Editor's note: This story has been updated.
HOUSTON — State Rep. Sylvester Turner and former Kemah Mayor Bill King are headed to a runoff in the Houston mayoral race, after election returns Tuesday night showed the Republican-leaning King snatching the No. 2 spot from rising-star Democrat Adrian Garcia.
With almost all precincts reporting, Turner led King 32 percent to 25 percent, according to unofficial results. Garcia, the former Harris County sheriff who had entered the race as a solid frontrunner, trailed both at 17 percent.
King and Turner now face off in a Dec. 12 runoff that could bring into focus their dueling appeals to GOP and Democratic voters, respectively. At a boisterous election night party in downtown Houston, Turner painted the match-up as a choice between Houston's past and future.
“We need a city that represents every single person that exists in this city," Turner said. “If you want to be mayor of this city, you have to appeal to the diversity of this city.”
King used his election night party to reiterate the issues that inspired him to seek the city's top job in the first place: urgent infrastructure weaknesses and an ill-managed police force.
"The reason I decided to run for mayor is, the truth of the matter is, we have a city government that’s not living up to the problems of the city," King said.
The outcome was particularly devastating for Garcia, who gave up his job as sheriff to run for mayor. By the time he conceded the race Tuesday night, he was a distant third.
Thirteen candidates were on the ballot Tuesday to succeed term-limited Annise Parker, who became the first openly gay mayor of a city Houston's size when she was first elected in 2009. About half the hopefuls were seen as serious contenders for the non-partisan office.
The race started with Turner and Garcia appearing to be safe bets for the runoff, though Garcia's dominance began fading after a series of stories raising questions about his handling of the Harris County jail. At the same time, King was credited with consolidating GOP support that had been previously splintered among a handful of candidates.
Despite no dearth of candidates and cash — the race was expected to be the most expensive in in recent city history — the contest fell short of expectations it would be a blockbuster. That's especially compared to the fight over the city's polarizing nondiscrimination ordinance, which was also on the ballot Tuesday and was viewed as a driver of higher-than-usual turnout during the early-voting period.
Turner took an early lead in unofficial returns Tuesday night and never lost his advantage. With fewer than one-third of precincts reporting, a confident Turner was already joking with reporters about winning over Garcia's supporters, saying, "I may not be Latino, but my DNA is good."
Jordan Rudner contributed to this report.