Mayoral candidate Gracie Saenz returned to her alma mater Wednesday to address a group of political science students. Following Robert Mosbacher and George Greanias Saenz is the third candidate invited to Professor Richard Murray's Houston Politics class.
Greeting the class informally, Saenz listed her background as a University of Houston graduate a life-long Houston resident and a mother of three. Saenz also described her political experience, including four years as a Harris County prosecutor, six years as city councilmember and two years as mayor pro-tem.
Saenz outlined issues she considered most important, such as improving the city's infrastructure, expanding international trade and commerce, reducing crime and continuing the city's affirmative action program.
Saenz also spoke of her desire to improve the quality of life for Houston residents. She suggested redeveloping central parts of the city to raise tax bases and improve property values, investing in city parks to provide families safe recreation and expanding city libraries to provide Internet access to all.
On the subject of public transportation, Saenz said she was against the idea of a monorail system. "As a Houston resident, I don't want to sink a lot of money into a system to bring suburbanites into the city. (It would be more effective) to put money into revitalizing downtown and inner-city areas."
Students brought up issues such as annexation of outlying communities, raises to city employees and the prospect of a new sports stadium.
Saenz described the recent annexation of Kingwood as an ugly process, saying, "Inflated egos and personalities got in the way." She said she would like pass legislation that would offer suburban communities other ways to contribute to city costs that affect them, instead of forcing annexation on an unwilling community.
Saenz said she had not and would not accept the salary increase granted to city councilmembers and the mayor. "I do not believe that (we) should get a raise when (other) city employees do not."
As for a new sports stadium, Saenz noted the opportunities it could bring to Houston, but said no more than half the financial responsibility should fall on taxpayers.
The remainder of the stadium's cost should be left to the private sector, ticket sales, parking and hotel costs, she said.
Confident in her chances, Saenz ended the discussion optimistically.
"Something can always happen up to the very last minute of the race," she said.
Murray said that Lee Brown, the only candidate who has not spoken to the class, declined an invitation to do so.