Call me an optimist. We left our offices in the historic Rand Building just before midnight after Saturday’s hold-your-breath mayoral runoff. As we stepped on to East Houston Street, the feeling hit me that I was still living and working in a city on the rise.
Saturday night is history now. Ivy Taylor dropped the word “interim” from her title as Mayor, holding off former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. But this column isn’t about the campaign, voter analysis, or the low turnout. I’m more interested in what comes next.
My colleagues and I headed to a nearby bar, honoring the journalistic tradition of toasting another election night in the books. East Houston Street, even at the late hour, was still alive with people on foot. An energetic piano solo – that’s an understatement – followed by some urgent saxophone stopped us in our tracks, an invisible force field. We all had the same thought: change of plans. We stepped lively into Bohanon’s, unable to resist Doc Watkins and the South Texas Jazz Quartet.
Watkins and his band could play any room in any city and own the audience, in my opinion. They are one reason for my optimism. They are in San Antonio, not somewhere else. There are, however, a lot of other reasons to feel optimism in the air, even when the music’s not playing. A few blocks east, Hemisfair Park is undergoing an incredible transformation. An unprecedented $32 million infusion from the Texas Legislature will help us get started on the Alamo Plaza next.
A few blocks west, the Weston Urban/Frost Bank Tower deal and all the redevelopment that comes with it looms large. The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project is going to happen at the same time.
Mayor Taylor will join Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff in leading a San Antonio delegation to Bonn, Germany at the end of the month to attend the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting and witness its decision on the application for the San Antonio Missions and the Alamo.
For some time I have thought the Castro era ended when the former mayor left for Washington. His early departure from the mayor’s office upended politics in San Antonio. Officeholders played musical chairs, and all sense of unity and purpose seemed to give way to chaos.
I now think differently. We’ve come too far to be stopped, and the Castro era continues without him. In fact, the city’s progressive era reaches back to the Hardberger administration, which really got things started a decade ago. With all the campaigning and elections behind us, the city and its leadership now have the opportunity to open a new chapter. Yes, I’m an optimist and the Ivy-haters will storm the Comment walls on this website, but let’s see how differently this elected mayor and City Council govern. After all, in a few weeks they’ll start to get a paycheck, and with a little maturity and leadership, damaged relationships can be repaired. Momentum can be regained.
That doesn’t mean 11 people will be singing “Kumbaya My Lord” at City Hall, but it does mean they can work together as a team and accomplish significant things.
I’ve made my case here for why I thought former state Rep. Mike Villarreal would have made a strong mayor, the best mayor, but my allegiance is to the city, not an individual officeholder, and I’m ready to see the city moving forward again, this time under Mayor Taylor. I can’t think of anything less productive than dwelling on what didn’t happen. I’m as interested as anyone in the gleanings from the election, but it’s historical data now.
If Mayor Taylor and a united City Council can get collective bargaining talks back on track, show some momentum on negotiating a return of Uber and Lyft, and use a late June retreat to establish a working atmosphere of goodwill and mutual respect, I see a lot getting done in the next two years.
One positive step, as I’ve written, would be for the Council to unanimously deliver a vote of confidence to City Manager Sheryl Sculley and her team. The timing would be good after last week’s announcement that Cytocentrics, the German biotech and robotics company, is moving to San Antonio to establish its corporate headquarters here and build a workforce of 300 highly paid, highly trained technicians and assembly workers. That was a deal crafted by City staff.
I thought Leticia Van de Putte was incredibly gracious in defeat Saturday night. Those of us who have never run for office can’t appreciate the agony of defeat in a hard-fought, expensive election where a candidate and his or her family live in a fish bowl for months. If Van de Putte could wish Mayor Taylor well, I thought, everyone else ought to be able to do it.
I spent Sunday morning reading in bed. Mayor Taylor went to church. Some think she blurs Church and State. I don’t worry about that, as long one doesn’t rule the other.
Finding a way for the mayor and the LGBTQ community to find common ground and get past the current standoff would be productive for both sides. That will not be easy. People in the community feel deeply about Taylor’s no vote on the non-discrimination ordinance as a council member in 2013, but looking at it another way, who is happy with the current relationship?
In May, Taylor directed city staff to establish the Office of Diversity and Inclusion that will enforce the NDO. That should be seen as a pragmatic gesture of goodwill on her part, and while there will be no agreement now on extending the reach of the NDO, goodwill is a solid foundation on which to build over time.
I called Mayor Taylor Sunday afternoon, curious about her day-after feelings. I wanted to know how she felt, and whether she sounded triumphant, or perhaps, affirmed?
“It just feels good today,” Taylor said, “still overwhelming. I’m here at home, wading through about 100 text messages. My phone was buzzing all through church services.
“I am definitely thinking about unity. I’ve always seen myself in this job as the team leader for the Council, so I’ve been wanting to do something like the (coming late June) retreat for awhile. I’m excited to be leading the way on this and have a productive team building session.”
Taylor and the City Council will be sworn in to office on Wednesday, June 24. The retreat will be held Friday, June 26, shortly before City Council recesses for the traditional summer break in July.
“The location is not for certain, but it will be some place within an hour of the city, far enough that people are not distracted by other things, but close enough we won’t stay overnight,” Taylor said.
What’s on her agenda?
“Right now, team building is first, but I’m also starting to think about budget priorities before our break. Getting collective bargaining back on track is on the immediate horizon.”
SA Tomorrow, Taylor’s comprehensive planning initiative, will host its first Sustainability Forum on June 23 at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center. That project will be another continuing priority. But in a nod to the Castro era, Taylor said Sunday that SA2020 remains an important community initiative.
“SA2020 is serving as the base for all our visioning, including SA Tomorrow,” Taylor said. “We went through a significant community process, so we don’t want to push it aside. We have five more years to SA2020. We will use our planning process to figure out how it all fits together.”
*Featured/top image: Ivy Taylor speaks with Robert Rivard at Main Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.