White began his career as a plaintiff lawyer at Susman Godfrey, LLP, a leading Houston law firm, from 1979 to 1993, where he practiced business litigation and anti-trust law, and eventually became partner.
He served as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy under President Clinton from 1993 to 1995. He organized Frontera Resources, a developer of oil and gas in the Caspian Sea region, and was also the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, from 1995 to 1998. He was the president and CEO of WEDGE Group, an energy, construction and real estate company, from 1997 to 2004.
White faced off against Republican former Houston City Councilman Orlando Sanchez, a Cuban-American who unsuccessfully challenged Brown in a heated 2001 bid to become Houston's first Hispanic mayor, and black Democratic Texas State Representative Sylvester Turner, who also ran for mayor in 1991 (against then-incumbent Kathy Whitmire and real estate developer Bob Lanier) but was embroiled in an insurance scandal exposed in an investigation by Houston's ABC affiliate, KTRK-TV that eventually led to a 1996 lawsuit. (Lanier went on to defeat Whitmire)
In the November election, White, along with Sanchez, defeated Turner. In the runoff, White defeated Sanchez with 63 percent of the vote.
White also led the city during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of New Orleans residents displaced by the storm found refuge in Houston's Astrodome and George R. Brown Convention Center. White called on Houstonians to volunteer their time to help those who had lost their homes and livelihoods to the hurricane. They responded by providing around-the-clock assistance to their neighbors from New Orleans -- Houstonians volunteered at shelters, raised money to help victims and worked to find new jobs for those who chose to stay in Houston. White would later be honored with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his quick-thinking and innovative response to the situation. He accepted the award on behalf of all Houstonians
Just weeks after Hurricane Katrina, it looked as though Houston would become the target of Hurricane Rita. As the images of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans still played on the evening news, Houstonians prepared for a mass exodus. During a series of press conferences, Mayor White and County Judge Robert Eckels instructed Houstonians on when to evacuate. Officials employed a strategy that called for the evacuation of flood prone areas first. The large-scale evacuation clogged major thoroughfares and led to a reform of disaster preparedness and evacuation policies
Other hallmarks of White's tenure included neighborhood water sewage improvements, a reform of the city's pension fund, cutting property tax rates, and pinpointing areas of high crime to curb criminal activity. White also initiated a SafeClear program that called for the immediate removal of stalled vehicles on Houston freeways and began a local recycling campaign known as "Stop Trashing Houston" to discourage littering.
In 2005, White was challenged for re-election by minor and perennial candidates and won re-election with 91 percent of the vote — the highest percentage received by a mayoral candidate in Houston in 60 years.
During his second term, White focused his work on improving graduation rates in the city's high schools, enforcing air pollution standards, reducing the possibility of flooding in newer areas, adopted a more flexible system of working hours, and capitalized even further on his business experience to create public-private initiatives with private business and community organizations to stimulate growth in the city's most neglected subdivisions.
In 2006, White proposed a series of eight city propositions aimed at improving infrastructure without a tax increase. All eight city propositions passed in a November 2006 election.
In 2007, the FBI released a report showing an increase in Houston's murder rate. While some speculated about the impact of Hurricane Katrina victims who settled on the Southwest side of town, Mayor White released a statement concerning the FBI's findings:
"With the regard to the 2006 figures now being reported, the FBI calculated a murder rate per 100,000 people for Houston based on census estimates of a 2,073,729 population as of July 1, 2005. That was before Houston’s population swelled by well over 100,000 people. On the basis of U.S. Post Office change of address information we estimated the 2006 population at 2,198,755. While it is normally fair to make year-to-year comparisons based on population estimates that lag crimes by a year or more, the unusual increase in Houston’s population for 2006 makes our City’s figures for the murder rate per 100,000 not quite comparable to the rate in other communities in 2005."
Energy conservation tops the Mayor's list of concerns in 2007. Via the City's Power to People Web site, Mayor White encourages energy conservation through tips and tools , education about tax incentives and even raffles
Mayor White is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, a bi-partisan group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The Coalition is co-chaired by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In 2007, the City under Mayor White announced that it was planning to terminate the lease for The Center for the Retarded, a facility that had served a special needs community for many years. The facility was built on land that decades ago was considered worthless and had been leased for 100 years for $1, but had recently become very valuable. Several developers were interested in the project. White's rationale was that the property was worth $26 million to the public and in good faith the lease must be terminated. Though the Center had a 100-year lease, the City claimed under its Charter that it was unable to enter into such a long-term lease, thus it was not originally valid. After a great public hue and outcry, White changed course. The public raised $6 million to pay the City and discussions about closing the facility ended.
On October 1, 2006, Houston City Council, at the urging of Mayor White, amended Chpt. 19-43 of the code regarding floodway and floodplain properties. The change removed a previous exception for building in floodways that allowed owners to build provided they could prove with an engineering study that the building would not increase flooding. As a result of this change, those with vacant land saw their property become worthless as it was unusable. Those with existing structures also saw a dramatic loss in property value because there was a provision disqualifying rebuilding if the property was sufficiently damaged. There are several law suits pending regarding this ordinance. The main argument is that this law was an unconstitutional regulatory taking of property that would normally have required the use of eminent domain. A group called the Floodway Coalition of Houston has organized to lobby for repeal of the change. Mayor White has consistently backed the change in the ordinance.
Andrea White is the daughter of Arthur John Ferguson (1917-2008), a Louisiana State University graduate in mechanical engineering originally from New Orleans, and the former Patsi Wells, a native of Baton Rouge. In the late 1950s, the Fergusons moved from Shreveport to Houston after the merger of Esso with Humble Oil Company. John Ferguson worked in the crude oil section and later helped to organize the royalty owner relations department.
Andrea White has written several novels, one of which received The Texas Bluebonnet Award, which permits recommendation in school libraries. On the "about the author" section of the back cover flap, it mentions that she is the wife of the mayor of Houston. They have three children, one of whom, Stephen White, made the T-Mac All Star's fifteen year old AAU basketball team in Houston, which honors only the top 12 fifteen-year-old players in the city. The Whites are members of St. Luke's United Methodist Church.
In the summer of 2006, White's teenage daughter was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. A Harris County deputy constable arrested White about a mile from her home. Officials said that her Toyota Prius was pulled over because the headlights were off. The Mayor's daughter was acquitted after jurors viewed video recordings of her sobriety tests. One juror told the Houston Chronicle that, despite the officer's testimony, "it didn't seem like she was intoxicated. In addition, the officer admitted to making several mistakes during administration of the tests.