Democrat Sylvester Turner coasted to victory in a runoff election for mayor of Texas’ largest city Saturday night. According to unofficial results, the incumbent mayor garnered 57 percent to Tony Buzbee’s 43 percent.
Although technically a non-partisan contest, party dynamics played a larger than usual role in the mayoral runoff.
As a former state representative, Turner’s clear affiliations with his party drew public support from high-profile Democrats including U.S. Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Al Green (D-TX-09), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), and Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07).
One prominent Republican also endorsed Turner: former State Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring).
Challenger Tony Buzbee presented a more independent position and in the general election campaign period, he emphasized bi-partisan concerns over alleged corruption, accelerating crime rates, and lack of progress on firefighter pay and botched hurricane recovery efforts.
A self-proclaimed independent, Buzbee had previously served as chairman of the Galveston Democratic Party but donated to politicians on both sides of the political aisle, including Donald Trump in 2016. Former Texas Governor and Energy Secretary Rick Perry endorsed Buzbee early in the campaign and stumped for him on local media during the runoff.
During the runoff campaign, Buzbee gained more vocal support from some Republicans, including Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) who recorded robocalls endorsing Buzbee.
Buzbee also moved to court more conservative voters by sending a mailer criticizing Turner’s support for “Drag Queen Storytime” events and the controversial HERO ordinance proposed in 2015.
Many current and former residents also received text messages last week purportedly from President Donald Trump throwing his support behind Buzbee. It’s unclear how helpful such an endorsement would be in Democrat-heavy Houston.
Buzbee said his campaign was not responsible for the “Trump texts” and the Turner campaign also denied involvement.
The Harris County Republican Party stopped short of endorsing Buzbee for the runoff election.
After the crowded general election in November, the party’s Executive Committee voted to endorse several city council candidates, (Mike Knox, Willie Davis, Michael Kubosh, Anthony Dolcefino, Erick Dick, and Amy Peck,) but none of the committee members presented a resolution in support of Buzbee.
Of the original 12 general election mayoral candidates, none had a clear claim to Republican voters and prior to the runoff, right-leaning Houstonians seemed to split between Buzbee, Pastor Kendall Baker, and former Kemah Mayor Bill King. King had narrowly lost to Turner in the 2015 runoff by fewer than 4,000 votes.
A few other general election candidates such as Baker and Sue Lovell endorsed Buzbee, but King declined to do so.
In his victory speech, Turner, who was endorsed by numerous union groups, called for labor and business to work together, claiming that because of city business and labor working together “there are more people working in this city than at any time in the history of this city.“
He added that the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1981, but did not mention any state or national policies that might have contributed to strong employment numbers.
Turner also advocated for acceptance of both “documented and undocumented immigrants,” and says he has plans to accelerate street repairs, increase public-private partnerships in the city, and restructure the Houston Fire Department.
Buzbee, who spent more than $12 million of his own money on the race, never formally conceded, but on Instagram posted a photo of himself leaving Houston on a private plane with the text, “We need a bit of R&R and then we will be back with a vengeance. Thank you for all of the support!! We love you Houston!”
Of Houston’s estimated 2.3 million residents, over 1 million are registered to vote.
Unofficial totals indicate that 204,926 voters cast ballots in the mayoral runoff.
Two city council races remain undetermined.
With 100 percent reporting, only 12 votes separate candidates Karla Cisneros and Isabel Longoria for District H, and Longoria has yet to concede. The District B contest has been postponed due to a legal battle over the eligibility of candidate Cynthia Bailey who has a prior felony conviction.
Republican endorsed candidates earned mixed results. Amy Peck decisively won District A with more than 70 percent, and Michael Kubosh and Mike Knox also claimed victory, while Willie Davis, Eric Dick and Anthony Dolcefino fell short in their respective races.
Notably, Kubosh and Knox ran for at-large council seats, and although they drew from the same voter base as the mayoral race, the two won with 61 and 56 percent respectively.
Four city council candidates overtly supported by the Democratic party over the Republican endorsees also won Saturday: David Robinson, Letitia Plummer, Sallie Alcorn, and Tiffany Thomas. Alcorn and Thomas will replace somewhat more conservative incumbents, and their victories indicate a further progressive shift on the 16-member council.
Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.