Turner Wins Nailbiter of a Mayor's Race in Houston

State Rep. Sylvester Turner narrowly won the Houston mayoral runoff Saturday night against former Kemah Mayor Bill King, keeping Texas' largest city under Democratic control.

Sylvester Turner narrowly defeated opponent Bill King in a runoff to be elected mayor of Houston on Dec. 12, 2015.
Sylvester Turner narrowly defeated opponent Bill King in a runoff to be elected mayor of Houston on Dec. 12, 2015.  Spike Johnson for The Texas Tribune

State Rep. Sylvester Turner narrowly won the Houston mayoral runoff Saturday night against former Kemah Mayor Bill King, keeping Texas' largest city under Democratic control. 

With all precincts reporting, Turner led King by just under 2 percentage points in unofficial returns, 50.96 to 49.04. King conceded the race shortly after 10:30 p.m., telling backers, "I encourage you to support Sylvester."

The race was expected to come down to the wire, and it lived up to the hype: Turner won by just over 4,000 votes out of nearly 212,700 cast. 

Turner's campaign was his third run for mayor after coming up short in 1991 and 2003. "How sweet it is," he said as he took the stage at his Election Night party, blue and red balloons pouring on him from above.

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The 26-year lawmaker had campaigned on unifying the city, a theme he echoed as he claimed victory surrounded by supporters and former competitors, including ex-Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. 

"As far as I’m concerned, from this day as we move forward, I will do my very, very best to represent every single Houstonian in this city whether you voted for me or not," Turner said. "Every part of this city deserves to be represented.” 

King and Turner were the top two vote-getters in the Nov. 3 election, when Turner won 31 percent of the vote and King 25 percent. The two candidates were vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, who has endorsed Turner. The office is non-partisan, though the race was widely seen as a face-off between the Republican-leaning King and Turner, a longtime Democrat.

The contest took on increased national significance during the runoff, with President Barack Obama throwing his support behind Turner on Friday. Turner's supporters had warned that a King victory could endanger Houston's identity as a Democratic-leaning city, and on Saturday night, they breathed a sigh of relief.

"The fourth largest city in the country remains in trusted Democratic hands with Sylvester Turner as Mayor," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. Turner also received congratulations from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who had endorsed him in the homestretch. 

The runoff had unfolded against a more partisan backdrop, though debates largely focused on fiscal issues, including how each candidate would tackle the city's $3.2 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. On Saturday night, Turner said he had talked with King on the phone and thanked him for "making this a competitive race and a very issue-oriented race." 

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Earlier in the night, King said the contest had nonetheless come down to a "clear choice." 

"A vote for me is a vote to go forward," Turner told reporters as results came in. "A vote for Bill is a vote to go back."