Thursday, May 7, 2015

Houston Mayoral Candidates and Campaign Photography; Sabine Street Bridge

As the Houston mayoral race starts to collect momentum, it is interesting to note each candidate's choice of Houston imagery. Political campaigns normally employ iconic photographs, scenes that everyone can identify with, or neighborhood scenes where candidates might be captured lending a hand to neighborhood projects. So far, most mayoral candidates have chosen campaign photographs with Downtown Houston's skyline as a background. Let's take a look at the candidates so far and their campaign photography selections as they relate to Houston's built environment.

Sylvester Turner

State Representative Sylvester Turner has a relatively simple election website, without much fanfare. The YouTube clip that is featured on the campaign site's home page is unfortunately experiencing some technical difficulties, and is in need of an upgrade. The slogan next to the video states that "Sylvester Turner knows Houston works best when it works for all of us." Unfortunately, the same goes for YouTube videos. Hopefully the video will be fixed, and voters will be able to see a bit more about Mr. Turner and his concerns for Houston.

Pictures on Turner's website include a backdrop of the Downtown Houston skyline. The picture, used to announce internship and fellowship positions assisting with Turner's campaign, seems to be taken from either Downtown Houston's Embassy Suites or Four Seasons.

My Google Earth approximation of Turner's campaign photo site

Chris Bell

Former US Representative and lawyer Chris Bell includes a picture of the Sam Houston Monument in Houston's Hermann Park on his election website. An interesting choice, given that the monument is located outside Houston's major political or economic centers. Given Houston's size, it's important to show that Houston is more than tall buildings downtown. On Bell's "Issues" page, a downtown skyline shot is featured from Houston's Sabine Street Bridge. Remember this view, because it will be common among other candidates as well. 

Bill King

Former Kemah mayor, lawyer and Houston Chronicle journalist Bill King features a skyline view of Downtown Houston on his election website. The background picture, taken from the northwest, seems to be taken from the Holiday Inn-turned-senior-living-apartments, 2100 Memorial. Not to be left out of the Sabine Street Bridge theme, King's picture includes the bridge, but from afar.

Interestingly, it appears that King's photo of Downtown Houston might be a bit dated. The picture does not seem to include the Sabine Street Lofts which were completed in 2001. Could this really be a picture prior to 2001? It appears so.

Regarding King's election platforms, the condition of Houston's roads sits near the top. He makes a bit of a recovery with the thought that "Just because we put a man on the moon it doesn't mean that our streets need to look like its surface." 
The seemingly absent Sabine Street Lofts

Google Earth view of Downtown Houston

Steve Costello

At-Large City of Houston Councilman and civil engineer Steve Costello features what appears to be a view from Houston's JPMorgan Chase Tower on his election website. Not to be left out from the Sabine Street Bridge party, Costello's site also features pictures of his family and him standing on the bridge, with Downtown Houston in the background. It is interesting that in Costello's capacity as city councilman, he is referred to as Stephen, but has opted to use Steve for his mayoral campaign. He seems like a personable guy to begin with, but maybe "Steve" might seem more approachable for more of Houston's citizens.

Steve Costello and his family at the Sabine Street Bridge

Ben Hall

Houston lawyer and former City Attorney Ben Hall is back for another run in 2015 after having run against Mayor Annise Parker in 2013. Unfortunately, his election website contains little information, and is without any sort of Houston imagery. If we're voting solely based on website design and imagery, Hall is dead last.

Hall maintains a YouTube presence, but it appears the videos posted this past March are those that Hall used for his 2013 campaign. Unfortunately, the website listed in Hall's campaign commercial is no longer his current campaign website. Interested voters searching for Hall's site based on this video will be disappointed. Unless you happen to be looking for a photographer in Fort Myers, Florida. Ben Hall Mayor, a Fort Myers, Florida photographer, seems to have snatched up Hall's former campaign website after the 2013 campaign. Maybe Hall can call the other Hall and arrange for a trip to Houston for some campaign photos.

Marty McVey

Houston businessman and lesser known candidate Marty McVey features a picture of himself in Downtown Houston's Tranquillity Park on the main page of his campaign website. Clicking on the site's other tabs leads to a Downtown Houston skyline header, likely taken from the White Oak Bayou Trail, or one of the I-10 ramps.

Adrian Garcia

Finally, after much speculation, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia announced his campaign for Houston mayor. Garcia's campaign website had leaked earlier in the day, and his Twitter handle had changed, dropping his title as sheriff.

To round out the field (up to this point), Garcia is not to be left out in featuring the Sabine Street Bridge and the accompanying Downtown Houston skyline. This is the only picture of Houston on Garcia's website at this time, and I'd expect his site to continue to be updated.

As the candidates continue to campaign, we can expect further updates to their campaign websites. It is interesting to see how our civic leaders see our city, and what imagery they use to convey their messages. Many candidates show themselves surrounded by the tall buildings and commercial centers of our city. This is where each future mayor would be making important decisions, guiding the policies and ordinances that affect commerce, health and character of our city, but more importantly, the people of our city.

If I'm picking a mayor solely based on their photography of Houston's built environment and website design,  Steve Costello and Chris Hall are in the lead. Unfortunately, most voters, myself included, will not be making their choice based on web design, but instead a candidate's planned policies and political stances. But, in the reality of today's society, image is heavily prized, so the way each candidate views and depicts Houston might be important. Every candidate, except Ben Hall, holds Downtown Houston in high regard in their campaign material, and rightfully so. It is this city's center of commerce and government.

It is with great wonder though, why the Sabine Street Bridge has become Houston's unofficial political and public service photo site. Could Houston's Sabine Street Bridge be one of the most used and photographed places in Houston? Likely. It has also played the backdrop for METRO's transportation announcements over the years, including the agency's most recent Matthew-McConaughey-esque Lincoln commercial parody, a public service commercial for METRO's new bus network. Photographers flock there each day for family portraits, and quinceaƱera and engagement photo sessions. (My wife and I even had an engagement shot taken on the Sabine Street Bridge!) In 2007, the bridge was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

At these early stages of the campaign process we don't know every candidate's platforms or aspirations. Perhaps depicting an iconic Houston bridge is a way of communicating a desire to bridge gaps that exist between Houston's social and economic classes. Or maybe the bridging that needs to take place between Houston's government and its citizens. That we don't know. We don't even know if these seven men will be the only ones on the ballot come November. But, we can conclude this: Houston's Sabine Street Bridge is a great place for a picture, and four of Houston's seven mayor candidates prefer the bridge's imagery for their campaign pictures. Vote accordingly.