The Pearl Stable was filled to capacity with people and anticipation Tuesday night for what proved to be a lively, often animated political forum that drew laughter, applause, boos, and a few tense moments as the four leading candidates made their case to become the next mayor of San Antonio.
The event was sold out as a crowd of more than 350 people, mostly young professionals, turned out for what candidates believe is the 35th occasion they have shared a stage since their first forum in late February. More are planned, even through Fiesta, as candidates enter the home stretch of the campaign. Early voting starts April 27 and runs through May 5. Election Day is Saturday, May 9.
Pints & Politics is the Rivard Report’s effort to bring new voters into the political process, especially engaging young professionals who don’t traditionally vote in local elections, newcomers to the city, and readers who share a passion for building a better city. Last night did not disappoint. The mostly Millennial audience came as prepared as the candidates and asked the sharpest questions of the evening, often framing those questions with strong statements about the kind of San Antonio they expect the city’s political leadership to build. The energy in the room was palpable as younger voters sized up the candidates, many of them saying beforehand they came as undecided voters and relished the opportunity to watch an event where one of the four would emerge as San Antonio’s next mayor.
The Rivard Report plans to organize similar events going forward that mix public policy, politics, with networking, an entertainment element and crowd sourcing passion for the city. It wouldn’t be possible financially to undertake such events without sponsors. Tuesday’s event was organized in partnership with the Pearl, Overland Partners, and Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery, which recently opened at the Hotel Emma at the Pearl. A large contingent of architects and designers from Overland Partners was on hand and received a strong round of applause from the audience and the candidates. The loudest cheers, however, were saved for Southerleigh and the craft brew that was handed out during the event.
At one point in the evening, Mayor Ivy Taylor made news when she answered a question about Public-Private Partnerships (P3) as a vehicle for downtown development of vacant buildings and underutilized properties. The mayor said the City is moving forward with Weston Urban-Frost Bank’s proposed P3 project, and this week City Council will be briefed in closed executive session on developments as the parties near agreement on the financial details. The project, if realized, would represent the biggest wave of downtown development in 25 years and give the skyline its first new office tower in as many years.
(Read more: City Releases Weston urban/Frost Bank Proposal.)
The evening’s most heated exchanges were between former state Rep. Mike Villarreal and incumbent Mayor Ivy Taylor, who traded jabs about the non-discrimination ordinance, local control, and rideshare. Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Taylor tangled over the impact of the police union endorsement of Van de Putte and its impact on collective bargaining talks, which have come to a halt now until after the elections, even though Taylor said the two sides were near agreement until the endorsement. Van de Putte said she earned the endorsement and offered nothing in return for it if elected mayor. Taylor said she had made a commitment to not accept endorsements from public entities as the incumbent mayor. Both Van de Putte and Taylor said last year that they would not become candidates in the mayor’s race, but the issue was never raised by the audience, the moderator or the other candidates and has not become a campaign issue.
Former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson seemed the most restless on stage, repeatedly advocating for a “back to basics” approach in the city with a mayor focusing on basic services as the most sensible way to build the city, create jobs, and attract smart workers. The other candidates all expressed respect for City Manager Sheryl Sculley and her fiscal stewardship of the city over the last decade, while Adkisson said she would have to “re-apply” for her job if he is elected.
Villarreal and Van de Putte have very different views on how to manage Alamo Plaza while Adkisson said the current city leadership has allowed basic neighborhood needs to fall by the wayside. If we want to solve suburban sprawl, he suggested, the next mayor needs make inner city neighborhoods more attractive to residents and slow down flight to the suburbs.
The audience responded loudly when issues of special interest were discussed, applauding, whooping, and on one or two occasion, hissing and booing. Stay tuned for a full-length video coming later this week to the Rivard Report, to see and hear more about the police union contract, rideshare, Google Fiber, Alamo Plaza, police body cameras, urban sprawl, transportation, City management, bike infrastructure, and more. Here are two excerpts from exchanges between the candidates and the audience:
Jillian Harris asked the candidates what role the City should play in closing San Antonio B-Cycle’s funding gap after the nonprofit’s unpaid Executive Director Cindi Snell announced her pending resignation.
(Read More: San Antonio Could Lose Bikeshare, Too)
The answer, according to many community members, is to seek corporate sponsorship of the popular rideshare program.
“The best models for successful B-cycle programs around the country are those that have a single corporate sponsor,” Villarreal said, adding that the City should kick in money if it has to, but “ideally (San Antonio will find) a local Fortune 500 company that cares about San Antonio and gets the big picture.”
Moderator Robert Rivard asked Taylor if it’s the mayor’s job to go out and advocate for such corporate support.
Before she could answer, an audible chorus rose from the audience. “Yes. Yes. Yes…” and the mayor nodded in agreement.
“I think we should come up with an interim plan that will require the City to invest resources while we talk with folks in the private sector to try to drum up more support,” she said.
Taylor patiently – but firmly – asked for respect while many audience members began to boo and hiss at her response to a question about her stance on the non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) that expanded the City’s non-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation, gender identification, and veteran status.
“I’m the proud mother of a gay son,” said an audience member, who attended an event sponsored by an LGBT youth organization in Dignowity Hill over the weekend that Taylor had also attended. “I want to know what you have to say to (the LGBT community and allies) about your shockingly insensitive comment about the NDO being a political stunt?”
Taylor stood by her vote against the ordinance in 2013 as the District 2 council member and how she, as mayor, found a lack of tools to actually enforce it disheartening, but she did note that as mayor she has supported NDO “because it is the law.”
“I don’t believe in discrimination against anyone for any reason,” she said, adding that in 2011, she voted in favor of expanding City benefits to domestic partners. “(The NDO) included a stipulation that would make it apply to businesses … I was concerned that was an added layer that could negatively impact small businesses and cause some of those small business owners that would have to choose between their faith and the law.”
Once the NDO was passed, nothing came of it, she said and reiterated that she “felt that those folks who were, you know, at the front lines advocating that they felt this was so important for the city that they had not done the work to actually implement that ordinance … I have worked to create the mechanisms” to do so.
Attending the event was the “neighborly thing to do,” Taylor said.
Van de Putte fired back.
“The community does deserve respect,” she said. “They don’t need to be shown that’s just a neighborly thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”
Businesses that work with the City should expect to held to these standards, Van de Putte said. “My religion compels me to be open – not just accepting, not just tolerating, but embracing. And it’s good business for the City of San Antonio.”
Villarreal agreed, but shifted his comments towards the “local control” discussion taking place in City Hall as the State Legislature considers several bills that would override local rules (such as the rideshare regulations). Taylor pointed out last week that a resolution may be redundant to the City’s already-established legislative program.
“In San Antonio, we have a local value that if you show up to work, play by the rules, get the job done, that you shouldn’t be discriminated against. It’s as simple as that,” Villarreal said. “We need a mayor who is going to fight for our local values.”
Villarreal implied that Taylor would vote against or “block” the resolution this Thursday, as suggested in a recent Express News column by Brian Chasnoff.
“I know some of you may have read some things in the paper regarding what’s going on behind the scenes regarding local control,” she said. “Mr. Villarreal has not been in those meetings so I don’t know how he can speak so authoritatively. … I am committed to the concept of local control.”
The four candidates each offered closing statements, and the audience applauded enthusiastically as each candidate concluded. Afterwards, it was back in line for another taste of Southerleigh brew and informal chatting with the candidates that lingered at the Pearl Stable.