Houston Runoff Voter Guide 2019: Mayoral candidates Sylvester Turner and Tony Buzbee

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Tony Buzbee
Incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner faces Tony Buzbee in the runoff for Houston's mayor. (Courtesy photos)

Incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner faces Tony Buzbee in the runoff for Houston's mayor. (Courtesy photos)

Incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner faces Tony Buzbee in the runoff election for Houston's next mayor. Community Impact Newspaper submitted questions to each candidate about city finances, ethics and infrastructure. Responses may have been edited for length.

Early voting takes place Nov. 27 and Dec. 2-10. Election day is Dec. 14.

Sylvester Turner (incumbent)

Website: www.sylvesterturner.com

Occupation/experience: Mayor of Houston. I am the only candidate for mayor with 30 years of experience getting things done. I led our city through Hurricane Harvey, won billions of dollars for recovery, fixed more than 273,000 potholes and cut violent crime by 10 percent. I’ve expanded municipal investments in renewable energy and led the winning bid to host the World Petroleum Congress in 2020. Today, I’m delivering big flood-protection projects and neighborhood drainage fixes, bringing thousands of new jobs to Houston, and putting more cops on the street to increase police patrols and keep our families safe.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?

Our firefighters deserve a raise, but it must be one that the city can afford. When the courts declared Proposition B unconstitutional, I immediately invited the firefighters union to negotiate with the city through the collective bargaining process. I want to move forward. Let’s get this done.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?

We have made tremendous progress. I led the effort to reform our pension system for city employees that was costing taxpayers $1 million per day. We’ve cut our unfunded pension liability in half: from $8.2 billion to $4 billion. I’ve balanced four tough budgets without layoffs or significant service cuts. And after Hurricane Harvey walloped our city budget, we are taking steps to address the structural budget imbalance. Starting next year, the city will move to a zero-based budgeting model that requires every expense to be justified.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?

We’re always working to improve transparency—the foundation of accountability. For example, www.houstonpotholes.org tracks every citizen-reported pothole and reports our progress in real time. More than 99% are being filled by the next business day. My administration takes ethics very seriously, making sure to follow the letter and the spirit of all laws. My opponents have made a cottage industry of launching attacks without any basis in fact or law to advance their own political campaigns. It’s time for a serious conversation about the best laws and policies for Houston—one that takes place outside political season.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?

We are moving on all fronts. We’ve secured billions of dollars in federal funds to improve critical infrastructure, toughened Houston’s building codes and made investments to help the flood control district widen Brays Bayou, build new water detention basins, add more gates to Lake Houston and fix more than 200 flooding hotspots in neighborhoods throughout the city. But our biggest obstacle is the federal government. Only weeks ago did FEMA award the first set of grants for large-scale flood-mitigation projects. And only weeks ago did HUD authorize the use of $4.3 billion appropriated by Congress for Texas flood mitigation.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?

As mayor, it is my job to address all our serious challenges. I represent more than 2.3 million people—every Houstonian is important to me, and each has his or her urgent priorities. These are all important, and I am not inclined to leave any of these off the list or rank one above the other: flooding and drainage; jobs and economic development; public safety; street conditions and traffic; public transportation; infrastructure, neighborhoods and equitable distribution of projects; diversity, economic inequality and making the city work for all Houstonians; and the city budget.

Tony Buzbee

Website: www.tonybuzbeeformayor.com

Occupation/experience: attorney, owner of the Buzbee Law Firm.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?

By giving the firefighters the pay parity that 298,000 Houstonians voted to approve.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?

To start, we need a third-party, independent audit of the budget. This audit will include the budgets of all TIRZs, Enterprise and other dedicated funds as well as the general fund. Next, we will conduct process audits to ensure the city is functioning in the most efficient and productive way. Lastly, I will implement zero-based budgeting. We cannot, and will not, continue to spend money we don't have.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?

Actions speak louder than words, which is why I’m not taking campaign donations. I will not be beholden to special-interest groups or campaign donors once I am in office. In regard to transparency, there is a complete lack of it at City Hall. We should know where every penny is spent. When I’m mayor, we will have metrics that every resident can review to see how the city is doing in real time. We will make every department transparent—everyone should be able to see what is being spent, what it is being spent on and how we are performing.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?

It’s impossible to answer this question in 100 words or less. Setting aside the specific issues that are unique to some parts of the city, we face three distinct threats from flooding—storm surge, river flooding and sheet flow (the technical name for street flooding.) While we aren’t going to be able to fix the problems overnight, the city can work together with the business community to achieve long-term improvement in short order. Please visit my website to read my full, extensive plan to address flooding.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?

The city is broken. We have to stop the campaign money that is corrupting our government where the contracts are given to the same people, time after time. That's job one.
By Emma Whalen

Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.


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