Houston’s Annise Parker, one of the few women serving as a big-city mayor, is the first openly gay mayor of any major U.S. city. That fact is not incidental to her career: She extended benefits to same-sex spouses of city workers and spearheaded Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance, which protects gay and transgender residents, among other groups. Both moves were met with some criticism, and they have triggered lawsuits.
While her politics are progressive, her managerial style has been more conservative. Inheriting a big deficit, her approach was to cut spending, not to raise taxes. “As mayor, she has been a steady hand on the tiller in tough financial times,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. It hasn’t all been austerity, though. On her watch, Houston has boomed in terms of both job and population growth. Parker convinced voters to increase infrastructure spending, while overhauling the city’s troubled transit authority. Now, facing term limits after a long career in city government, she’s ready for new challenges. She has not brushed aside talk of a future run for governor, and she kicked off the year by jumping 14,000 feet out of an airplane. “One more thing I don’t have to do again!” she tweeted.