Inauguration day is often the high point of a politician's life. It's full of lots of goodwill, big smiles and boundless optimism before the hard work of day-to-day governing begins.
That was certainly the case for Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has coveted Houston's highest job for more than 25 years. The public swearing-in of Turner, City Controller Chris Brown and the 16-member Houston City Council at Jones Hall Monday morning was, indeed, a festive occasion with lofty rhetoric, soaring voices and one big promise from the mayor.
"Two weeks from today, potholes that are properly reported to the city's 311 help and information line will be assessed and addressed by the next business day," Turner said to loud applause, adding such potholes will be fixed within 24 hours of being reported.
For those potholes that are so bad they require additional time to repair, Turner said he will request a priority report from the public works director, personally monitor it and share with city council.
There weren't a lot of other specifics in Turner's 19-minute speech as he promised to attack the city's fiscal problems, create more affordable housing, make the issue of flooding a high priority and work with the county government on a host of issues, including street repair.
He called for "shared sacrifice" to address the city's fiscal challenges. "I am not asking any one group to balance the city's budget or curb the city's spiraling costs. But I am asking all of us who love this city and have benefited from its past to sacrifice now for the city's future," he said.
The most poignant moments of the mayor's speech came when he recounted the sacrifices his mother, who is now deceased, made for him and his siblings. His father died when he was 13 and his mother became the "CEO of the Turner house," he recounted.
"With no high school education, working as a maid at the Rice Hotel, never learning how to drive, she raised nine sons and daughters. When times were rough, she reminded us that tomorrow will be better than today. Today is evident that what my mom said was true," Turners said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Some other highlights from the ceremony that caught our attention:
Biggest applause lines
Of course, the pothole line got big applause, as did Turner's vow to make housing more affordable to attract young people who are priced out and thus leaving the city "because I want them living in Houston." He also received a standing ovation when he declared, "I am committed to make sure that we do not have two cities, one of the haves and the have-nots. We are all Houstonians."
"I am committed to leading the way to show the world that in Houston law enforcement and community can work hand in hand together. We are not enemies of one another. We are on the same page," he added.
He also got big applause lines for highlighting more economic opportunities, including those provided by the international terminal at Hobby Airport, and saluted the University of Houston's Peach Bowl win, receiving the Cougar hand salute from many in the crowd.
High vocal moment
Grammy-award winner Yolanda Adams brought down the house with her rendition of the hit gospel song, "Never Give Up," as the Houston Symphony accompanied her. Before she began, she told the mayor that she had changed some of the lyrics from "girl" to "boy" for him, quickly adding, "No judgment." And when she launched into the song, she sang new lyrics about a "young boy from Acres Homes," the part of Houston where Turner grew up and continues to live.
Republicans in the House
Even though being mayor is officially a non-partisan position, Turner is a Democrat and most of the well-wishers in the audience were of the same political persuasion. But Turner has shown a propensity for working well with the heavily Republican legislature in Austin, and as a measure of their respect and affection for him, ultra-conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and dozens of Turner's former colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives attended the celebration.
Where are the women?
Other than spouses and program participants, there were precious few women elected leaders on stage. Only four members of the 16-member Houston City Council are women, which was particularly noticeable when the council stood in a long row to be sworn in.
Of course, the last six years the city's top official was Mayor Annise Parker, who with former first lady Kathy Hubbard, received warm applause from the audience, along with former Mayor Lee Brown and wife, Frances, and Elyse Lanier, the widow of former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier.
City Hall is not a fashion show, but a few notables were sartorial standouts on stage. Turner looked dapper in a blue suit and tie while Dean Davis, the young son of District B Council member Jerry Davis, epitomized cool in red slacks and a slick haircut that's high on top and short on the side. (Each council member, as well as the mayor and city controller, were ushered on stage by a family member and Davis strolled out with his dad.)
Divya Brown, the wife of controller Brown, was chic in a long-sleeve high-neck blue dress and earned a lot of approval in social media chatter. And even though it was 9:30 in the morning, Ashley Turner, the daughter of Mayor Turner, and Jacqueline Le, the wife of District F council member Steve Le, sparkled in colorful evening gowns. Turner wore a bright red poppy print gown and with a magenta jacket while Le appeared onstage a flowing, bejeweled purple and white gown.