The County Connection Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge

Dec 3, 2020

We all knew this was coming. The holidays are here, and we are simply not where we need to be to protect our community from COVID-19. Since late summer, there has been a deeply troubling loss in the momentum we’d begun to build as a community. Reopenings took place prematurely and, bit by bit, we’ve seen every indicator we use move in the wrong direction, again. No single day-to-day change has been dramatic, but, if you look at the trends, they are alarming and deadly:

  • Since mid-September, the 14-day average of daily new cases we report in Harris County has increased more than 4 times over to 1016 new cases reported per day. 
  • Over the past month, that same number of average daily new cases has more than doubled. 
  • We have seen our county positivity rate increase from its low in early October of 5.4%. We’re now at 9.4%.  
  • We’re adding as many patients to our ICUs every day as we were in early June. We are tracking trends in our hospitalized COVID population just like the ones we were seeing before the crisis in June and July. 

This is our wake-up call. These numbers don’t even take into account all of those that were inevitably infected at Thanksgiving gatherings, and don’t know it yet — we’ll see those numbers in the next few weeks. We’re eight months into this crisis, and I know we’ve all grown tired. But we can’t give in. We are in the middle of fighting a war against COVID-19, and if we care about our friends, family members, and neighbors, we must do more. 
First, cancel gatherings, large and small, with anyone outside your household. Right now we all have a desire to be together, I know. But now is not the time. By doing so, you put them, and yourself, at risk. 
Second, get tested, whether or not you have symptoms or believe you’ve been exposed. The only way we can contain the virus now is for those who are carrying the virus to quarantine, and no one knows whether they are carrying the virus or not until they get tested. Visit for all the free options, or check with your medical provider. 
I understand all of this is a lot to ask of the community. But all of these measures will save lives, even if you don’t immediately see it in front of you. Just like the virus, these sacrifices are invisible, but nonetheless substantial. And, as we make these sacrifices consistently and dutifully, we should be asking our state and federal government to meet us halfway. We need more measures to mitigate the impacts of the virus, and we need more economic relief for families and for the businesses that are suffering in the wake of this crisis.  
Please try and enjoy the holidays despite this heavy weight we are all carrying. Take solace in knowing that as humans we’ve lived through much worse, and we will again. We are strong and we will get through this. Better days are coming.

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Houston Firefighters Make Multiple Rescues from Macgregor Area Apartment Fire

Dec 3, 2020
Houston Firefighters Make Multiple Rescues from Macgregor Area Apartment Fire
WHAT:Apartment Fire
WHEN:Today, December 2, 2020 at 12:51 p.m.
WHERE:4463 N. Macgregor Way, 77004
INJURIES:One citizen transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
PROPERTY SAVED:Not available
DAMAGE:Fire contained to one unit with other units suffering possible smoke or water damage.
CAUSE:The cause is under investigation.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:Firefighters arrived on scene within three minutes to find smoke and fire coming from the second floor of an apartment building. Crews performed an aggressive attack and evacuated approximately 20 residents. HFD transported one resident to the hospital for burns to the hand. HFD Arson investigators were requested to determine the cause and origin of the fire.  Firefighters from Stations 25, 46, 26, 40, 18, 35, 7, 24, 37, 17, 23, Rehab and Rescue 42 responded to this incident.
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Mayor Turner Announces the Urban Prairie Resiliency Project

Dec 3, 2020
Mayor Turner Announces the Urban Prairie Resiliency Project
HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner is proud to announce the Urban Prairie Resiliency Project, a collaborative endeavor that will further the city’s resilience goals to be prepared for, to withstand, and to bounce back from the shocks and stresses caused by hurricanes and floods. The project will integrate green stormwater infrastructure and restore the urban prairie ecosystem within New Hope Housing and Star of Hope’s Cornerstone Community Campus, an affordable supportive housing development.
The Mayor’s Office of Resilience, in accordance with the Resilient Houston Strategy and the Complete Communities Initiative, is partnering with New Hope Housing and Star of Hope to restore up to 8 acres of prairie of the Cornerstone Community campus. By restoring the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, whose wetlands act as “nature’s kidneys” for the Houston region, the Urban Prairie Resiliency Project will serve as an example of a neighborhood adaptation project which will create wildlife habitat and outdoor educational and recreational space while improving stormwater retention, water filtration, and groundwater replenishment.
“Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent storms that have impacted our City serve as a continuous reminder that innovative adaptation solutions must be incorporated in order to build a more resilient Houston,” said Mayor Turner. “In 2019, I released the Incentives for Green Development Report encouraging the private sector to take an active role in integration of green infrastructure within the built environment. The result will be a more resilient Campus that provides health and financial services to a vulnerable population, affordable housing, and integrates the value of natural habitat to the built environment to create a stronger, healthier, and more resilient community.”
The project will be funded by Wells Fargo and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Resilient Communities grant program, along with matching contributions from community partners including New Hope Housing.
“This program continues to demonstrate how local communities like the City of Houston can use the benefits of natural ecosystems to provide for a more resilient future for our nation,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Each of these 11 grants, made in partnership with Wells Fargo, will work to build resilience locally, to help communities meet future challenges through natural systems and resources, and will benefit habitats for birds, fish and other wildlife.”

Houston is among 11 Resilient Communities Program grants awarded this year, totaling $3.6 million and generating an additional $4.5 million in matching contributions from non-profit organizations and tribes across the U.S to help communities address and mitigate the impact of natural disasters and a changing climate.
“As our city recovers from COVID-19 and Hurricane Harvey, we are finding unique ways to address the chronic stresses caused by homelessness and economic inequality”, said Joy Horak-Brown, president and CEO of New Hope Housing. “Quality affordable housing at the nexus of art, architecture and nature is essential to rebuilding lives and restoring communities.”
The project will be located off Highway 288 and Reed Road within the Cornerstone Community Campus, which features Star of Hope’s Women & Family Development Center and the New Hope Housing Reed affordable housing complex. On any given day, the campus collectively serves 1,200-1,300 people.  
A planning and design workshop will be conducted in the coming months to kick off the project with project partners, community stakeholders, and subject matter experts. Project partners will use the workshop to engage with the community and experts to evaluate drainage design, landscaping, expected benefits to the community and ecosystem, workforce development, and education opportunities for local children and families. The result will inform construction which is expected to be completed by December 2023.
The Urban Prairie Resiliency Project advances many of the goals laid out in the Resilient Houston strategy introduced earlier this year by:Reducing flooding and minimizing flooding impactsFulfilling one of the 100 green stormwater infrastructure projects called for in the Strategy by 2025.Contributing to the 4.8 million tree planting target called for in the strategy by 2030.Enhancing carbon capture capacity and contributing to the City’s carbon neutrality goal by 2050.Eliminating geographic health disparities through health benefits of ecosystemImplementing a project that can utilize and pilot the Houston Incentives for Green Development 
“It is important for us to support initiatives like the Urban Prairie Resiliency Project that address the critical needs of our city and position Houston for further growth,” said Laura Jaramillo, senior vice president, community relations manager, Wells Fargo. “As an early supporter of the Mayor’s Complete Communities, we’re excited to see how this project will help enhance and strengthen our native ecosystem and help minimize the impact of climate-related natural disasters in one of our key communities in Houston. We are proud to be working with NFWF on this important national program.”
“I thank the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Wells Fargo, and local partners for making it possible to begin making the city more resilient for all Houstonians and hopes that the partnership model established in the Urban Prairie Resiliency Project can serve as a scalable model for future implementation of resilience projects in Houston,” said Mayor Turner
About Resilient Communities
In 2017, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo Foundation created the Resilient Communities program to boost community capacity to prepare for impacts associated with coastal sea level rise, water quantity and quality issues and extended wildfire seasons. The program empowers communities to advance and employ natural features like urban tree canopies, wetlands, healthy upstream watersheds, resilient shorelines and forests that provide natural protections against extreme weather events. The Resilient Communities program prioritizes inclusion and aiding historically underserved, low- and moderate-income communities.
A detailed listing of the 2020 grants made through the Resilient Communities program is available here.            
For more information, contact Chief Resilience Officer, Marissa Aho
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Nov 19, 2020

– On Nov. 18, Houston City Council approved More Space: Main Street, an economic revitalization initiative in Downtown Houston. A partnership between the City of Houston, Houston Downtown Management District (Downtown District) and Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), the program will temporarily close select blocks on the north- and southbound lanes of Main Street between Commerce and Rusk to vehicular traffic to allow restaurants and bars to create expanded patios in the roadway. By creating more outdoor space for dining and drinking, More Space: Main Street will make it safer and more comfortable for patrons to return to Downtown establishments, helping the food and beverage industry recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is expected to launch this year and will continue through March 2022.
Earlier this summer, the City of Houston introduced the More Space program to ease parking regulations and allow restaurants to use 50 percent of their private parking spaces for expanded outdoor dining. “Houston has earned a reputation as a culinary and entertainment destination, and we want to support the businesses that enhance the unique flavor and diversity of our city, but many of those businesses are struggling to recover from financial losses endured during the pandemic,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
“Downtown is one of our premiere destinations. Between multiple city departments, the Downtown District and METRO, we put our heads together and considered every possible safety concern so Main Street businesses can maximize their capacity while still protecting the health and safety of our residents and visitors,” Turner said. “We hope that this creative and collaborative effort will continue to strengthen Downtown and serve as a model for future projects that encourage the confluence of commerce, residential space, entertainment and walkable communities in Houston.”

To maximize the outdoor dining space along Main, restaurants and bars will be able to install outdoor patio seating in the roadway, in addition to their existing sidewalk cafés. A business may use the space equivalent to their frontage and may be able to extend it even further if a neighboring business chooses not to participate in the program. The street patios will be enclosed on all sides with wood and/or metal fencing, with an entrance from the sidewalk and one in the roadway for ADA accessibility; fencing or built elements like planter boxes will separate the roadway patios from METRORail that runs through the center of Main Street. Umbrellas, street furniture and other decorative elements will enhance the spaces. The pedestrian right-of-way will remain on the sidewalk as it is today, and cross-streets will remain open. 
“The timing for this program couldn’t be better,” said Bob Eury, Downtown District President. “With more than 160,000 office workers Downtown, small and mid-sized employers are returning with major employers expecting between 20 and 30 percent of their workforce back in the office come January. People want to support our local businesses, and even with a vaccine on the horizon, outdoor dining will continue to be a much needed and desired amenity for our food establishments.”
More than 75 percent of street-level restaurants are now serving customers, drawing an increasing number of pedestrians back to Downtown. In addition, events are beginning to start up again with safety precautions in place—from The Ice at Discovery Green to movies at Market Square Park—and although hotels have been hit hard, there has been an uptick in weekend traffic due to locals enjoying amenity-rich staycations. 

“Thanks to the influx of businesses, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues over the last decade, Downtown Houston has attracted more residents and visitors who want full access to the excitement and amenities Downtown has to offer,“ said District I Council Member Robert Gallegos. “Unfortunately, like so many other Downtowns across the country, much of that vibrancy has left our streets during the pandemic. There’s tremendous interest among the community to initiate the More Space: Main Street program now. As officials move to re-open more and more businesses, we want to allow for more open-air dining and make it easier for businesses to have the space that will allow customers to be socially distanced and follow all safety guidelines.”
Downtown District board of directors approved a Street Patio Grant Program that will help the Main Street small businesses offset expenses related to their patio expansions. After their street patios are installed, businesses can apply for a $2,500 grant.

The impetus for the More Space: Main Street program was Downtown business owner Scott Repass, who is also a Downtown District board member. “My wife and I helped open the OKRA Charity Saloon in 2012, then our bar, Little Dipper, with our partners in 2013. We were excited to be a part of that wave of the revitalization and loved being in the historic center of the city and being part of all the energy Downtown,” said Repass. “This project isn’t just necessary for businesses like ours to survive—which it definitely is—it’s also a really great thing for Main Street. This would be an exciting thing to do under normal circumstances. Now it has the double benefit of being a huge tool to help in our recovery and of being really fun.”
Virtual meetings with the businesses were conducted in October to review the More Space: Main Street program in detail. Program guidelines and the application portal are now open.
The Downtown District was formed in 1995 for the purpose of revitalizing the urban core of the country’s fourth largest city. Over the past decade, the Downtown District has used a combination of public funds and private resources to catalyze area improvements focusing on the city blocks bordered by Interstate 10, Highway 59 and Interstate 45.

The Downtown District operates under the leadership of a 30-person board of directors who oversee the implementation of the District’s strategic initiatives. Funding for the Downtown District comes from a special assessment on all downtown property owners.
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Mayor Turner celebrates Native American Heritage Month by announcing the launch of the virtual Southern Plains Museum and Cultural Center in Houston

Nov 19, 2020
HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today the launch of The Southern Plains Museum and Cultural Center (SPMCC). The SPMCC is the first virtual Native American Indian museum and cultural center in Houston.

The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs awarded a $10,000 City of Houston initiative grant to the project.

“Earlier this year, City Council voted to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Houstonians can now celebrate Native American Heritage Month by learning about indigenous histories through the Southern Plains Museum and Cultural Center,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “With the coronavirus pandemic still spreading in our community, this virtual experience will allow families to learn about Indigenous Peoples from the comfort and safety of their own home.”

According to the 2010 Census, Houston and its surrounding area have about 68,000 Native Americans from all Nations. Founder, curator, and president of the Southern Apache Museum Chance L. Landry (Lipan Apache) opened the museum’s doors in 2012 to educate the general public. During its lifetime, the Southern Apache Museum became a community and cultural center and resided at the Northwest Mall until it closed its doors in 2017.  

The virtual cultural center includes a Southern Apache Museum, American Indian Genocide Museum, Library, Garden, Health Clinic, and Powwow Arena. Nations such as the Alabama Coushatta, Choctaw, Comanche, Cherokee, Lipan Apache, Navajo, Ponca, Tunica Biloxi, Muskogee Creek, and Aztec are represented. Visitors can learn about indigenous nations through renderings of art, artifacts, and videos of public ceremonies as they traverse a virtual space.
Ms. Landry hopes that this virtual space will shape the future of a physical indigenous cultural center in Houston.

“Mayor Sylvester Turner will go down in history as the Mayor who finally recognized the Indigenous community in Houston, and the Native American Indian community will always remain grateful for the recognition,” said Chance Landry, founder of the Southern Apache Museum. “Our Mayor will lead us out of the shadows into the scope of visibility in this great city of ours.”

Ms. Landry worked with INVI LLC, a Virtual Architecture firm established in March of 2020 that has been recognized for creating the renowned #ArtforJustice Virtual Museum. “We are very honored for the opportunity to participate in this amazing project,” said Giangtien Nguyen and Afreen Ali, co-founders of INVI. “We have learned so much about the stories and history of Native Americans since working with Chance Landry and the Native American community. We hope that through the virtual platform, their voices can reach many people globally.”

The public may access the virtual cultural center by visiting You can learn more about the Southern Apache Museum at
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Person of Interest Identified, Sought in Fatal Shooting of HPD Officer at 7900 block of North Freeway

Nov 19, 2020
Person of Interest Identified, Sought in Fatal Shooting of HPD Officer at 7900 block of North Freeway
Houston police have learned the identity of a person of interest sought for questioning in the fatal shooting of an HPD officer that occurred in the 7900 block of the North Freeway (Interstate Highway 45 North) service road about 1:30 p.m. on November 9.  

The person of interest has been identified as Jason Frank Vazquez, 24.  A prior booking photo of Vazquez, who has not been charged at this time, is attached to this news release.  Surveillance photos of Vazquez, previously released on November 10, are also attached to this news release. 

The suspect, Robert Soliz, Jr. (H/m, 24), is charged with murder in the 179th State District Court.  A booking photo of Soliz is attached to this news release.

The person of interest was seen driving a black Chevrolet pickup truck and speaking with Soliz after the shooting. 

The victim, Sergeant Sean Rios, 47, was pronounced deceased at the scene.  Sergeant Rios was sworn in as an HPD officer in February 1996 and assigned to the Airport Division.

HPD Special Investigations Unit Sergeant G. Rodgers and Officers I. Ulloa, R. Lujan, M. Resnick, J. Brown reported:

Patrol officers were dispatched to a shooting in-progress call to the northbound service road at the above address.  Officers arrived and found a Kia Forte abandoned on nearby Stuebner Airline and a male with a gunshot wound inside a nearby hotel.  Witnesses came forward and claimed two Hispanic males had a confrontation with the male in the Kia Forte.  Witnesses told officers the driver of the Kia and the driver of the Mercedes fired shots at each other and stated one of the Hispanic males fled the scene in a light blue Mercedes, the other male in a black Chevrolet truck.

It was determined the wounded male had walked to a nearby hotel at 7766 North Freeway where he was pronounced deceased.  Upon further investigation, it was discovered the deceased male was an off-duty Houston Police Department Sergeant, Sean Rios.  Officers canvassing the area located the blue Mercedes and developed a primary suspect, Robert Soliz.

Soliz was taken into custody during a traffic stop on November 10 and subsequently charged for his role in the shooting. 

Further investigation developed information that identified the person of interest as Jason Frank Vazquez.  Vazquez remains at-large.  

Investigators are asking anyone who may have seen or heard anything between the 3900 and 7900 blocks of the North Freeway, north of North Interstate Highway 610 and south of Gulf Bank Road, or know the whereabouts of the person of interest, Jason Frank Vazquez, to contact the HPD Special Investigations Unit at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

     Jason Frank Vazquez (2019)                   

                      Jason Frank Vazquez

               Robert Soliz, Jr.
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Sexual Assault Suspect Charged, More Victims Sought

Nov 19, 2020
Charges have been filed against a suspect arrested following a months-long child sexual assault investigation involving multiple victims.  

The suspect, Jose Luis Pena (H/m, 58), is charged with three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 in the 338th State District Court. 

A booking photo of Pena is attached to this news release.  

Investigators believe the assaults occurred from June 1999 through 2003 in multiple areas of Texas, mostly in northwest area of Houston. However, it has also been reported Pena committed sexual assaults in the 1970s and 1980s.  The incidents occurred at the following dates and locations:  700 Villerreal Drive in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1970s or 1980s900 South Adams, Dallas, Texas in 1981 or 1982Near 3900 Ridge Canyon Road in Baytown, Texas, date unknown9600 Hannon Drive from June 20, 1999 to January 9, 2003
The age of the victims ranged from 3 years to 14 years of age.  Investigators made contact with numerous individuals who identified Pena as the suspect who sexually assaulted them or someone they knew.  

In November 2019, investigators in the HPD Special Victims Division opened an investigation into allegations made by two adult female victims of being sexually assaulted when they were children. An initial investigation developed information on the whereabouts of the victims and investigators took statements regarding the allegations.  In August 2020, further investigation and subsequent interviews with the victims and other witness statements positively identified Pena as the suspect in the sexual assaults.  In October, aggravated sexual assault charges were filed.  Pena was subsequently located and arrested on November 6, 2020.   

Anyone with additional information in these cases or who may have been in contact with Jose Luis Pena is urged to contact the HPD Crimes Against Children Unit at 713-830-3265 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.  

                           Jose Luis Pena
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Houston Health Department encourages limiting holiday gatherings to household members during COVID-19 pandemic

Nov 19, 2020
HOUSTON – The Houston Health Department encourages everyone to limit in-person holiday gatherings to household members to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent another surge this winter. People who attend a holiday gathering with people who don’t live in their home need to consider avoiding non-household members for 14-days before and after the event.

“We should all be thankful for our health this holiday season and remember those affected by the virus. I encourage everyone to make a few more sacrifices to keep our families and friends safe from the spread of COVID-19,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “This virus thrives on gatherings and will take advantage of holiday festivities to sicken our loved ones and further spread in our community. Although the holidays will look and feel different this year, making smart choices could save the lives of the people you love.”

Video calls family offer the opportunity to interact with friends and family during holiday events without the risk associated with in-person gatherings.

Participating in outdoor gatherings is safer than indoor events but attendees still need to practice social distancing and mask-wearing is needed for interactions with non-household members.

“While there isn’t a way to completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19, we can significantly reduce it,” said Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston. “If you must gather, you and your group must plan ahead and commit to restricting contact with anyone outside your household for 14 days before and after the gathering.”

Shoppers should avoid crowded stores, including during busy Black Friday sales. Instead, consider online shopping, curbside pick-up, and home delivery. People can also plan shopping during less crowded times of day, and should wear a mask, social distance and bring hand sanitizer.

People who may have COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, new loss of taste or smell and diarrhea or were exposed to someone who tested positive must not spend any time with other people or leave their homes unless they need medical care.

The health department urges Houstonians to continue to mask up, social distance, wash hands and get tested to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People can visit or call 832-393-4220 to find a nearby free testing site.
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Suspect Vehicle Sought in Fatal Shooting at 6830 Cullen Boulevard

Nov 4, 2020
Houston police have released surveillance photos of a vehicle sought in connection to the fatal shooting of one man and the wounding of another at 6830 Cullen Boulevard about 11:05 p.m. on Saturday (Oct. 31).

The suspect vehicle is described as a white pickup truck, possibly an extended cab Dodge Ram, with black rims.  Surveillance photos of the wanted vehicle are attached to this news release.  

The identity of the deceased man, 32, is pending notification to family members by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.  A second victim, 40, was transported to an area hospital in stable condition.

HPD Homicide Division Sergeant C. Cegielski and Detective W. Gilbert reported:

Witnesses were in front of the convenience store at the above address when they stated a white pickup truck drove by them and someone inside the truck fired multiple shots at them.  The truck then fled the scene.

Two men were struck.  One was pronounced deceased at the scene.  Paramedics transported the other man to the hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound to the shoulder.

Anyone with information on the wanted vehicle or suspect(s) in this case is urged to contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.
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Mayor Turner announces winner of Mayor’s Early Vote College Challenge

Nov 4, 2020
Mayor Turner honors winning campus in the Mayor’s Early Vote College ChallengeMayor Sylvester Turner unveils the winner of the Mayor’s Early Vote College Challenge. HOUSTON – In an election year with record turnout, especially among young voters, Mayor Sylvester Turner joined student leaders from the University of Houston (UH), Texas Southern University (TSU), and Rice University this morning to announce the winner of the Mayor’s Early Vote College Challenge
The Mayor and student leaders were also joined by Rice University President David Leebron and Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who was visiting different polling locations in Harris County today. 
At the beginning of early voting for the 2020 election, Mayor Turner challenged students to mobilize and encourage their classmates, family and friends to participate in early voting on their respective campuses. 
 A total of 21,431 people voted early on the university campuses. Rice University won the challenge with 13,080 people using that site. Mayor Turner presented the Rice student leaders with a plaque in the shape of Texas to acknowledge their hard work.
He also commended UH and TSU students who worked tirelessly to increase voter turnout. At the University of Houston, 4,639 people voted and 3,712 voters used the polling location at Texas Southern University.
The Mayor presented all students with gift bags filled with Houston-themed memorabilia including face masks, t-shirts and notepads. “This election is like none other, and this generation has responded like no other. This means if you make voting accessible, if you put polling locations where the voters are, people will respond,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We need good solid leaders to step forward like the student leaders at the University of Houston, Texas Southern, and Rice. They are not only the leaders of the future but the leaders of right now.”
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