Get to know Sylvester Turner: 50 facts about Houston’s mayor

Sept. 27 is the mayor’s birthday

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is seen in this undated photo provided by his campaign.

HOUSTON – Elected in December 2015 and reelected in December 2019, Sylvester Turner is serving his second four-year term as Houston’s 62nd mayor. Scroll below for 50 facts about the City of Houston’s highest-ranking government official.

  1. Sylvester Turner was born on September 27, 1954 in Houston’s Acres Homes community.
  2. He was raised in a two bedroom home, one of nine children.
  3. His mother was a maid at Rice Hotel.
  4. His father was a commercial painter with Continental Ensco.
  5. On weekends, Turner and his brothers did yard work with their father to supplement the family income.
  6. As early as age 6, Turner dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
  7. Turner attended Garden City Elementary.
  8. He was a spiffy dresser as a child, per a Texas Monthly profile.
  9. According to the same report, he is five feet, eight inches tall.
  10. He attended Klein Intermediate and Klein High School as part of the class that integrated the Klein Independent School District.
  11. The teaching staff was also integrated into the school district, and Turner received support from Black teachers like Mr. Jennings: “Mr. Jennings, who became one of my biggest cheerleaders, followed me all the way through from Garden City, to Klein Intermediate, to Klein High School. I mean, he, he, I mean, he tracked my every move, and just was a tremendous motivator. And you have to bear in mind, you know, my dad (Eddie Turner) had already died when I was thirteen, so it was people like him that really, was, played a very key role, yeah, in pushing me academically.”
  12. Turner’s father died of cancer in 1968.
  13. When asked which parent he takes after, Turner said this: “Oh, man, you know, many people say I look like my dad (Eddie Turner). You know, I can be tough like my mom (Ruby Mae Turner). My dad was more of the diplomat. There are times I, I pick that up from my dad, but I mean, my dad was a quieter personality, but a strong personality. My mom, very independent, very strong willed. And, you know, I looked like my dad, but you know, I’m blessed with having some qualities from, from them both.”
  14. Turner was president of student council at Klein High School.
  15. He was very active in speech, and was a member of the chess, science, and Mu Alpha Theta clubs.
  16. He graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class.
  17. School administrators did not approve Turner’s first draft of his valedictorian speech. Though Turner wrote a second draft, which was approved, Turner ultimately read his first draft on graduation day. He titled his speech “The Choice is Yours.”
  18. In 1977, Turner received a B.A. in political science from the University of Houston.
  19. He minored in speech.
  20. At the University of Houston, he was a member of the Black Student Union and speaker of the student senate.
  21. He planned to attend the University of Texas at Austin School of Law but ultimately accepted an offer of admission to Harvard Law School after he received some encouragement from University of Houston professors.
  22. Turner did not visit Harvard Law School before attending. “My mom loaded everything I had in a footlocker and gave me a one-way ticket,” he told Texas Monthly in a 2018 interview.
  23. Turner was president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association.
  24. Harvard Law School’s first Black faculty member, Derrick A. Bell, Jr. mentored Turner
  25. He received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1980.
  26. After graduation, he began working at the Houston-based law firm Fulbright & Jaworski.
  27. In 1983, he and partner Barry M. Barnes founded the law firm Barnes & Turner.
  28. In 1984, he ran for a Harris County commissioner seat, but he lost to El Franco Lee.
  29. He was elected to his first office in 1988 to represent District 139 in the Texas House of Representatives.
  30. Turner served for 27 years as the representative for Texas House District 139.
  31. He worked on the House Appropriations Committee for 21 years.
  32. He served as speaker pro tempore for three terms.
  33. He was appointed to several Budget Conference Committees to balance the state’s budget and serve on the Legislative Budget Board.
  34. His major legislative accomplishment, HB 109, expanded access to the children’s health insurance program and was passed in 2007
  35. Turner co-founded the Houston Astros Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy.
  36. In 1991 and 2003, Turner ran for mayor of Houston, but lost both times, first to Bob Lanier, then to Bill White.
  37. Turner has taught at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, the South Texas College of Law, and at the University of Houston Law School’s continuing legal education program.
  38. He is Houston’s 62nd mayor.
  39. He is the city’s second Black mayor.
  40. Read his full 2016 inauguration speech here.
  41. Read his full 2020 inauguration speech here.
  42. Turner has one daughter, Ashley Paige Turner.
  43. His favorite color is blue.
  44. His favorite book is “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.
  45. Basketball is his favorite sport to watch.
  46. Lemon pie is his favorite dessert.
  47. His favorite foods are spaghetti and oxtails.
  48. His favorite vacation destination is South Africa.
  49. Turner continues to live in the Acres Homes community where he grew up.

Sources: Sylvester Turner’s Campaign website, Turner’s interview with the nonprofit HistoryMakers, Turner’s 2022 interview with Houston education nonprofit TEACH, Turner’s biography


About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.