In the Ninth installment of the 2015 Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire we hear from Hon. Sylvester Turner, current State Representative for the 139th House District of the Texas State Legislature. He is running for Mayor of Houston.
Please note: Responses are directly from the candidate, and have been posted ver batim from the email received. This is done out of fairness to all candidates. Publishing these responses does not constitute an endorsement, but may be considered during the endorsement process.
TL: What is your name, as it will appear on the ballot?
ST: Sylvester Turner
TL: Are you a current or former elected official? If so what office(s)?
ST: Yes. Since 1988, I have represented HD 139 in the Texas House of Representatives. I have just completed my 26th year in the legislature.
TL: As a political candidate, you clearly care about what happens in certain levels of government. In your own words, why is government important?
ST: I believe government is the means through which we all work together to make Houston the world-class city we know it can be. I believe that everyone deserves the same opportunities to advance and succeed that I was so lucky to receive growing up. I believe that we each have a responsibility to our neighbors, not just to ourselves. I believe that Houston’s diversity is one of its greatest assets and that all voices must be represented at the decision-making table. I believe government is important because, ultimately, government is us.
TL: If elected, what is your top priority in office for the upcoming term? Describe how you plan to accomplish it.
ST: There is a top tier of challenges that our next mayor will need to address, including the need for safer neighborhoods, improved roads and infrastructure, stronger support for our public schools and careful management of our budget. Those are all top priorities for me.
I would add to that list a big challenge that my opponents are not addressing: ensuring that Houston’s progress and promise are truly benefitting all of our communities, not just a select few. We are a world-class city with the resources and wherewithal to meet the fundamental needs of all of our families and to provide real opportunity in every community. But right now, Houston’s economy is working a lot better for some of our communities than for others. In fact, economic inequality has sharply increased here over the past 30 years and too many Houstonians are shut out of our prosperity. Our economy is strongest when our middle class is thriving and when all our residents have access to good-paying jobs. Making the long-term strategic decisions that will expand opportunity throughout the city is the key responsibility of our next mayor.
TL: After decades of deferred maintenance and neglect, Houston’s infrastructure is in a critical state of disrepair. Ask any driver, cyclist or pedestrian, and they can readily tell you that city streets and sidewalks are crumbling… some to the extent that they pose significant danger to those that would traverse them. The Parker Administration has attempted to address the problem by the voter-approved ReBuild Houston program. Knowing that the next Mayor has no choice but to invest in city infrastructure, do you support the continuation of ReBuild Houston? If yes, please explain why. If no, please explain how you would address our copious infrastructure needs differently.
ST: Houston’s infrastructure must keep pace with our growth and development – that is essential. ReBuild Houston was designed to create the strong infrastructure that Houston needs and deserves, which will lead to increased property values and facilitate our continued growth. The strength of the ReBuild Houston model is that the fund will increase as old bonds are retired and the funds used for debt service are captured. In light of the recent ruling on ReBuild Houston by the Texas Supreme Court, the prospects for a secure funding source for infrastructure are in question. As we work to strengthen the ReBuild program, or replace it if necessary, bringing all stakeholders to the table will be essential. I will fight to maintain a reliable and equitable revenue source for drainage and streets. The people of Houston lose if we do not have a reliable funding source for infrastructure.
TL: At present the city of Houston has one of the strongest forms of “strong-Mayor governance” in the state of Texas, to the point that the Mayor alone decides what business comes before City Council. If elected, would you support an amendment to the City Charter that would allow any coalition of 6 Council Members to place items on the Council Agenda without prior approval from the Mayor? Whether yes or no, please explain your answer.
ST: I do believe that Council Members should have input with respect to which issues come before the Council. However, Houston’s strong mayor model exists for a reason. The strong mayor form of government means that the buck stops at the mayor’s desk and that the mayor is uniquely responsible for developing a clear vision for the city and for driving the city forward toward that goal. If elected, I look forward to working with the City Council to foster collaboration among communities with differing interests from all across the city and to work together for the betterment of Houston.
TL: If elected, would you support and seek to continue the current administration’s Complete Streets policy, which establishes that any new or significant re-build of city streets will work to prioritize and incorporate safe access for all road users, including pedestrians, persons with disabilities and cyclists?
ST: Yes. The Complete Streets concept is an important shift for the city in terms of establishing a new standard for transportation development. The main obstacle to the effective implementation of Complete Streets is funding. Public-private partnerships are solutions for a few neighborhoods but relying exclusively on the market leaves other Houston communities behind. We need to bring all stakeholders to the table, including investors and residents, to develop an equitable solution for funding these improvements throughout the city.
TL: What makes you the best candidate for this office?
ST: I am running for mayor to make sure that today’s young people have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, just like I did. That starts with providing a city that is well run, clean and safe, with an infrastructure that supports a good quality of life – and that treats everyone who lives here equally and with dignity and respect.
I have represented Houston in the Texas House of Representatives since 1988 and am the only candidate with 26 years of expertise with respect to the details of government. I have worked with Mayor Annise Parker and others before her to advance the City of Houston’s priorities in the Legislature. Over the years as a legislator, I have fought to bring home hundreds of millions of dollars for the benefit of Houston. I am also the only candidate with a 26-year history of working with different voices and interests for the good of the people of Houston. I have a proven ability to work with leaders from every community to achieve results. For example, the relationships that I have built with Democrats and Republicans at the state level and with liberal and conservative faith leaders locally have been instrumental in my ability to win and protect gains with respect to civil rights and equality. None of my opponents has a similar record of results for our community.
TL: When not on the campaign trail, how do you like to spend your free time?
ST: I like to visit Sylvester Turner Park in my district. Not because City Council graciously named it after me but because it is a jewel in the middle of Acres Homes that any community would be proud to have. It used to be West Little York Park and it was 29 acres of nothing but weeds. The city refused to improve it but I was told they would maintain the park if I could make improvements. I raised the money through state grants and from private donors and created a lovely park with three baseball fields, the first public fields in Acres Homes, playground equipment and a jogging trail. I then worked with Major League Baseball and the Houston Astros to bring an Urban Youth Academy to the park, the second in the country. The Astros and MLB built another field and a training facility. Over two thousand boys and girls come to the Academy every year from all over the city to learn baseball and softball. Each year I hold Family Day at the park and more than 15-thousand residents come to celebrate this great facility and to share in free food, music, baseball and games. The Acres Homes community is proud of this park and so am I.
Thanks to Mr. Turner for the responses.
Election Day 2015 is Tuesday November 3rd, and Early Voting runs from October 19th through October 30th. Check out this year’s Harris County Early Voting information for locations and times.