Turner Coasts to Victory in Houston's Mayoral Runoff

A subdued ending to an intense race ends with Buzbee leaving on a jet plane. Seriously.

By Dianna Wray December 16, 2019

In the end, the race was a bit closer than most people expected it would be, but Mayor Sylvester Turner secured himself a second four-year term on Saturday, garnering 57 percent of the runoff vote to opponent Tony Buzbee’s 43 percent.

While it wasn't the 20- and 30-point win that some pollsters had been predicting, more than 200,000 people got themselves to the polls to vote in the runoff handing Turner a comfortably solid victory. Of course, Buzbee, the famed defense attorney who ran a self-funded campaign, insisted during his non-concession speech on Saturday night that his team didn’t lose, they just ran out of time. After the infamous oration he gave a month ago (the one where he seemed, you know, really tired or something and wouldn’t stop talking) it was unclear how he would top himself this time around. But Buzbee pulled it off by doing the most Buzbee-esque thing imaginable: not giving a formal concession speech at all.

It was a quiet end to a crazy-even-for-Houston-politics race. While Turner was facing down a crowded field of would-be mayors in the lead-up to the first round (the Houston mayoral race almost always gets decided in a runoff) of the election in November, Buzbee managed to stand out from the rest with his boisterous tactics and campaign style. Throughout the months leading up to the election, Buzbee accused Turner of being corrupt. (At one point, Buzbee even had manure hauled into his own campaign headquarters in a confused metaphor of a moment where he was trying to illustrate his claims of something rotten at Houston City Hall.) Meanwhile, Turner’s team kept their cool, reminding voters in the Democratic stronghold that is Houston about Buzbee’s past support for President Donald Trump.

Buzbee downplayed his past support for Trump and insisted he was running as an Independent. That lasted until the final morning of the runoff, when a text message was blasted out with Trump's photo, directly encouraging Trump supporters to back Buzbee and “drain the swamp” at Houston City Hall. A message from Donald Trump Jr. robo-called voters later that day in another last-ditch effort.

It didn’t work, though. Despite having spent more than $10 million in his self-funded campaign, Buzbee came up short. During the runoff Turner kept things classy, never engaging with Buzbee or even much acknowledging his existence. He also only spent a fraction of what Buzbee spent in his bid for re-election. Turner celebrated the fact that he’d won, and had won on his own terms, in his victory speech on Saturday night.

“Let this campaign be a reminder that you can grow up and still live in the ‘hood, and still be the mayor of the fourth largest city in the United States of America,” Turner said. "My dad and mom said to their nine kids, 'You can compete. You can do well. We may not have what somebody else has. We may not drive what somebody else drives. But Sylvester, you can still compete.' And tonight in this city, you have reaffirmed the message of my parents."

Buzbee, of course, refused to acknowledge that he’d been defeated, and when it was undeniable on Sunday morning he still opted out of publicly conceding his loss, boarding a private jet out of town instead.

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