HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner thrust himself into the national spotlight Wednesday with his decision to cancel the contract for the Texas Republican Party to hold its state convention in the city.
In making the announcement, the Democrat spoke in deeply personal terms about the memory of his late mother to explain his decision.
“The linchpin for me (was) when one of the people on my staff, combined with my sister, who said to me, ‘mayor, brother, your mom was a maid working at these hotels. And if your mom was alive today working at one of these hotels (would) you as the mayor still allow this convention to go forth and run the risk of infecting your mom?’ ” he said.
“And the answer is no.”
Turner continued: “So you don’t have to be my mom, OK? But I am the mayor of every single person in this city. And if you’re not willing to step up and do the right thing, I am not going to divorce my responsibility and my job.”
The explanation from the mayor marks just the latest instance of Turner stressing a cautious, science-based approach to the Covid-19 pandemic inside a state that was among the first to reopen businesses and lift restrictions.
“The virus has not disappeared. It’s still in our communities. How prevalent it is, only the testing will tell,” Turner told CNN’s Erin Burnett in April after Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, announced his reopening plan.
“I too want to open up,” he added. “But I think you have to do it — you have to ease into it very slowly and it has to be based on the science and the data and the medical advice.”
A lifelong resident of Houston, Turner is currently serving his second term as mayor of the city after first being elected in 2015 and then reelected in 2019.
Before that, he served 27 years in the Texas state House as a representative for District 139, which includes parts of Houston. In that time, Turner worked on the Texas House Appropriations Committee for 21 years and served as speaker pro tem for three terms.
But Turner has faced perhaps the most challenging moment of his career in recent weeks as the coronavirus surges across Texas, and particularly Houston.
Texas on Wednesday had at least 216,026 reported cases and 745 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Harris County, which encompasses Houston and is the most populous county in Texas, leads the state in confirmed cases.
And Texas is expected to see nearly 2,000 new hospitalizations per day by mid-July, according to forecasts published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In response, Turner asked his constituents earlier this month to wear masks whenever people are around, and not just in businesses, and to reduce business occupancy from 50% to 25% — steps he said would help “blunt the progression” of coronavirus in Houston.
Turner also asked that people reduce social gatherings to no more than 10 people and requested that faith communities resume virtual services in place of in-person services to help mitigate the spread of the virus.
Speaking to CNN’s Chris Cuomo last month, Turner said plainly, “I have 2.3 million people in the city of Houston that I consider my family.”
“Look, this is Houston,” he said. “When we work together we’re able to do great things.”
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