HOUSTON — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has had a lot on his plate since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the city in March. The mayor has held near-daily news briefings asking residents to do their part to slow the spread of the virus. Just today, the mayor announced Houston is facing a $169 million budget gap that could lead to 3,000 city employees being furloughed.
Turner sat down for a video interview to discuss all the city has faced in recent weeks.
Mia Gradney: A lot developing today, starting with the testing of several city employees for COVID-19, including yourself, Mayor.
Sylvester Turner: Yes. I went and got tested today. I’ve been encouraging people to get tested. It was important for me to get tested myself and to be an example. It’s kind of hard to encourage others to do it and not do it yourself. And then, especially, in light of councilmember Letitia Plummer testing positive.
MG: Did you get your results?
ST: Not yet, not yet. They’re telling me in probably day or two I’ll get the results. I’m hoping everything will be fine.
MG: Let’s talk about the budget. You unveiled the proposed budget with significant cuts. Where did the budget fall short, Mayor?
ST: Well, the budget gap is $169 million. It’s the largest in the city’s history. Our rainy day fund—we’re pulling the entire amount from that. That’ll take us down to zero. It will put us in a precarious state with hurricane season approaching in June.
MG: How is Houston handling the current phase of the reopening process, Mayor Turner?
ST: Let me just say this, Mia. For the months of March and April, the city of Houston, collectively, did a wonderful job. We blunted the progression of this virus. We flattened the curve. We can open up, but we have to be very measured in how we do it, and we have to continue to practice the things that have worked so well for the people in the city of Houston: social distancing, face coverings. If you ignore that, then the virus is going to remind us all that it has never left; it’s still here. That’s my greatest concern.
MG: How is the covid crisis in comparison to Hurricane Harvey for you?
ST: This one is much more challenging. And we all remember Harvey. It hasn’t just been a health care crisis; it’s been an economic crisis, all at the same time. And it has challenged us in every aspect of our life.
We’ve gone through these storms before—we’ve faced huge challenges. And we’ve always come back. And even when people counted us out after Harvey, we bounce back. We’ll bounce back from this one.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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