Politician and lawyer Sylvester Turner was born in the Acres Homes community in northwest Houston, Texas on September 27, 1954. He was elected mayor of Houston in 2015 thus becoming the city’s second African American mayor. Turner was raised among eight other brothers and sisters by his mother, a maid, and father, a painter. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Houston and later attended the Harvard Law School from which he graduated in 1980.
Upon graduation, Turner returned to Houston and joined the Fulbright & Jaworski law firm. Three years later, in 1983, he founded his own law firm: Barnes & Turner. He withdrew his participation from Barnes & Turner once he became mayor. Simultaneously, Turner taughtas an adjunct professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, part of the Texas Southern University and the University of Houston Law School.
Turner’s political career took off in 1988 when he was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives representing District 139. In total, he served 27 years as member of the House. While there he was vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for 21 years and completed three terms as the House’s Speaker Pro Tempore (2003-2009). Turner was also chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.
Prior to being elected mayor of Houston in 2015, Turner had run for the office twice, in 1991 and 2002, but was defeated each time. His 2015 campaign was based on addressing homelessness, reducing flooding by improving drainage, and a pot-hole repair plan. Turner ran against Republican columnist and businessman Bill King and received a last-minute endorsement by President Barack Obama. The race was tight but Turner eventually defeated King by 4,000 votes. He was sworn into office on January 4, 2015.
Turner will be remembered for his decisive yet controversial role in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Although the city was not directly hit by the hurricane, it suffered from rainfall on an unprecedented scale. Mayor Turner decided not to call for evacuation. In an address to the press, he said, “You cannot put 6.5 million people on the road.” This decision was made considering the trauma caused by Hurricane Rita in 2005 during which time 120 people died mostly during the evacuation of the city. Turner and other city government leaders feared that people trying to flee would generate even more chaos as occurred in 2005.
Working closely with Republican Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Turner turned the Houston Convention Center into a shelter and imposed a curfew in order to facilitate rescue efficiency. Overall, Mayor Turner’s handling of the crisis has been recognized as positive. In anticipation of future flooding and other natural crises, he announced that zoning laws and building regulations would be reviewed in the city of Houston.
Mayor Turner is a member of the United States Conference of Mayors Transportation and its Communications Standing Committee. He is also an advisory board member of the African American Mayors Association.
Sylvester Turner was married to Cheryl Turner between 1983 and 1991. They are the parents of Ashley Turner who is currently working in the healthcare field. Mayor Turner is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.
On December 17, 2021 Sylvester Turner announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Mayor Turner was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and only experienced mild symptoms.