effort to the state highway commission
to encourage the development of more freeways in the city of Houston.
You're our mayor, and a lot of people
wonder: what's the lady behind the big
glasses and the bow tie really'like?Howdo
you spend your private time, or do you
have any time left over for a personal life?
I think that's the key to it.
A job like being mayor is a very demanding job and I do spend a great amount of
time on it; 75 or 80 hours a week are dedicated to my responsibilities as mayor of
the city so that doesn 't leave a whole lot of
time for a private life and personal
But I am a very private person and do
tend to keep my private life to myself.
Has living in Montrose helped you
understand the problems that gays face?
I would say that that's probably true.
Certainly I know a lot of people who are
gay, and because of that personal association, any time you develop personal
associations with people who have different lifestyles, different backgrounds, different economic positions, you become
more familiar with their problems, and
more sensitive to the difficulties they face.
Now or in the future, at any time in your
tenure of office as mayor, would you support an ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in
the area of jobs, housing, or credit—a gay
I think we've seen some ordinances that
cover some of those areas passed by other
cities, and I certainly believe in that philosophy, that we should not tolerate discrimination against people because of
their background or lifestyle or whatever.
I believe that all people should be considered as individuals in employment and
in all phases of their Uves.
The question becomes one of what
should the city's role be, to what extent
does the city have the authority to involve
itself in various transactions that occur,
whether they have to do with housing and
employment or credit and what role
should a city government play.
It's not an issue that I am sure about at
this time. It would depend on the attitudes
of the city council and the legal authority
that the city has.
// the issue arose, if an ordinance were
introduced by one of the city councilmen,
would you support it?
I think it would depend on the specific
way that it was written. I would not want
to tell you in advance that I would support
an ordinance that might be projected by a
council member, because I don't know how
that ordinance would be framed, what
kind of enforcement it would have, what it
might cost to enforce it, whether it would
be legally enforceable and all those kinds
I will tell you that in concept I certainly
support equal opportunity for people without regard to their lifestyle.
Your opponent nailed you, or tired to, in
the last election, over your endorsement
by the Houston Gay Political Caucus.
Would you seek the support of the Gay
Political Caucus in another bid for mayor?
Certainly, I always seek the support of
all the groups in the city.
One thing I was going to tell you is that
you were talking about my opponent nailing me about the GPC support. I saw a poll
recently that was done after the election,
where they tried to analyze why it turned
out the way it did.
Eighty-seven per cent of the people who
voted in the election were aware of my
support from the Gay Political Caucus,
but the overwhelming majority of them
said that it made no difference one way or
I think that is very interesting, that it
made no difference one way or the other.
I think it is very interesting, that it did
become a very high profile issue, and
everyone was aware of it, but the majority
of Houstonians did not consider that a significant factor one way or the other.
Is there anything you would like to say
to the people of Montrose?
I think that we have a lot of potential in
this city, and the thing that I want to say
is that we can make Houston the kind of
place that we want to live from the standpoint of addressing our problems with
mobility and crime and park Bpace and
improvements in the streets and all ofthe
issues that need to be addressed if we get
I think that the active civic organizations that have been formed in the inner
city have certainly been making the differ
ence towards the upgrading of our city and
I believe that's really the strength of the
city, the people that take the time to get
The thing that strikes a person listening
to Mayor Whitmire is that she is, for all her
savvy and intensity that is evident in her
manner, not that most damning of adjectives, strident.
She has the ability, almost unique
among top women executives, to remain
The office of mayor has failed to harden
or make coarse someone who is, obviously,
very much a lady.