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VERIFY: Fact-checking the Houston Public Media-KHOU 11 mayoral debate

We verify claims about the city's unemployment rate, light rail ridership and a candidate's endorsement.

HOUSTON — An incumbent mayor, a former mayor, a Marine, a council member and a pastor are among those seeking office to run the fourth largest city in America.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was joined by lawyer Tony Buzbee, Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins, businessman Bill King and pastor Kendall Baker on Monday at the KHOU 11 studios to address the biggest issues facing the city in the Houston Public Media-KHOU 11 debate.

Our VERIFY team fact-checked claims made by the candidates during the debate.

CLAIM: Mayor Sylvester Turner claims more people are working in the city than ever before and the city’s unemployment rate is under 4 percent.


We turned to the U.S. Census Bureau. From 2010 to 2018, Houston saw an 11 percent population increase—a boom that has been coupled with a growing workforce.

More than 3.2 million people are working in Houston today, compared to 2.7 million back in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And U.S. labor statistics show that Houston’s unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent as of August 2019.

CLAIM: Tony Buzbee denied knowing Dr. Steven Hotze, a local anti-LGBTQ advocate who recently endorsed him.

We can’t totally verify this claim. We found a photo of Buzbee and Dr. Hotze together that ran in a op-ed Hotze wrote endorsing Buzbee. In the photo, Buzbee has his arm around the doctor posing for a photo. During the debate, Buzbee said he might have met Hotze once at church but that he doesn’t really know him. It's unclear if that photo was taken then or at another time.

Buzbee said during the debate he wouldn’t rebuke Hotze’s endorsement and that “I’ve been fighting discrimination for years. I was surprised to receive that endorsement—I’m not sure why I received it. … I’m just saying I don’t know much about him.”

In the op-ed, Hotze writes, “Tony Buzbee will stop crime and corruption” and that “Captain Tony Buzbee will make Houston great again.”

CLAIM: Bill King claims light rail ridership is down across the United States the past three years.

“We spent $2.2 billion on light rail since 2013,” King said. “We have fewer transit riders by about 15 percent than we had before we built light rail. It has not increased transit ridership.”

This is VERIFIED—with context.

We turned to the Federal Transit Administration to verify this claim.

We found that most major cities, including Houston, have seen a drop in ridership in the last eight years. Only Seattle, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City saw modest increases.


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