Houston Mayor John Whitmire

John Whitmire, the former Dean of the Texas Senate, was sworn into office as Houston’s 63rd Mayor on January 2, 2024. He has served his community his entire adult life. Throughout his career as a State Representative for 10 years and State Senator for 40, Whitmire has fought tirelessly for district representation across Houston. Notably, he played a key role in establishing the first Latino state senate district in Harris County and has been a staunch advocate for expanding access to early voting in person and Election Day polling locations in African American and Latino communities. His commitment to LGBTQ+ rights earned him the Harvey Milk Award in 1993 for his efforts against the decriminalization of the Sodomy Law. Whitmire has also been a vocal champion of women’s rights, backed by a 100% voting record. He has worked tirelessly to preserve the DREAM Act, ensuring undocumented young individuals can access in-state tuition rates. Additionally, he supported workers’ compensation for injured farm workers and unemployment compensation.

In a pivotal moment in his life, Whitmire and his family were robbed at gunpoint, an experience that ultimately led to his chairmanship of the Criminal Justice Committee and his fight for public safety. When called on by the people of Houston to run for mayor, Whitmire eagerly accepted the challenge because he believes in answering the call wherever it leads. With a wealth of experience working alongside nine mayors and seven governors, he possesses invaluable knowledge in public safety, infrastructure, and effective problem-solving. John Whitmire’s extraordinary life experiences, unwavering dedication, and a proven track record in getting things done make him a true public servant committed to the well-being of Houstonians.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County’s governing body. She is the first woman to be elected County Judge and only the second to be elected to the Commissioners Court. Judge Hidalgo believes that our region will remain competitive only through proactive and creative leadership on issues like flood control, transportation, criminal justice reform, and education. She is committed to ensuring that Harris County government is transparent, accessible, and accountable to every resident. She wants Harris County to be a place where everyone can attain the American Dream. Judge Hidalgo’s leadership has been recognized through numerous awards and national honors. She received the prestigious John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award for her swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was recognized with the Jack Brooks Foundation Leadership Award for her work to protect voting rights and access to the ballot box. Judge Hidalgo has also been named to the TIME Magazine 100 Next list as well as Forbes 30 Under 30.

2024 H-Town Day Speakers

Andrea French, Scenic Houston, Executive Director

Scenic Houston appointed Andrea French as its Executive Director in April of 2022. Andrea, who spent the nine years as executive director of TAG-Houston Region, brings a strong background in advocacy, planning, public policy, and public engagement to her new position with Scenic Houston.

Carlos Guzman, Director of Economic & Development, Fort Bend County

As the Director of Economic Opportunity & Development, Guzman will oversee the County’s efforts to promote economic development by setting strategic goals for economic growth and prosperity, targeting diverse industries, and working with existing industries and regional partners to strengthen the County’s economy. Guzman has over 16 years of economic development experience working in local and regional organizations throughout Texas, having worked for the City of Dallas and The Greater Houston Partnership. Prior to his role with the County, he served as the Executive Director of the Pasadena Economic Development Corporation. Under his leadership, Pasadena EDC launched numerous successful initiatives.

Chief Samuel Peña, Houston Fire Dept.

Samuel Peña is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and has been chief of the Houston Fire Department (HFD) since December 19, 2016. Chief Peña leads the third largest municipal fire department in the country with approximately 3,900 personnel and an annual budget of over $559 million. He previously served 3 years 9 months as fire chief in El Paso, Texas.

Chief Troy Finner, Houston Police Department

Troy Finner, a stalwart figure in law enforcement, was born and raised in the vibrant 5th Ward area of Houston, Texas. Growing up in the close-knit community of Hiram Clarke, Finner developed a deep-rooted connection to his surroundings, fostering a commitment to serving his fellow citizens.

After completing his education at Madison High School, Finner pursued his passion for criminal justice by obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree from Sam Houston University. Eager to deepen his understanding of criminology, he furthered his education at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, earning a master’s degree in the field. Finner’s journey in law enforcement commenced in 1990, marking the beginning of a distinguished 31-year career dedicated to the safety and well-being of Houston’s residents. Throughout his tenure, Finner has exemplified unwavering dedication and leadership, serving in various capacities within the Office of Public Affairs, Southwest Division, South Gessner Division, and the Internal Investigation Command. In pursuit of excellence and professional growth, Finner has continuously sought opportunities for advancement and learning. He is a graduate of esteemed programs such as the Senior Management Institute for Police (SMIP), the Police Executive Leadership Institute (PELI), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Executive Institute (NEI). These experiences have equipped him with invaluable skills and insights, enabling him to navigate complex challenges with confidence and efficacy.

As Chief of Police, Troy Finner stands as a beacon of integrity, compassion, and resilience, embodying the values of service and justice. His unwavering commitment to fostering trust and collaboration within the community underscores his vision for a safer, more inclusive Houston. With a steadfast dedication to excellence and a profound sense of duty, Finner continues to lead with distinction, ensuring that the legacy of service and sacrifice endures for generations to come.

David A. Northern, Sr., President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Houston Housing Authority (HHA)

David A. Northern, Sr. is President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Houston Housing Authority (HHA), one of the nation’s largest housing authorities, serving more than 60,000 low-income Houstonians with 200 plus full-time employees and more than 100 private management staff. HHA’s annual budget is about $300 million with an inventory that includes a federally funded portfolio of 24,000 units and 22,000 non-federal units.

His educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Ball State University and a Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University. Additionally, Northern completed the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government 18-month Community Development program.

Mr. Northern has dedicated his longstanding and reputable career of 26 years to the public housing industry. A demonstrated leader in the affordable housing sector, he is the immediate past President of the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association, an organization of 1,900-member housing agencies representing more than 1.9 million low-come housing units throughout the U.S.

Mr. Northern has proven experience as a proactive leader in federal housing assistance programs, including urban planning and policy development. In 2011 he was selected as a member of a housing delegation that traveled to South Africa to educate and advise their government leadership. In 2016 he was a speaker at the White House Convening on the proposed HUD smoke-free rule in public housing. In 2019 he was appointed by Governor J.B. Pritzker to the Illinois State Housing Task Force and was elected to the Illinois Housing Council’s Board of Directors.

Eddie Miranda, METRO, VP of Government Affairs

Eduardo (Eddie) Miranda, Jr. has been METRO’s Vice President of Government Affairs since 2014 when he joined the Authority.  In this role, he oversees the Authority’s legislative and policy strategy at the local, state, and federal levels and manages all outreach and interactions with elected officials. Prior to joining METRO, Miranda had an extensive career in public policy. He served as Director of Public Policy for the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), Houston’s largest business advocacy organization. Throughout his tenure at GHP, Miranda managed the transportation policy portfolio for the organization, including road, transit, freight rail, commuter rail, airport, and water port infrastructure.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, Harris County District Attorney, is a native Houstonian and has been a lawyer for 35 years. In 2020, DA Ogg was re-elected to a second term by a margin of more than 120,000 votes. Under her leadership, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is dedicated to community safety through evidence-based prosecution and equal justice for all. During her first term, DA Ogg successfully advanced major drug policy reform, police accountability through prosecution of police corruption and shootings, diversified the leadership of the District Attorney’s Office, and effected protection for crime victims through legislative reform. As the top law enforcement official in Harris County, DA Ogg’s current priorities are to stop the release of repeat and violent offenders on bail through evidence-based advocacy in court, to reduce the enormous case backlog, and to push Houston’s most important cases to trial and conclusion.

Katy Thorstenberg, Coordinator of Housing Initiative with Easter Seals Greater Houston

Katy Thorstenberg is the coordinator of the Housing Initiative with Easter Seals Greater Houston, and Administrator of the Montgomery County Down Payment Assistance program. Over the last eighteen (18) years, Katy has worked with over 2,000 families providing pre-purchase counseling to low income, first-time homebuyers, helping over 800 families purchase their first home. Katy’s special focus has been in qualifying the family for down payment assistance. She designed and conducted Down Payment Workshops covering local, state, and federal assistance programs for potential homebuyers and lenders, and continues to work with lenders, realtors and builders as an advocate for down assistance, a key component in the affordable housing space. Katy holds certifications as Residential Mortgage Loan Originator, packager for USDA 502 Direct loan, HUD certified HUD housing Counselor & a Master of Social Work (LMSW)

Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk

Marilyn Burgess is your Harris County District Clerk. A seasoned businesswoman with leadership skills and administrative experience, Ms. Burgess graduated from Louisiana State University with an accounting degree in 1975 and practiced as a CPA for more than 30 years. Ms. Burgess moved to Houston in 2002 and served as President of the North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce from 2002 to 2006. In this position, Ms. Burgess quickly learned about her new community by collaborating with Houston and Harris County elected officials, as well as local and regional community and business leaders. Ms. Burgess gained a comprehensive and insightful knowledge of Greater Houston’s economy and political landscape. In 2018, Ms. Burgess ran for Harris County District Clerk on a platform focused on modernizing the jury system by launching online registration for prospective jurors, increasing the diversity of juries, and ensuring a living wage for the hardworking professionals that staff the District Clerk’s Office.

As District Clerk, she is working hard to make the DCO more efficient, innovative and technology driven. Ms. Burgess oversees a budget of $40 million and a staff of more than 500 people.

Michael Heckman, President & CEO, Houston First Corporation

President & CEO Michael Heckman has served in the role of President and CEO of Houston First Corporation since August 2020 and has been part of the organization’s leadership team since 2009. Prior to this role, Heckman served as Chief Operating Officer of Strategic Initiatives for Houston First, responsible for developing a new strategic direction for the corporation. He has also served as the Senior Vice President of Partnerships and Event Development, with responsibilities ranging from major events like the Super Bowl to a portfolio of entrepreneurial enterprises. Under Heckman’s leadership, Houston First helped steer the post-pandemic recovery of the region’s leisure and hospitality sector. By 2023, most industry indicators—from hotel revenue to sector employment—had completely recovered in the region. During the most recent Texas legislative session, Houston First effectively lobbied for the passage of SB 1057, a bill that provides nearly $2 billion in funding to transform the George R. Brown Convention Center and the surrounding district. Heckman has called the project slated to break ground in 2025 a “once in a generation opportunity.” Heckman has a more than 20-year career with leadership roles spanning from destination marketing and hotels to sports and event management.

Michael Moore, CEO of Uptown District

Michael Moore, who was chief of staff to then-Houston Mayor Bill White from 2004 to 2009, has 30 years of experience in the public and private sectors. He managed the Houston office of an international public relations agency and spearheaded regional efforts for the Texas Central high-speed railway, the proposed bullet train linking Houston and cities in North Texas.

Paul Chavez, City of Stafford Economic Development Administrator

Mr. Chavez brings an impressive and extensive background in economic development to the City of Stafford. He has served with distinction with the City of Seabrook for 12 years as the Economic Development Director as well as 8 years with the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership as their director of marketing. Additionally, Mr. Chavez has served on numerous boards and commissions related to economic development – including the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region and the Texas Economic Development Council.

Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston

Rania Mankarious serves as the CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston after beginning as an intern with the organization in 2006.

During her tenure, Mankarious created the first-ever Crime Stoppers Safe School Institute – a full suite, direct service program that became the hub of all things school safety related.  She also launched the organization’s first webinar series with local, statewide, and national experts as well as Parents Against Crime, the critically important Fallen Hero Program, the Victim Services and Advocacy Program and expanded the Safe Community Program.

Under her leadership, Crime Stoppers also built a headquarters that is the first Crime Stoppers building worldwide and is named the “The Dave Ward Building, Crime Stoppers of Houston”. Mankarious is an active contributor to many publications, including columns in The Buzz Magazines, The Bark Blog, and a national adviser for Safe and Sound Schools. She has been seen and heard on local and national radio and television, including ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and across additional platforms as a legal, family, crime, mental health, and parenting expert. Recently, she launched a weekly “CrimeTip Tuesday” series with CW39. In September 2020, Mankarious created The Balanced Voice Podcast, which has featured a number of local and nationally recognized guests including Greg Kelley, Shepard Smith, Matthew McConaughey, Dave Ward, Tamron Hall, and many others. Mankarious serves on the Advisory Council for the Organization for Social Media Safety. In 2021, she became a published writer and released her first book, The Online World, What You Think You Know and What You Don’t, a timely and evergreen resource for parents and young adults about how to navigate and stay safe online. Mankarious has received many honors including: CW39’s Winner of their Remarkable Women; Visionary Leader in the fight against human trafficking; Most Stylish People by the Houston Chronicle; Houston Business Journal’s Outstanding Nonprofit Business Leader; a Houston Hero by the International Chamber of Houston; Top 30 Most Influential Women of Houston; Houston Moms’ Blog “Houston Mom of the Year”; Houston Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business; Houston Hero by the Houston Chronicle; Prime Living Reader’s Choice Award for Best Dressed Texan; Lights Camera Action’s Mother’s Day Honoree; and Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women.

Ruth N. López Turley, Ph.D. Professor of Sociology, Director, Kinder Institute for Urban Research - Rice University

Ruth N. López Turley is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, which brings together data, research, engagement, and action to improve lives. In 2011, she founded the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC), a research-practice partnership between Rice University and eleven Houston area school districts, representing over 700,000 students. A program of the Kinder Institute, HERC works to improve educational equity by connecting research to policy and practice, working directly with district leaders. She directed HERC from 2011 to 2022, during which she raised over $30M so that school districts would not have to pay for research. She also founded the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships, which connects and supports over 60 partnerships between research institutions and education agencies throughout the country. In 2022, President Biden appointed her to the National Board for Education Sciences, which advises and approves priorities for the research arm of the US Department of Education. She is a graduate of Stanford and Harvard and is originally from Laredo, Texas.

Teneshia Hudspeth, Harris County Clerk

Teneshia Hudspeth is the County Clerk and Chief Election Official of the third-largest county in the nation and the largest county in the State of Texas. Harris County has a population of more than 4.9 million. She is also the first African-American woman to serve in this role. Clerk Hudspeth has been with the County Clerk’s Office for more than 17 years and has served in many roles under four County Clerks. In January 2020, she was appointed Chief Deputy, responsible for office operations, and in less than a year, she was elected Harris County Clerk. Recent office awards include the NACo Achievement Award, iGo Innovator Award, and the Five Star Vital Registration Award. Personal awards include 50 Most Influential Women of 2020-2021, She Said. She Led. She is. Initiative, Top 30 Most Influential Women, Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce Mickey Leland Public Service Award, and the 2022 Faces of Fortitude.

Trey Reichert, Senior Vice President, Johnson Development Corp.

Mr. Reichert oversees day-to-day land development operations in Houston while supporting the growing operations of the Johnson Development portfolio. Mr. Reichert started at Johnson Development in 2005 and guided development of Riverstone — for years one of the nation’s top-selling communities — plus oversaw development of Veranda and the new Jubilee community.

Will Harvey, Developer of the 2023 TRLP Leadership Project: Mansa Musa

Will Harvey, a product of the inner city with limited resources was raised in a single parent home which contributed to his passion of “making something out of nothing”. Blessed to have mentors that helped guide, empower, and challenge the odds stacked against him, Will set out to develop an organization for youth that promotes healthy social skills, strong interpersonal skills, self-worth, and confidence.

The Mansa Musa Project is named after Mansa Musa. Musa who is believed to have been the richest person in the world, even by today’s standards did not want just wealth and power but sought knowledge.  With a similar desire, Will graduated from Booker T. Washington’s high school for Engineering Professions and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management from Louisiana State University and a Master of Business Administration from Texas Woman’s University. Upon completion of college, Will’s dedication and determination afforded him the opportunity to play professional football which opened doors to his current successful entrepreneurship. He plans to utilize his knowledge, skills, healthy relationships, motivation, and drive to pour into the lives of the youth in the community. To donate or learn more, please click HERE