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HOUSTON — Voters in the country’s fourth-largest city must now decide whether an openly gay woman should lead Houston for the first time or if a former city lawyer will become the city’s second black mayor.

City controller Annise Parker topped a field of four major candidates running for mayor on Tuesday, and former city attorney Gene Locke edged a big-spending city council member to earn the second spot in a runoff next month.

A victory by Parker, 52, whose sexual orientation never was an issue in six years on City Council and six years as city controller, would make Houston the nation’s largest city to be led by an openly gay person.

“I absolutely believe in my core I’m the best qualified candidate,” she said after voting results came in Tuesday night. “I understand I have a responsibility and I am a role model and I’ve been a role model for a very long time. But it makes me a role model in every community.”

Parker collected nearly 31 percent of the vote. Locke, with 25 percent, topped architect and urban planner Peter Brown, a two-term city councilman who spent more than $2 million of his wife’s fortune and missed the runoff by about 4,500 votes from among nearly 175,000 cast.

Parker, who gathered with supporters at a downtown hotel, insisted that the attention to her lifestyle wouldn’t bother her. “This really is not about anybody but voters of the city of Houston,” she said.

As her partner and their adopted children stood behind her, Parker told cheering supporters Tuesday night that the runoff came down to a single question.

“Who do you trust to lead our city through these tough times and give our children the future they deserve?” she asked. Brown, 72, finished with nearly 23 percent of the vote. “It isn’t the speech I wanted to give,” Brown told subdued backers gathered a theater.

“Money doesn’t vote,” said Parker, whose fundraising trailed Brown and Locke. “People vote.”

A fourth major candidate, county school trustee Roy Morales, 53, who didn’t have enough money to run television ads, took more than 20 percent. He was looking to be Houston’s first Hispanic mayor and was the lone Republican among the major candidates.

The runoff scheduled for Dec. 12, will determine who will lead the city for the next two years. The election is needed because no one received at least 50 percent of the vote in the predominantly Democratic city of nearly 2 1/2 million. Houston is about 25 percent black and one-third Hispanic.

“It’s been a long journey,” Locke, 61, said. “It’s not quite over.”

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