Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke in front of more than 1,500 people at the Hilton Americas downtown on Wednesday, delivering his final State of the City address reflecting on his nearly eight years in office.
This year's theme was "A Lasting Legacy" where Turner highlighted his accomplishments and what his legacy will be once he leaves office. Pension reform, facing seven declared natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, reducing homelessness, that the City of Houston has been nationally recognized, and the COVID-19 pandemic are just some of the efforts he said have shaped the city's future.
"I am not anxious to leave and if I could run again, I would," said Turner. "We are not at the back end, we are on the front end and what I can say to Houstonians is I have given you my best."
Turner said the many achievements during his tenure would not be possible without his staff and the roughly 22,000 city employees – who he cited much respect goes to for being able to keep the city moving during its tough times.
The city approved a $6.2 billion budget in June in which Mayor Turner said he'll be leaving the city in a better financial shape than when he first took office in 2016, with a $160 million dollar budget hole. Turned noted he's leaving a $420 million surplus, as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act funds given to the city during the pandemic, and a pension system that is down to $2.2 million from $8.2 million to next mayor. Others like the City's Controller Chris Brown argued that the city will face a budget crisis as the city has relied on the one-time ARPA funds.
"We’ll give you a city that is still united, even how diverse it may be, we’ll give you a city that’s more united, and we’ll give you a city that if you go anywhere around the world – Houston is now talked about in the top five, certainly within the top 10," he said.
Turner also highlighted the major projects that were implemented during his term – many that are currently in the works and others that will be completed after he exits office. Projects include the Inwood Forest Stormwater Detention Basin, the Solid Waste Northeast Transfer Station, the I-45 Expansion Project, the Sunnyside Solar Farm, Metro's BRT Corridors, and more.
Turner said just last week, the federal government agreed to a payment of $54.2 million in flood damages as a result of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. He said the funding will allow for the city to rebuild its municipal court building.
Election day is November 7 and many candidates are vying for Turner’s spots with State Senator John Whitmire and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee considered the front runners.
"Be careful of what you promise, be careful on how you criticize, because you haven’t looked under the hood," said Turner to the next mayor who seeks his seat.