Boisterous attorney, political donor Tony Buzbee says he’s running for Houston mayor in 2019

"I don't need to be the mayor," he said. "The current mayor needs that job. I don't need it. That's why I'll do it better than anyone."

Houston attorney Tony Buzbee says he's running for mayor of Houston.
Houston attorney Tony Buzbee says he's running for mayor of Houston.  Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

Tony Buzbee, a high-wattage trial lawyer, big-time political donor and Texas A&M University System regent, says he is running to be the mayor of Houston in 2019.

"The mayor's race in Houston traditionally has been as boring as watching paint dry," Buzbee said on Fox26 Houston Tuesday night, when he announced his bid. "I think that we have a city that is above average with below average leadership, and I'm considering very seriously, because there's a lot of people asking me to do this, running for the mayor of this town."

When pressed, Buzbee confirmed he is running and would donate his mayoral salary, if elected, to "a random voter that I choose every year."

Sue Davis, a spokesperson for Mayor Sylvester Turner's campaign, declined to comment. Turner was elected mayor of Houston in 2015.

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Buzbee, a former Marine, has a roster of high-profile clients to his name, including former Republican Gov. Rick Perry, whom he successfully defended in an abuse-of-power case.

Buzbee was appointed to the A&M System Board of Regents in 2013, by Perry, and has been known to host raucous and politician-studded parties at his River Oaks mansion, including a 2016 fundraiser for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Last year, he was rebuked by a local homeowner's association after he parked an operational World War II-era tank outside his house.

"My life has been nothing but serious. My mother drove my school bus. My father was a meat cutter. Now I have this high-flying lifestyle," Buzbee told the Houston Fox affiliate. "I don't need to be the mayor. The current mayor needs that job. I don't need it. That's why I'll do it better than anyone."

In an interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday, Buzbee explained what he hopes to accomplish as the mayor of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. First up: Ending "the pay-to-play in city hall."

"A lot of people say that and then they take campaign donations as soon as they get elected," he said. "I'm not taking one penny; I'm going to finance the whole campaign myself and I'll spend more than anyone." He clarified he would cap his expenses at $5 million "because I'm not a fool."

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Buzbee said Houston, which was devastated by Hurricane Harvey last year, needs a leader "cheerleading the fact that ... we shouldn't be building in areas we know are going to flood." He said he would put forward ideas about pension reform and other municipal issues in the months ahead.

"We have everything in place to be a world-class city, except the leadership. Am I going to get in the weeds about how many potholes need to be filled? No, that's not my style," he said. "My style is: I don't need to be the mayor, my life is incredibly wonderful; I've got the best job in the world. I make a lot of money. I go to great places, I drink great wine, I have great friends. So unlike some people that run for mayor that need that job, I don't need it. But I know I can do it better."

Buzbee’s term as an A&M System regent expires in February 2019. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could reappoint him for another six-year term, but Buzbee said he expects a replacement will be named in January 2019, and that he would then "be free to file at the appropriate time."

This isn't Buzbee's first bid for public office. He ran as a Democrat for a seat in the state House in 2002 and lost. He demurred Wednesday when asked if he's a Republican or Democrat, saying partisan labels are "bullshit."

As for his tank?

"It is being donated to Texas A&M on November 10, the Marine Corps birthday," Buzbee said.

Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System and Tony Buzbee have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.