Veteran lawmaker Sylvester Turner wins Houston mayoral runoff

13 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After 2 decades, Turner gets mayoral wish.

HOUSTON — Houston has elected longtime Democratic lawmaker Sylvester Turner as mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city in a tight race against Republican businessman Bill King.More than two decades after a crushing loss that left his reputation in tatters and his black constituency screaming racism, Sylvester Turner finally exorcised any lingering demons with a photo-finish victory over Bill King in Saturday’s runoff for mayor of Houston.

Turner, who rebounded from the 1991 mayoral loss – and a more resounding defeat 12 years later – to serve a dozen more terms in the Texas Legislature, becomes the city’s second African-American mayor. Houston Public Media has the breakdown of percentages for the mayor’s race as well as the other 10 runoffs. “As mayor, I will work every single day to represent all Houstonians — no matter the neighborhood you’re from or how much you have,” Turner tweeted after he was declared the winner. He turned back a spirited challenge from King, who rose from political obscurity with a campaign focused on infrastructure and financial problems, issues that surely will confront Turner early in his administration The election was in doubt until the final precincts were counted.

But the conventional wisdom that gives the nod to Democrats in Election Day balloting did not hold: The so-called ground game went to the conservative King, who was mostly unknown to the GOP faithful a year ago. They were right – no mayoral election in recent history has seen such a margin. “We’ve never had a mayor’s election before where the word ‘pension’ was even mentioned in the mayoral election, and obviously it became one of the central issues in this campaign,” King said. “And every candidate, including Sylvester, has conceded that we have an unsustainable system, so if we accomplished nothing other than that, I think that was a good thing.

We have fundamentally changed the conversation about the city of Houston and its finances going on into the future.” Throughout the campaign, King hammered relentlessly on a public employee pension plan that is placing the city under financial strain. Along with the need for a better approach to road and other infrastructure repair and maintenance, he made “back to basics” the mantra designed to appeal to voters annoyed by measures that, to them, go beyond the essential services that are at the heart of city government. Though he often was pushed to discuss potholes, road projects, drainage problems, and unfunded pension liabilities, he repeatedly was criticized by King for having no specific plan to change or improve them. As far as I’m concerned, from this day as we move forward, I will do my very, very best to represent every single Houstonian in this city, whether you voted for me or not.

Every part of this city deserves to be represented.” After the final tally was posted, King took the stage to loud applause and said he had just called Turner to congratulate him on becoming mayor. Despite his disappointment, he pointed out how few people had even heard of him when he announced his campaign. “When I entered this race I had 9 percent name ID and we were polling at 3 percent, so to come within a few thousand votes of winning this race is really quite remarkable,” he said. “We came this close to doing something that was truly historic. Look, we always knew this was a long shot, we always knew the message of fiscal conservatism was going to be tough medicine.” What was supposed to be a nonpartisan race evolved into a proxy battle for both parties. Democrats did not want to lose a position they have owned for years, and organized labor groups – Democratic Party stalwarts – worked hard on Turner’s behalf.

Mayoral candidate Chris Bell, who failed to make the runoff and supported King, even though Bell is a Democrat, was surprised by the party interest in a race with little significance beyond the city limits. “The conservative side was energized after the results in November and has done a good job of maintaining a sense of momentum,” Bell said. “Of course, the Democratic Party has tried to turn it into a partisan race like nothing I’ve ever seen before, really going back to 1997, and it wasn’t even really like this then. Turner lost a bruising race for mayor in 1991 against Bob Lanier, following a runoff campaign laced with racial overtones and accusations of misconduct by Turner, which later were disproved in court. When former Sheriff Adrian Garcia flamed out and finished third in the general election last month, Turner was faced with a little-known runoff opponent whose only political stint was mayor of Kemah. Voters overwhelmingly tossed out the law, and King, who dubbed himself a conservative independent, was seen by most observers as a beneficiary because hard-core conservative voters were motivated to turn out for a city election that often fails to include a candidate with similar views.

As runoff campaigns go, the month-long squabble between King and Turner has focused mostly on policy issues, with only a few personal ads and little of the nastiness that often emerges close to Election Day. Both candidates have latched on to the other’s potential policy weaknesses, Turner criticizing King for math he says does not add up and King lambasting Turner for lacking concrete ideas. The two campaigns mirrored their personal and political histories: Turner the insider with a breadth of historical knowledge and an understanding of how to cobble support among lawmakers for policy proposals, King the outsider eager to point out failed approaches of previous administrations and push a simple message of reform. He figured to pick up many of the votes of the other three major candidates, though the significance of that was questionable in a low-turnout runoff where many of the general-election voters might not be motivated to show up. “King figured out that he had to distinguish himself, by being the detailed policy person and really putting some meat on the bones,” said University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray.

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