The 26% of voters who supported Mike Villarreal are torn: How do they stay engaged in the political process and have a positive influence on the city’s future when neither candidate in the mayoral runoff inspires their support?
It’s a conundrum, one underscored by the fact that Villarreal has not endorsed either Mayor Ivy Taylor or former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and is unlikely to do so. The decision by Tommy Adkisson to move past his campaign criticisms of Taylor and endorse her on the steps of City Hall in a high profile media event last week heightened interest in Mike’s next move – if there is a move.
Adkisson’s endorsement of Taylor, and those of the police and fire union for Van de Putte, are not necessarily game changers.
Mike’s voters, on the other hand, could swing the election if they move in a single direction. Yet supporters struggling to identify their best choice shouldn’t expect any overt signals from Villarreal.
Here is why: Van de Putte’s late entry into the race after she said she would not run, nearly six months after Villarreal launched his campaign, ultimately cost him a place in the runoff. A state Senate district covers far more of the San Antonio voting map than a state House seat, and Van De Putte dominated the city’s northwest sectors beyond Villarreal’s urban district. It’s hard to reward your executioner with an endorsement.
Even if Villarreal were able to surmount mortal emotions, he holds very different positions than Van de Putte on key issues, including his view of collective bargaining talks with the police union (and the non-talks with the firefighters union), and his unequivocal position that the city must develop multimodal transportation options regardless of how big a challenge such projects prove to be with voters. Villarreal is driven by policy more than politics. It would be hard if not impossible for Van de Putte to convince him that she lost her lieutenant governor race and then jumped into the mayor’s race because she has a vision for the city.
An endorsement of Mayor Taylor would be just as unlikely. Taylor also said she would not run for office when she was elevated to the interim position last July, and she was the last candidate to jump into the race. On a personal level, Villarreal might be more comfortable with Taylor, who also is less of a politician than she is a public servant and planner. She doesn’t seem to enjoy campaigning, and even after the attacks on her husband she has avoided going negative because it’s not her. Taylor simply doesn’t play to win at all costs.
Yet Taylor holds positions that are anathema to Villarreal. How can he endorse someone who feels so differently about the non-discrimination ordinance? How can he support someone who effectively killed the VIA streetcar project less than one month after former Mayor Julían Castro left office?
If Villarreal doesn’t favor either candidate, he undoubtedly would want his supporters to keep voting and to stay engaged because he wants them to have a seat at the table. Villarreal might not come out and say it, but the truth is he finished third because Millennials did not show up and vote. If everyone who claims to want a city with Uber and Lyft, who wants bike lanes, cleaner air, greater downtown residential density, and who wants a more progressive city, if they had put down their craft beers and gone to the polls, Villarreal would be in the runoff.
Instead, Villarreal won his district, won downtown, won the heart of the urban core, but where the majority of voters live, to the north, it was Van de Putte and Taylor. The strength Van de Putte showed in the northwest was nearly matched by Taylor from the east to northeast.
Of course, the same could be said about inner city Latinos. If the inner city council districts 1-7 voted with the same enthusiasm as the three suburban districts of 8, 9, and 10, the runoff would have been Van de Putte and Villarreal. Instead, we have what has to be seen as a truly remarkable outcome: in a city that has never elected an African-American as mayor, suburban voters could deliver a full term in office to Taylor over two Mexican-American candidates in a predominantly Mexican-American city.
If that happens, it will be precisely because Taylor pulled City funding for the streetcar project, because Taylor voted her personal beliefs and opposed the NDO, because Taylor appears to be closer to a Republican than a Democrat. City elections are nonpartisan, but Van de Putte and Villarreal served for years in the Texas Legislature as Democrats. Taylor, of course, holds positions that put her in the Democratic Party, not the least of which are her support for the tens of millions of Promise Zone federal dollars that are helping lift up the city’s long-neglected Eastside. Yet compared to Van de Putte or Villarreal, she is the first choice of substantial numbers of Northsiders.
Where does that leave Villarreal supporters?
The answer might be found at Southerleigh Brewery and the remarkable turnout of people who attended the inaugural Tech Bloc event at the Pearl last week. More than 700 tech workers answered the call from a small but elite group of Rackspace founders, cybersecurity players and other successful entrepreneurs. The group was formed immediately after Villarreal’s loss as a means to activate and organize the tech community to play a more direct role in the city’s future trajectory. Tech investor and former Rackspace President Lew Moorman is the driving force behind Tech Bloc’s formation and he was the lead speaker at the event. Surely its size and intensity exceeded Moorman’s wildest ambitions.
(Read more: @SATech Bloc Draws Huge Launch Crowd to the Pearl.)
He wasn’t the only one. The advance social media buzz was intense. That and coverage on the Rivard Report and in other media drew the attention of elected officials. Both Taylor and Van de Putte were there. Several city council members attended. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff was there and was so impressed he redrafted his State of the County address, delivered Friday, to lead off with impressions left by Tech Bloc. Wolff issued a call to action for the city to pursue a more tech-driven agenda.
How do Villarreal voters get Van de Putte and Taylor to pivot the way Wolff demonstrated he still can when something big appears on his political radar?
The answer is for Villarreal supporters to promote their agenda with both candidates in the closing three weeks of the runoff campaign. They also have to vote. Unfortunately for Mike, not every Villarreal supporter was a Villarreal voter. People who vote get a voice. People who sat home get nothing.
In my view, neither Van de Putte nor Taylor are the same candidates they were at the outset of this mayoral campaign. Both have been changed by the process as they have moved through the city, participated in more than 50 public forums, fought for a spot in the runoff, and come to terms with the fact that they cannot win an outright majority without adapting. If there is one trait both candidates share now, it’s a serious conviction that they would make a better mayor than their counterpart. Both are probably more open than ever before to listening and evolving.
Neither one, if elected, will be the same person or the same political leader they were six months ago. Hopefully, both are growing in the process, and one of them deserves your vote in the runoff.
Like Mike, you’ll have to make up our own mind who that is. Voting is your best bet for having a say after the election when the new mayor and City Council get down to the business of governing. The June 13 election will seem like an ending to some, but actually it’s just the beginning.
*Featured/top image: Former State Rep. Mike Villarreal conceded his defeat in the San Antonio mayoral election on Saturday night. Photo by Lea Thompson.