“This is the last political office that I plan to run for.”
Those are the words of Sylvester Turner, a man who has run three times for the highest seat in the city of Houston, but fell short twice.
Turner previously ran for the opportunity to become Houston’s first African American mayor in 1991 and lost to Bob Lanier. He ran again in 2003 and lost to Bill White. This time, however, Turner is hoping the third time is truly a charm.
Mayor Lee P. Brown was the first African American to be elected mayor of Houston in 1997 and served the maximum of three terms from 1998 to 2004.
After coming out on top, as the leading vote-getter in a grueling general election that featured a high-profile, 13-person field vying to become the top-brass at Houston City Hall, Turner now has a chance of becoming the city’s second Black mayor. He has one final hurdle to overcome, however, and that is winning a tough runoff election against his opponent Bill King.
Turner received 32% of the vote and King received 25% of the vote in the November general election.
During this election, a few of his political opponents have attempted to label Turner as a “career politician” and someone who needed to be replaced with a fresh face and new blood – a label that Turner vehemently attests is a positive, not a negative.
“If a person is producing, then it does not matter if you have been there for two years or twenty years, as long as they are getting results,” says Turner. “I have been a lawyer for 35 years and have been a small business owner for 32 years in my own law practice, so that makes me a career lawyer. The question that should be asked is, if you needed legal services, would you want to hire someone who is fresh out of law school to handle your extremely important legal and business affairs, or would you want someone who has experience? The same question should be asked about who you vote for as the next mayor of Houston. Experience is not a negative. Experience is a positive. Experience matters. Experience is what I bring to the table.”
Turner also believes his entire career and overall experience should be considered by everyone who is seeking to cast a vote on who the next mayor of Houston will be.
“I’ve been a law Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University for 17 years, so if you are a student seeking to learn about law, do you want an experienced professor or someone who just got out of school? I’ve been a legislator in the Texas House of Representatives for 26 years and have lived in the same neighborhood that I have represented for that period of time,” boasts Turner. “I have been successful at everything I’ve done, so you can call it career, you can call it whatever you want to call it, but the bottom line is, if something is producing positive results then I think you want more of that.”
As a legislator in the Texas House of Representatives, Turner does have a body of work that speaks for itself and has shown he has a history of working to help the people of Houston and Texas get ahead.
Turner stood up to the utility companies to stop excessive rate increases and service cutoffs, which helped low-income Houstonians and seniors receive discounts on their electricity bills. He voted to require the State Department of Transportation to distribute an additional $1.2 billion to local transportation districts to improve roads and reduce congestion; worked to reform our criminal justice system, including by sponsoring the law requiring DNA testing in death penalty cases, and led the effort to improve legal representation for those who cannot afford a lawyer; worked to ensure access to health care and to expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage to more low- and middle-income Texans and their families; secured funding and community support to improve a 29-acre, underused city park to create a beautiful park in Acres Homes with the first public baseball fields in that community and to establish the Astros Urban Youth Baseball Academy there, which provides more than 2,000 inner city youth with world-class facilities and recreational opportunities; and worked to increase funding for local schools, make healthcare more affordable, and create new tax incentives to attract new business investment and create jobs.
“Oftentimes people put forth the criticism of calling someone career, when they don’t have anything themselves to offer,” says Turner. “If you look at my background, I think you see someone who has learned how to successfully multi-task and do that extremely well. If people want to attempt to make the things I’ve done for my constituents and clients over the past several years seem like a negative because they are seeking to do what I have been doing consistently, then I believe that narrative should be challenged and their motives questioned.”
Turner had a humble upbringing, but striving for success and overcoming obstacles has always been a part of his makeup.
In 1954, Turner’s parents moved to the Acres Homes community in northwest Houston the year he was born, and raised nine children in their modest two-bedroom home. His mother worked as a maid in the old Rice Hotel in Houston and his father worked as a painter for Continental Emsco. On the weekends, his father would cut yards with his sons to make extra money. Turner lost his father to cancer when he was 13 years old.
Turner attended neighborhood Houston public schools before being bused to Klein High School because of forced integration. Although it was a challenge adapting to his new environment, Turner was able to buckle down, and was eventually elected president of the student body and ended up graduating as a valedictorian. After his high school success, Turner went on to attend the University of Houston and Harvard Law School.
After graduating from Harvard, Turner joined the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski. He later founded the Houston law firm of Barnes & Turner in 1983. In 1988, Sylvester was elected to the Texas House of Representatives to serve the people of House District 139 in Harris County.