Pro wrestling superstar Booker T talks about his plans to conquer a different kind of combat sport — politics.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my career that I can live pretty much anywhere in the world that I want. And I choose to live in Houston, Texas. I was born and bred here — hell, I hadn’t even been outside of Texas until I was in my late 20s — and I’ll be buried here. Houston is part of me, and I feel like part of the city. When I look around and see problems, I want to do something about them. I’ve been involved in charities and speaking engagements and getting youth on the straight and narrow through my wrestling school, but I felt it was time for something new.
Recently, I told my wife, Sharmell, that I was going to run for mayor. I can’t say when specifically it occurred to me. It’s just a responsibility and a mission that feels natural.
“Sharmell, I’m going to run for mayor of Houston,” I told her.
She burst out laughing.
The next day, she was still laughing. “Baby, I’m serious,” I told her.
Photo by Cody Bess Photography
She eventually caught on. She knows it’ll be as much work for her as for me. But it’ll pay off in 2020, when I take office as mayor of Houston. I’m not a politician, but it’s a role I’ve been preparing for my entire life.
My mother brought me to Houston when I was just five years old. I was the youngest of eight kids, growing up without a dad, and the moments I remember aren’t moments that are part of your typical childhood. I was hanging around pimps, pushers, prostitutes, gangsters and thieves, passing time near the waterfront or going for rides in a Cadillac or Lincoln Continental as an underling, a gangster in the driver’s seat.
One bad choice led to another, and I found myself in prison at 20. [See Booker T’s first memoir, From Prison to Promise, for the complete story.] I came out a man who understood what it meant to make the right choices in life, and I haven’t strayed from that since. It molded me into who I am today.
I had been thinking about that person, about the first and last parts of my life, and what I wanted to accomplish. Although I’ve been deeply into politics as an observer for the past 10 years, it was nothing I thought I would ever actually do. Seeing this recent race for the White House was very interesting. It’s a divided nation. People want change. It let you know what people are really thinking. I don’t think watching it motivated me, exactly, but it’s impossible to ignore the mood right now.
I’m worried about a much smaller slice of the map, obviously. Houston is my city, and there’s work to do. Let me give you an example. I remember the first time I ever got on a plane. It was 1991, and I was headed for Tokyo, Japan, for a wrestling date. I landed, went to the hotel, then got a chance to explore the city. It was awesome. But the one thing I didn’t see, the thing that stood out like a sore thumb, was that I did not see a single homeless person while I was there. It got to the point where I was looking for one and still couldn’t find any.
In Houston, we have veterans on the street. The current mayor said, “Don’t give them any money.” He’s turning a blind eye to it. A restaurant will be fined if they give discarded food away to the homeless instead of throwing it in the garbage. As a citizen, you’re not thinking about this stuff — you’re living your life day to day. But this is not right. We need to change or abolish the laws that are allowing this to happen.
Kids are a different issue. I grew up on the streets and I know what the temptations are, where the trapdoors are. Unless you grew up on the waterfront, with the pimps and the pushers, you’re not going to get it. Kids are born into these situations and need tools to help get themselves out. Education is huge. We have resources, but we need to distribute them to where they’re needed most.
Unless you grew up on the waterfront, with the pimps and the pushers, you’re not going to get it. Kids are born into these situations and need tools to help get themselves out.
I’m not going to be the one who comes in and says I can change everything myself. I need a team to head into a room with and go to work. Am I the right one to fix it? I think I’m the right one to make the right moves to get the right people to fix it. There needs to be a big broom to sweep the city.
People ask if my celebrity is going to be a benefit. Of course it will. It’s to my advantage to be Booker T. People have seen me entertain them for years and that creates a lot of positive memories. But what helps me more is being Booker T. Huffman, the guy people see at Kroger’s and Walmart, and the guy who is helping the city out already. Houston once gave me the key to the city. There’s a Booker T Day here. I’ve been polling people — informally — and asking if I can win.
“I’ll vote for you,” they say, “because of the person that you are.”
I know politics can be dirty. There will probably be questions about my past. But what could be said that hasn’t been said already? I’ve put my own story out there for people to hear. I chose not to hide anything. All the dirt is public. The difference between me and a politician is that a politician won’t tell on themselves, and I will. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve atoned for them.
At 51 years old, it feels like life has led me to this point. After four or eight years, I think Houston will be better off than it was before. I owe it to the city. I was raised here and I’ll die here, and in between I want to do as much for it as I possibly can.
Don’t miss parts one through four of our exclusive series with Booker T:
Part 1: The Newborn Identity of Booker T