Over the weekend, with little fanfare, a transition took place in Houston.
Annise Parker left her mayor’s office for the last time, and Sylvester Turner, a former state representative, stepped into her place as mayor of the biggest city in Texas.
Monday, Turner had his official public inauguration, and the new Houston City Council was sworn in.
Parker’s tenure in public office lasted 18 years, with six as the mayor of the fourth-biggest metropolitan area in the country. She was the first openly gay elected mayor of a major U.S. city. She helped to establish a city water and sewer enterprise fund to pay for future maintenance and improvements and under her leadership, the city saw a reduction in chronic homelessness. She pushed the city council to change health benefit plans for city employees and save millions of dollars.
She says she’s at a lack of what to do with herself now that the three-term limit on her mayorship has mandated her leave of office.
On how she’s feeling about the shift:
“Still melancholy…. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. I guess today is when it’s gonna hit me. I’m assuming that for the rest of the week I’m gonna wake up early and wander through the house wondering what I’m supposed to be doing with myself.
“It’s always been full time, way more than a 40 hour a week job. So it’s gonna be a big transition. I really don’t have anything right now…. For about the last two weeks I could feel the weight beginning to lift. But not knowing what I’m going to do next, not having a plan – it will be the first time in my adult life.”
On her next steps:
“I have no race planned. I don’t have my eye on anything. I’d want an opportunity to continue to serve if possible. But that could be a nonprofit organization, for example…. I can’t run for anything else at the local level. Partisan races for me would not be until 2018, which is a long time in politics.
“For the last six years I’ve been the CEO of a $5 billion corporation. I’ve gotten up every day and made decisions. The one thing I do know that I am not interested in being part of a legislative body. No member of Congress. Those positions are safe from me.”
On why she doesn’t want to run for Congress:
“I like solving problems. I like taking an issue and examining it end-to-end and putting a solution in place. I would go nuts… in a body where I could hope to insert a sentence in a bill that might or might not pass five years from now. I’ve talked to colleagues who have been in executive positions – mayors and even governors – and they understand exactly the issue.”
On whether an openly gay governor could be elected in Texas:
“Yes. The right person and the right combination of circumstances. It’s much harder. Texas is a lot more conservative than the big cities within Texas, but it’s absolutely possible.”
On whether she’d make a run for governor in 2018, and how the loss of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) could affect that:
“It has to be something I’d want to do…. I’ve been elected nine times citywide in Houston. I know how to win races in Houston and the Houston electorate has supported me very strongly. I have a reputation and a brand in Houston. But that did not convey to that ballot initiative that I supported, or necessarily others that I have supported, so I recognize the difference.
“I don’t view the outcome of the ballot initiative as predictive in any way of any other kind of candidate race. Particularly a ballot initiative that a lot of folks felt on an emotional level.”
“HERO was painful…. Four times I have stood on election night and watched voters in Texas or voters in Houston vote on whether I, as a gay person, had full equal rights and four times they have voted ‘No.’ And the other three times everything we were fighting, for we eventually got through the courts or through changes in society. And I know we’ll get this as well.”
On one of her biggest regrets in office:
“That ballot initiative on the red light cameras actually colored my attitude toward ballot initiatives. First of all, I should never have put it up for a vote. It was an illegal use of a charter petition. I have since then had petitions come to me as mayor and I’ve not allowed them on the ballot because of judicial rulings around the red light cameras.
“It was a true learning experience for me. If I can have HERO or the red light cameras, I think I’d rather have the red light cameras. I believe we’ve killed people because of that. When the cameras came down we had an epidemic of red-light running. The way those cameras worked – we put a big sign a half a block in front of the intersection saying ‘We have a red light camera here, do not run this intersection.’ And they still run it.”
On what defines her tenure in public office:
“The ability to get up and tackle big problems and make decisions that have long term impact is absolutely priceless. This is my hometown. My parents were born here. Being able to shape the future of the city that shaped me is priceless.”