May 30, 2024 - News

Whitmire defends Gulfton immigrant comments

Mayor John Whitmire speaks as a Metro bus is stopped behind him

Mayor John Whitmire at a May 7 press conference. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Mayor John Whitmire defended himself Wednesday after saying Gulfton residents are "largely undocumented immigrants" who may not be welcome in the posh Galleria neighborhood.

Context: Whitmire made the comments to a Houston Landing reporter May 7 while questioning the Metropolitan Transit Authority's long-planned bus rapid transit line through Gulfton, one of Houston's most severely underserved neighborhoods.

  • The rapid transit line, if constructed, would provide a connection to Metro's Silver Line, which runs through Uptown and the Galleria.

Driving the news: The Landing's story on Whitmire's attitudes towards the project itself and Metro as a whole published Tuesday.

  • In it, Whitmire is quoted as saying, "[Gulfton residents are] largely undocumented immigrants. They just want basic services. They don't want to be part of the Galleria. You think they're going to be welcome in the Galleria?"

The other side: Whitmire on Wednesday said the quote was a "wrong representation of my comments."

  • "We were talking about retail buying," Whitmire said during Wednesday's City Council meeting. "We were talking about professional staff."

What happened: The mayor defended his comments after council member Edward Pollard, an often outspoken target of Whitmire's ire, said he was "disheartened" not only by the quote but by what he felt was an ongoing lack of engagement with him or his constituents.

  • "What hurts me about that is we're making generalizations on a particular community that is extremely diverse," Pollard said. "What I would hope for is regarding any decisions that are made … the best course of action is to speak to that community first."

Whitmire said Wednesday he spoke with "newly arrived Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorians" in Gulfton about the transit plans following the deadly May 16 derecho.

  • Whitmire claimed they were against the bus rapid transit line and instead wanted "basic services" like a reliable bus to community resource centers.

What they're saying: Whitmire's office sent Axios a statement on his behalf Wednesday afternoon.

  • "The statement [in the Landing] was part of a broader discussion about BRT and travel patterns," Whitmire said. "We spent a lot of time in Gulfton speaking to residents about whether they have a strong demand for shopping in the Galleria area. The response was overwhelmingly no."
  • "In fact, residents claim no one has asked them what their preferences are. We plan to change this practice. We are designing transit solutions for Gulfton that meet the community's needs and not what special interest consultants think they want."

Of note: Leadership at the Landing declined to comment.

What we're watching: How Metro will move forward with its voter-approved transit plans during Whitmire's administration.

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