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Houston’s Sylvester Turner Named Chair of Climate Mayors, Joins Basic Guaranteed Income Coalition

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has been named chair of Climate Mayors, a national coalition of city mayors advocating for climate policy changes at all levels of government and seeking to implement goals of the Paris Climate Agreement at the local level.

On announcing the selection, Turner said that cities served as powerful drivers in the race against climate change and that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought the connection between climate change and community health to the forefront.

“With a new administration in the White House, Climate Mayors are prepared to lead swift, bold action on climate that will help our nation recover and build for a better future.”

Turner touts his status as a “climate champion” for the city and his launch of projects such as Resilient Houston and the city’s own Climate Action Plan

Last year, Turner announced final plans for Houston’s Vision Zero initiative, with the goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2030 via reducing speed limits, building more sidewalks and bike lanes, and expanding and incentivizing the use of public transportation, but the program also seeks to address climate issues via traffic and transportation reforms.

“Mayors see firsthand how climate change is already impacting the health and wellbeing of people in our communities,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who is stepping down as the Climate Mayors chair since he has been tapped by President Biden to serve as the United States Secretary of Labor.  

“Mayor Turner has long demonstrated a strong commitment to climate action, and I know that he will work to keep this at the heart of our COVID-19 recovery efforts,” added Walsh.

In a letter sent to congressional leadership last summer, the group urged the adoption of COVID-19 recovery legislation that would leverage the opportunity “to drive ambitious, systemic change.” The group also requested that Congress lead with “equity,” and “prioritize communities left behind, and frontline communities and people of color.”

In addition to Turner, other Texas mayors signing the letter included Steve Adler of Austin, Eric Johnson of Dallas, Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, and Scott Saunders of Smithville.

While the mayor’s office publicly touted his new leadership position with Climate Mayors, less publicity surrounded Turner’s move to join another national advocacy group: Mayors for a Guaranteed Income

According to their website, the group of more than 30 mayors proposes to abolish poverty by providing “a monthly, cash payment given directly to individuals.”

“It is unconditional, with no strings attached and no work requirements. A guaranteed income is meant to supplement, rather than replace, the existing social safety net and can be a tool for racial and gender equity.”

The coalition has drawn support and a $15 million donation from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, but many urban policy analysts say providing “free money” will do little to provide a long-term solution for poverty.

“The Mayors for Guaranteed Income coalition is a misguided way of addressing urban poverty,” Charles Blain of Urban Reform told The Texan

“Evidence has long shown that the way to lift people out of poverty and make them upwardly mobile is through educational attainment and economic opportunities. Giving no-strings-attached monthly stipends only perpetuates the problem they’re trying to address and ignores the underlying factors,” said Blain.

San Antonio Mayor Nirenberg is also a member of the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income coalition.

Following unsuccessful runs in 1991 and 2003, Turner won a bid for the Houston mayoral seat in 2015 and captured a second term in a run-off election in 2019. Previously, he represented Texas House District 139 as a Democrat from 1989 to 2016. Term-limited, observers have speculated about possibilities for him to run for higher office or to be tapped by the Biden administration for an appointment at the end of his current term.

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