Hous­ton mayor: City strives for ‘global fu­ture’

Mayor of 4th largest city in US has plans to visit China, as his pre­de­ces­sors have

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By MAY ZHOU in Hous­ton mayzhou@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Sylvester Turner would like you to know that he still en­joys be­ing mayor of his home­town of Hous­ton. Af­ter 26 years in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture, Turner was elected mayor of the US’ fourth-largest city last De­cem­ber.

“It has been over two months since I be­came the mayor of Hous­ton, I want you know that I still like the job. It’s not 9 to 5. It’s not Mon­day to Fri­day. It’s lit­er­ally seven days a week, but it’s a great city. It has been an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence,” Turner said at a re­cent lun­cheon hosted by the Asian Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Born in 1954 in Hous­ton as the sixth of nine chil­dren, Turner, 61, was raised by his father, a com­mer­cial painter, and his mother, a maid at the old Rice Ho­tel. He grew up with his big fam­ily in a two-bed­room house. His father had to cut grass with his sons over the week­end to make ends meet.

When Turner was 13, he lost his father to can­cer and his mother be­came the pri­mary bread­win­ner. Hav­ing not fin­ished high school her­self, Turner’s mother en­sured that her chil­dren got an education and in­spired them to do their best.

“My mom al­ways told me: You keep do­ing what you are do­ing; to­mor­row will be a bet­ter day,” Turner said.

Turner at­tended what at the time were seg­re­gated neigh­bor­hood pub­lic schools un­til in­te­gra­tion ar­rived in Hous­ton. He was trans­ferred to Klein High School, and af­ter a rocky start, was even­tu­ally ac­cepted by his fel­low stu­dents. Turner was later elected pres­i­dent of the stu­dent body and grad­u­ated as vale­dic­to­rian.

Turner grad­u­ated magna cum laude with a de­gree in political sci­ence from the Univer­sity of Hous­ton. He con­tin­ued his stud­ies at Har­vard Law School, where upon grad­u­a­tion he briefly worked as as an as­so­ciate at a ma­jor Hous­ton law firm be­fore found­ing his own firm, Barnes & Turner, in 1983.

The next year, Turner made his first at­tempt at pub­lic of­fice but did not win a seat on the Har­ris County Com­mis­sion. Four years later, in 1988, he was elected a Texas state rep­re­sen­ta­tive. His pri­mary fo­cus as a Demo­cratic state leg­is­la­tor was pub­lic education, health­care, con­sumer pro­tec­tion and crim­i­nal jus­tice.

As Hous­ton’s new mayor, Turner said that his pri­or­i­ties are “to make us safe, build the in­fra­struc­ture for busi­ness and peo­ple, in­clud­ing good streets and a good tran­sit sys­tem, take care of the fi­nances of the city, and go be­yond the fun­da­men­tals”.

Turner al­ready had cre­ated a buzz in the city by see­ing that pot­holes plagu­ing Hous­ton streets were speed­ily fixed, as he promised in his may­oral cam­paign.

As of March 3, Turner said that the city re­paired more than 12,500 pot­holes since Jan 11. A smart­phone app and a ded­i­cated web­site were cre­ated to deal with the road prob­lems. Turner said that 95 per­cent of the time, the city crew fixed pot­holes re­ported by cit­i­zens by the next day, a fact ver­i­fied by an in­de­pen­dent study by Rice Univer­sity.

Turner in­di­cated that it was time to turn to more se­ri­ous and ad­dress long-term in­fra­struc­ture is­sues as well as the city bud­get, plan for the up­com­ing Su­per Bowl, and make ap­point­ments to var­i­ous pub­lic boards.

As a na­tive Hous­to­nian, Turner con­sid­ers di­ver­sity a ma­jor plus for the city: “Hous­ton is a wel­com­ing city em­brac­ing all the cul­tures, eth­nic­i­ties and na­tion­al­i­ties. We are a world-class in­ter­na­tional city striv­ing to an ever-more global fu­ture. We are the most di­ver­sifi city in the na­tion. When you come to Hous­ton, you can travel the globe, you can go from Asia, to Latin Amer­ica, to Africa, all well within the con­fines of Hous­ton.”

Turner said China’s sig­nif­i­cance is not lost on him.

“We al­ways say Hous­ton is a world-class in­ter­na­tional city, and we can’t re­ally say that with­out in­clud­ing China right in the middle of the equa­tion,” Turner said.

For nearly 20 years, ev­ery mayor of Hous­ton from Lee Brown to Bill White to An­nise Parker, has led trade del­e­ga­tions to China to en­tice Chi­nese in­vestors, and Turner is sure he will do the same.

“I have not been to China, but I look for­ward to go­ing there,” he said. “China is our se­cond lead­ing trad­ing part­ner only af­ter Mex­ico; we have a large Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion in the city with well over 100,000, and we have the Chi­nese Con­sulate Gen­eral here, and if I am not mis­taken, this was the first in the coun­try go­ing back to 1979. We want to ex­plore as many busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties with China as pos­si­ble,” Turner con­tin­ued.

Hous­ton has a close eco­nomic and cul­tural re­la­tion­ship with China. Ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided by the mayor’s of­fice, more than 900 Hous­ton com­pa­nies re­ported ties with China.

Hous­ton com­pa­nies have set up more than 100 sub­sidiaries through­out China. Con­versely, dozens of Chi­nese com­pa­nies have op­er­a­tions in Hous­ton, in­clud­ing the three ma­jor Chi­nese oil com­pa­nies.

Trade vol­ume has been steadily in­creas­ing since 2010, to $16.6 bil­lion in 2014. Hous­ton and Shen­zhen es­tab­lished a sis­ter-city re­la­tion­ship in 1986. Un­der for­mer mayor Parker, Hous­ton formed a part­ner­ship with Shang­hai.

In Turner’s view, the lo­cal Chi­nese com­mu­nity can con­trib­ute much to the strength­en­ing of ties be­tween Hous­ton and China. The mayor went to the Shan­dong Fel­low­ship As­so­ci­a­tion’s Lu­nar New Year cel­e­bra­tion, which was at­tended by more than 1,000 peo­ple in Fe­bru­ary.

“I talked to a Chi­nese busi­ness­man there. His com­pany was look­ing to do more busi­ness in Hous­ton and Louisiana. I en­cour­aged them to take a look at Hous­ton,” Turner said.

Turner said the Chi­nese com­mu­nity has added a great deal to Hous­ton. “When you look at sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, the Chi­nese com­mu­nity is very help­ful. The city en­joys many Chi­nese restau­rants.

“The Chi­nese com­mu­nity has a strong bank­ing busi­ness. Hous­ton has ben­e­fited in so many ways from the pres­ence of the Chi­nese com­mu­nity. That’s why we are a cul­tural city,” he said.

MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY

Hous­ton Mayor Sylvester Turner holds a copy of Chi­ne­seEn­ter­pris­esintheUnit­edS­tates, pub­lished by China Daily.

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Hous­ton

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