It’s been six years since the Galveston City Council was set up for a straight sweep.
Since 2014, the year Jim Yarbrough took office, there hasn’t been an election in which the mayor’s race and all six council races were challenged. The period marked a time of mostly political calm after four tough years post-Hurricane Ike.
Now in 2020, Yarbrough is gone, having served six years and then some because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He resigned months before the election to replace him and left one of the five men vying to be his replacement in charge.
The move left Galveston mayor pro tem Craig Brown as the top elected official in the city. For months, residents have seen him leading council meetings, guiding the city through a hurricane evacuation and making decisions on reopening the city from some of the COVID-19 restrictions Yarbrough and the council had put in place earlier this year.
Intended or not, Brown’s ascension was able to give voters a taste of his leadership and compare it — at least to those with longer memories — to the style of Roger “Bo” Quiroga, who served as the city’s mayor from 1998 until 2004 and is now running for new, fourth term 20 years later.
Quiroga is by far Brown’s most well-funded opponent and has asked voters to remember things that were accomplished in the early aughts, such as the deal that resulted in the construction of the Galveston Island Convention Center. Bill Keese, a former state representative and recent island transplant, is a distant third in spending in the five-person race.
Quiroga has at times focused his campaign not on Brown but on City Manager Brian Maxwell. Quiroga has said city hall needs to review its staffing level and salaries, an implication that Maxwell’s office might be in for a less friendly relationship than he had under the six years of Yarbrough should Quiroga win.
The council slate includes four incumbents running for reelection: Jason Hardcastle, John Paul Listowski, David Collins and Jackie Cole. That leaves the potential that a majority of the last “Yarbrough council” could serve another term.
But the incumbents aren’t the only familiar faces on the ballot.
Along with Quiroga, multiple other public officials — former council members Tarris Woods, Marie Robb, Frank Maceo and former school board trustee Beau Rawlins — are on the ballot seeking a seat on the council. Former City Secretary Doug Godinich is running, as is Bill Quiroga, Bo Quiroga’s brother.
They all are joined by other candidates that have never held public office in Galveston.
There’s some thought that if Brown is elected, more incumbents likely will join him. If Quiroga wins, more new faces could join the council, the thinking goes.
Notably, there are fewer endorsements by public groups this year than there have been in the past. Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association and the Galveston Baptist Ministerial Alliance have all forgone endorsements this year.
Quiroga’s stance against city hall might speak to some voters and special interest groups. Willis Gandhi, the president of the hotel association, said he was looking for candidates who treated tourism issues seriously — especially in light of the damage wrought on the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, the chairwoman-elect of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she personally felt that the city council in recent years had become less transparent and less willing to seek community input.
“I think people have gotten completely demoralized,” Tarlton-Shannon said of her attitude about the current administration. “If you keep trying to be active and keep trying to be involved, and kind of get led down a path to nowhere, people throw their hands up and move on.”
If that attitude is pervasive, the current council might end up paying for it, Tarlton-Shannon said.
Early voting begins Tuesday. Election Day is Nov. 3.