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Endorsement watch: Going for Turner

The Chronicle endorses Sylvester Turner for Mayor.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Because there is no perfect candidate on the ballot, voters should look for someone who has the talents best suited to fixing the problems that currently threaten Houston’s long-term success: Sylvester Turner.

For the past six years, Houston has been well led by Annise Parker’s competent hand. But being right on the issues only gets you part way there. Politics isn’t just about policy – it is about people. Turner, more than any other candidate, grasps this reality.

How can you defend a long-term Rebuild Houston plan if Houstonians still are hitting potholes? What’s the point of a pension solution if you can’t get it passed in Austin? How can people feel safe when police don’t respond to routine property crimes?

As Turner told the editorial board, “people want to see improvements now.”

The technically correct answer of a well-informed policy wonk is little solace if you’re dealing with a busted tire or burgled car. Houstonians need to know that their city is working for them today.

[…]

On pensions, Turner goes beyond the other candidates by calling for comprehensive reform of the city’s finances. Every time Parker hit firefighters on pensions, they seemed to push back just as hard. At this point, it is difficult to see how Steve Costello or Bill King would be more successful. Instead, Turner wants to bring everyone to the table so that folks don’t feel like they’re being turned into a target.

He attempted that strategy during the last legislative session by backing a deal that would lower the city’s payments in the short-term but raise the long-term liability. When he met with the editorial board, Turner said the failed bill was supposed to serve as a stop-gap to help bridge the city’s continuing budget crisis while getting both sides talking. We opposed the plan then and we’re still skeptical now. However, as someone with support from the city’s three key public unions, Turner is well prepared to bring consensus to a pension solution that closes annual funding gaps and pays down the city’s liabilities.

We can only guess what political machinations led the city’s three key public unions to endorse Turner before meeting with any other candidate. And time has obscured the scandals that bogged down Turner during his last two mayoral campaigns. Despite all the baggage that comes with a long-time legislator, Turner still stands as the candidate best suited for City Hall.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia entered the race with high hopes. He had served on City Council, had the executive experience of the sheriff’s department and routinely demonstrated a sharp policy focus with his mental health advocacy. However, Garcia stumbled on the campaign trail, routinely answering deep questions with shallow responses. Reports of deaths, violence and ignored whistleblowers at the county jail also undermine his record as chief law enforcement officer.

Councilman Steve Costello similarly provides a balance of political service, executive experience and policy chops. His engineer’s mentality can be a welcome presence around the horseshoe, but his technocratic style, so much like Mayor Parker, will mean more of the same if he’s elected mayor. Houston needs a new operating style at City Hall and Costello can’t promise that.

Of all the other candidates, Bill King provides the sharpest critique and greatest insight into the way our city is run. He’s traveled across the city, and written dozens of Chronicle columns, arguing about how Houston’s problems stem from a failure of management. His advocacy for better organization within City Hall, and focus on measurable results, is reminiscent of former mayor Bill White’s first campaign. However, as mayor he would be the antithesis of Turner when it comes to uniting people around a cause. It isn’t enough to be right – you also have to get the votes. Nevertheless, any future mayor would be wise to give King a seat at the table.

I predicted a Costello endorsement, predicated in part on him and the Chron being in sync on pension issues, so this is all a bit surprising to me. I’m not exactly sure what caused the Chron to change their tune on the issue, but if Turner was able to persuade them that his way really is the better way, then there clearly is something to the logic that he’s better positioned to get something passed in Austin, and as such the endorsement follows. The bit about Costello’s style being too much like Mayor Parker’s is reminiscent of the discussion that often accompanies a change of coach or manager in professional sports. It’s not just about drawing up the plays or juggling the rotation, it’s about tone and approach and so on. Say what you want about Gary Kubiak and Bill O’Brien, they are very different personalities, and going from one to the other is as much a part of the process as any other consideration. We do that in politics, too, when other factors like competence and qualifications are basically equal.

Anyway. I know the Chron endorsed Bill White back in 2003, and I’d bet a dollar or two that they went with Bob Lanier in 1991, so at least on this score the third time was the charm for Turner. My interview with Turner is published today, and interviews with the rest of the field will run through next Monday, so you can hear what they have to say for themselves if you haven’t attended any of the nine million or so candidate forums. However one feels about the slate of candidates and the state of the race, there’s more than enough information out there to help one make an informed choice.

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