Editor's note: The following is the text of Mayor Sylvester Turner's inauguration speech, which he gave Monday at Jones Hall.
The Bible I held this morning was the Bible I held 26 years ago when I was sworn in to represent my district in the House of Representatives in 1989. My mom was part of the celebration and sat next to me on the floor of the Texas House, and although she is not with us today, she is with me in spirit and always will be. My father, who worked at Continental Emsco for 31 years, was a yard man and died when I was 13.
My mom became the CEO of the Turner household. With no high school education, working as a maid at the Rice Hotel a few blocks away, never learning how to drive, she raised nine sons and daughters. She saw to it that they were educated, and when times were rough, she told us that tomorrow would be better than today. Today, it is evident that what my mom said is very true.
So as a young man, when I took the bus from the Northside to downtown, walking the streets of the city of Houston, I remembered what my mom said, and I began to dream big. I believe my mama said that when you dream big, big things can happen. And I believe what Yolanda Adams just sang: that if you never give up, your dreams can come true. And when you work hard and when you give it your very best your work will make a path for you.
And when people have said to me, “Sylvester, with all of the City’s problems, why in the world would you want to be Mayor?” They have said that many times to me in the past two years. My reply was simply, “Yes, Houston faces challenges, but tomorrow will be better than today.”
If we dare to dream beyond our current City’s conditions, if we work hard and if we put aside our biases and recognize that no one person can do it by himself, we can be a bigger Houston, a bigger city and we can even rise above our own individual personalities.
Today, I am honored to have been sworn in with the City Controller, Chris Brown, and 16 Council Members, all chosen to represent the City of Houston. We may have started at different points in life, time, place, race and religion. Some were born here and some got here as soon as they could, but we all have one common goal this morning and that is to make Houston the best place on this planet.
It matters not whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether you’re black, brown, white or Asian. Whether you’re rich or poor or in between; whether you’re educated or uneducated. What matters to me is that we are all Houston, and we will stand and work for Houston and for its future.
We are honored to have our former mayors here today. Elyse Lanier, wife of former Mayor Bob Lanier; Mayor Lee P. Brown and his wife, Frances; Mayor Annise Parker and Kathy. Our former mayors are to be appreciated for their service, dedication and love for this city.
We are also honored this morning to have public officials from our congressional delegation; from the Texas Senate, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the Dean of the Senate John Whitmire; my colleagues from the Texas House of Representatives coming from all over the state; county officials and many others. I certainly am honored by your presence.
Unfortunately, this morning there is one county official who is not here with us. In his honor and for his work and the sacrifice that he made not only on behalf of his precinct, but his entire county, I will ask that we just pause in a moment of silence for County Commissioner El Franco Lee.
Throughout this hall, there are many representatives of our faith-based community, including my pastor of some 25 years, Pastor Ralph D. West of Brookhollow Baptist Church. We solicit your prayers for our efforts to represent the best interest of our city.
To our business, civic and community leaders, thank you for your presence. I extend an invitation to you to continue working with us in the best interest of our city. And let me give a quick shout out to all of our hard working City employees without whom we could not do our jobs, thank you to our police, fire and municipal workers.
If this city is to be great, it will take elected officials. It will take people from the private sector. It will take hard working men and women to make this city even greater than it is today. I am blessed to have with me my fabulous, gorgeous, intelligent, bright daughter, Ashley Paige Turner.
My mom is not here, and neither is my dad, but I am honored to have my sisters Madie, Pat and Jackie; two of my brothers, Everitt and Ray; and many cousins, nieces and nephews here this morning. There are many others whom I wish were here today to share this moment with me, like Beulah Shepard, Nina Bailey, Doris Hubbard and Lilly Veasley, but God has called them home.
It was Beulah who got me started. Back in 1988, Beulah told me I should run for District 139, my House Seat. I said, “Ms. Shepard, I’m really not interested; I don’t want to run for that.” Her reply was, “Boy, you don’t know really what you want.”
And she was right.
I ran and won as the first person of color to win in what was a majority Anglo district. Not everyone voted for me, but when the race was over it was my commitment to representing my entire district.
And for an additional 12 times, the people in my district elected me to represent them. I am indebted to the people in District 139. This is a city of opportunity. If you dare to dream big, big things can happen. That is to say that because of the vision of our forefathers, many people have come to our city and the surrounding region. That growth and development also has brought about its challenges. No one needs to tell us about the situations that we face.
Houstonians deserve a safe, viable infrastructure. And I want to announce today that two weeks from today, the potholes that are properly reported to the City’s 3-1-1 Help and information line will be assessed and addressed by the next business day. Our goal is to effectively, efficiently and safely repair each reported pothole within a 24-hour period. For those potholes where safety and infrastructure will require additional time, the Public Works Director will provide a priority report that I will personally monitor and will share with the members of City Council.
We will look for ways we can partner with the County, especially in this area. Better streets and transportation infrastructure will benefit both city and county taxpayers. I am confident that when we work together on the city and county level, we can address other issues, including our maintenance needs, to the advantage of both governments and all citizens.
It is critical that our infrastructure keep pace with our growth and development. Right now, we are playing catch-up. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Rebuild Houston in the courts, but we must commit ourselves to a dedicated source of revenue for our streets and drainage.
We have to move people quickly and efficiently from Point A to Point B and reduce the threat of flooding in our neighborhoods. The only way to reduce flooding is to bring all stakeholders to the table: Harris County, the Corps of Engineers, state and congressional leaders, TIRZ’s, developers and our citizens who have suffered when their homes flooded.
No one wants to hear any more heart-wrenching stories like the ones that I have heard in the Meyerland-Westbury area of senior citizens forced out of their homes where they have lived almost their entire lives and are now living in apartments because they cannot afford to repair their homes.
Addressing the issue of flooding will be a high priority for this administration.
We face a number of financial challenges: the debt service that spikes in 2018, our growing unfunded liabilities and a self-imposed revenue cap, all of which must be addressed together. My administration will immediately begin development of a long-range fiscal plan that will look 10 years forward and puts in place a strategy for long-term financial health with a balanced budget.
All stakeholders will be at the table. This strategy will start with a full assessment of our city’s finances that will lead to a plan for addressing Houston’s fiscal challenges in a manner that is prudent and sustainable and aligns with the needs of our citizens and businesses.
I have also asked the finance director to provide recommendations for better managing our department budgets and expenditures. I will issue an executive order based on those recommendations and specifics for implementing them. That order will require objective outcomes, transparency and the elimination of waste and inefficient expenditures.
Over the next several weeks and months, I will ask stakeholders to join with me at the table with the single objective of producing a sustainable plan to manage the City’s costs while balancing the City’s budget. If we engage in shared sacrifices for the benefit of our city, then the benefits of that collective commitment and love for our city will flow to us:
- More police officers in our neighborhoods
- More firefighters trained and equipped
- Quality neighborhood parks that compliment Hermann, Memorial and Buffalo Bayou
- Better and stronger communities where there is retail development, workforce and affordable housing, the elimination of food deserts, illegal dumping and abandoned properties.
- And where education becomes a conduit to better economic opportunities
I am not asking any one group to balance the City’s budget or curb the City’s rising costs. But I am asking all of us who love this city and who have benefited from its past to sacrifice now for the city’s future.
Our neighborhoods are where it all starts for our citizens. I’ve mentioned streets and flooding. We must also find a way to provide affordable housing. Too many of our young people are moving outside of Houston because they cannot find homes they can afford within the city. I want them living in Houston.
At the end of this day when the festivities are over and after all of you have gone home, at the end of this day, I shall get into my vehicle, and I shall return home to the neighborhood in which I was born and reared. I am committed to this city. I am committed to rebuilding neighborhoods that have been overlooked for years and years. I am committed to making sure that we do not have two cities in one: of haves and have-nots. We are all Houstonians and we deserve the right to improve and move forward together. I am committed to that.
We want a safe city, and I am committed to leading the way to demonstrate to the rest of the world that in Houston, community and law enforcement, can work hand in hand together. We are not the enemies of one another; we’re on the same page to make our city safe.
But it’s not all challenges. We have many opportunities.
Houston has been the beneficiary of visionary leadership on many fronts. One is the new international terminal at Hobby Airport, which opened in October. Houston now has within its boundaries two airports providing international flights, one of only two cities in the country that can make that claim. Thank you, Mayor Annise Parker.
In the years ahead, we will bring to Houston new aviation and aerospace companies to design, assemble, finish and operate both aircraft and spacecraft.
I see a city of opportunity for all. Which includes Rice, Texas Southern University, and The University of Houston. And let me just pause right here. In Atlanta a few days ago at the Peach Bowl, the University of Houston put Houston on the map.
We need not take a second seat to New York, or Los Angeles, or D.C. or Atlanta. And if you give me the opportunity to be your mayor, as you have, and City Council, if we work with one another, Houston can be the global, international city we are destined to become:
- A city that embraces diversity, culture and differences, and sees that as our strength and opportunity.
- A city that continuously works on strong and safe neighborhoods, where residents, schools and businesses work together. And where those neighbors work with other neighborhoods in the shared vision of a world class city for all.
- A city that builds on its great past with the promise of an even brighter future for those that work and play by the rules.
- A city with no limits, acting responsibly, where government works for the people, and is held to a higher standard.
- A commonsense city, not mired down in bureaucracy and past precedent, but one of innovation, creativity and transformation, moving as rapidly as the businesses and people that make up this great city.
- A city of hope, opportunity and inspiration.
Isn’t it strange that kings and queens and clowns that caper, and sawdust rings and common people, like you and like me, are builders for eternity? For each of us is given a list of rules; a shapeless mass; a book of rules. And each must fashion, ere life is flown, a stumbling block or a stepping stone. The Bible says to him whom much is given, much is required.
Houston, this is our city, let us preserve it.
Houston this is our home, let us protect it.
Houston this is Houston, let us invest in it.
And together, let’s move forward to make this the best city that this world has ever seen.
And God bless us all!