Amid Early Voting, Council Majority Takes a Stand Against Mayor Taylor

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A variety of mail is collected from the campaigns of Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8).

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A selection of direct mail flyers that arrived in the local mailboxes last week.

It’s a shame that City Council’s finest hour in memory unfolded behind closed doors last week as a majority led by Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), the Southside son of Mexican immigrants, stood down Mayor Ivy Taylor and agreed to sue the state of Texas and challenge the constitutionality of Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law which Gov. Greg Abbott signed last month.

It happened only one week after the City Council’s conclusive vote on the 10-year, $100 million river barge contract, a vote that rejected one of the nation’s premier marine cruise companies, Entertainment Cruises of Chicago, in favor of a bidder that isn’t even in that business. The winning team includes Landry’s Restaurants of Houston, VIA Chair Hope Andrade, and restaurant owner Lisa Wong.

I can’t remember another time when this City Council did not fall in line behind Taylor, who has strived to keep contentious issues off the agenda in instances where she might be denied a majority vote. One of her campaign talking points is that Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), whom Taylor faces in a tense June 10 runoff election, can’t assemble a Council majority of six votes on his issues.

As the Council met in executive session on May 25 beyond the eyes and ears of the public and the press, Taylor joined two Northside Council members, Joe Krier (D9) and Mike Gallagher (D10), both stepping down shortly at the end of their terms, in opposing the lawsuit. The evidence suggests they are on the wrong side of history, and in a city defined in significant measure by Mexican immigrants over the last century, also out of touch.

SB 4 is the latest attempt by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to implement an agenda that is unmistakably anti-Mexican and anti-Mexican-American. The law allows local law enforcement officers to establish whether people they stop for infractions or criminal violations are U.S. citizens. Officers are required to detain non-citizens without proper documentation or face fines. Local officials resisting implementation of the law can be removed from office.

Debate over SB 4 and other socially divisive and agenda-driven legislation like the so-called “bathroom bill” consumed far more time and attention in the just-finished legislative session than issues of genuine importance and consequence, such as public education and higher education funding.

It’s fair to ask how long SB 4 would last if officers were directed to disregard skin color and ask everyone they encounter at traffic stops, for example, to prove their citizenship. The law is clearly predicated on racial profiling, and thus is likely to fare no better in the courts than the original Texas Voter ID law, which was ruled unconstitutional, a measure that justices correctly noted was conceived not to eliminate unproven voter fraud, but to suppress minority turnout at the polls.

Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) joins other Council members and members of pro-immigrant organizations in support of the city’s effort to join a lawsuit with MALDEF against SB 4, the “sanctuary cities” law.

That’s why Saldaña urged Taylor and his Council colleagues to take a stand against Abbott and Republican lawmakers and join the lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF). The decision makes San Antonio the largest Texas city, along with Austin, El Paso, and other, smaller municipalities, to sue the State.

“Usually, when there is an issue like this where the mayor believes there will be fractured Council, the mayor will work hard to see that it doesn’t come to a public vote,” Saldaña said in a Friday interview. “Normally, no one pushes back hard. But this time, my fellow Council members, left and right, knew in their hearts and minds this was the right thing to do, that it was time for our city to stand up to the governor.

“In fairness to the mayor, she has said she opposes SB 4, as does the City staff, the police chief, the sheriff, the county judge, and just about everyone else who matters in this city,” Saldaña said. “But a Council majority disagreed with the mayor and her argument about the timing being wrong. The question of timing on an issue like this sounded to us like a delay, and as someone who has been on the Council for six years, I know delay often translates to never.”

Taylor issued a post-executive session statement defending her resistance to the litigation.

“In this case, the prudent course would be to wait until a decision has been made on whether a special session will be called,” Taylor said in a statement Thursday. “Additionally, I believe that any decision to join this lawsuit should be made in coordination with other major Texas cities, which is why I have consulted with Mayors Adler (Austin), Turner (Houston), and Rawlings (Dallas).”

No one I know believes there is any chance that Abbott or legislators would be willing to revisit SB 4 in a special session, which has not yet been called. A Council majority did not buy the mayor’s argument, either.

Mayor Ivy Taylor.

Scott Ball / Rivard report

Mayor Ivy Taylor.

People present at the executive sessions and other closed sessions tell me that Taylor argued for delay in joining any lawsuit, fearful that an angry governor might retaliate against the City by using the line item veto to cancel the $75 million for the Alamo Plaza Master Plan included in the new budget.

That would be politics at its most crass. It also is an unlikely outcome given some of the names associated with the Alamo Endowment: Ramona Bass, Gene Powell, and Red McCombs, all of whom are invested in a successful Alamo Plaza redesign.

If the four-year river barge debacle ended with a politically-driven override of City staff’s recommendation, a melodrama that eroded public confidence in the City Council led by Taylor, last week’s override of the mayor’s position suggests a new City Council on the horizon willing to demonstrate greater independence.

Six of the 10 Council seats will be decided in the runoff election. At least half the Council members will be rookies, counting newly-seated Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who unseated incumbent Cris Medina in the May 6 vote.

Saldaña found unanimous support for the lawsuit from his inner city colleagues: Roberto Treviño (D1) and Alan Warrick (D2), both of whom face runoff challenges; Rebecca Viagran (D3), one of Taylor’s most loyal allies; Shirley Gonzales (D5), whose mother is an immigrant from Mexico; Ray Lopez (D6), who leaves office after serving four terms; and Sandoval (D7), herself a Mexican-born immigrant. Nirenberg was the only non-Hispanic Council member to join the majority.

Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) outlines his policy goals to Lavaca Neighborhood Association members.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) outlines his policy goals to Lavaca Neighborhood Association members.

As the lead image on this column demonstrates, voters are facing a barrage of direct mail flyers as the days count down to the June 10 runoff election. Monday and Tuesday are the last two days of early voting. Only an anemic 13-15% of the city’s registered voters are expected to turn out in the June 10 mayoral runoff.

Who wins in the mayor’s race and the six runoffs will say a lot about the profile of the elected officials who will lead San Antonio into its Tricentennial year of 2018 and through a time when national politics put the city’s relationship and historical, cultural, and families ties with Mexico on center stage.

“The mayor and Council members we elect need to understand this is a liberal city that can take on big challenges, including when necessary, challenging state leaders in Austin,” Saldaña said. “I am glad San Antonio’s position on SB 4 was decided now. It wouldn’t be right to say we’ll take it on some other day, maybe.”

25 thoughts on “Amid Early Voting, Council Majority Takes a Stand Against Mayor Taylor

  1. In this article you say: “The law requires local law enforcement officers to establish whether people they stop for infractions or criminal violations are U.S. citizens.” This is the very first time I have ever heard it is a requirement. My understanding from earlier articles is that it “allows” for officers to ask that question and it also disallows a department from banning that question. In my opinion, that seems quite different than requiring them to establish citizenship. Can you please clarify?

    • I think you are correct David, the law allows for the question to be asked, not mandates it. Was it a simple misunderstanding of the law, or a deliberate attempt to miscaracterize the law in order to sway opinion? I think the later sort of writing is what the American public are starting to recognize as “fake news”

      • Hello Robert,
        I appreciate your in depth coverage on these very important issues. It’s good to see someone bringing light to how all the people who are running this city really feel in regards to the sensitive topics. The fact that at maximum only 15 percent of the registered voters are expected to vote is very saddening. Hopefully more people will be able to look into what you have informed us on.

    • The article has been corrcted to state that SB4 “allows” rather than “requires” law enforcement officers to dtermine whether individuals they detain or arrest or U.S. citizens.

    • I believe the article accurately describes the nature of SB4.
      As a legislative staffer and someone with direct knowledge of the final bill Abbott signed into law, I can assure you that the bill requires law enforcement to determine someone’s citizenship while they are detained, whether it’s for a simple traffic stop, for questioning while your walling down the street, etc. The bill also punishes law enforcement for not reporting or arresting them if found to be in the country unlawfully. This is a horrible and frankly blatantly racist bill. I hope people look into this open their eyes and realize how much harm this will cause our city and our great state.

  2. Why didn’t the well paid City Attorney’s office do this legal challenge. How much money will MALDEF charge the City? Are they doing the job for free? I don’t have a problem with that, but folks I don’t think MALDEF works for donations.

  3. The other key element of sb4 is forcing cities and counties to simply honor requests for detainment by the federal government agency that is mandated to perform immigration enforcement. I strongly agree that this article reflects a slant based on personal belief, and it underlies the entire argument of the article.

    This was not Robert’s finest hour. I’ll keep reading, however, as I still gain so much from the timely local reporting he leads, even if I sometimes have to filter the content for personal bias.

    • That “slant” is also the view held by the mayor, county judge, police chief, and sheriff. Local law enforcement agencies should not be responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, period. That’s why we have ICE, like them or not.

  4. There are some really dim “readers” here. Journalists are certainly allowed to correct mistakes in wording or facts as long as they note the correction at the bottom of the article, as Robert Rivard obviously did. This correction did not impact the rest of the article in any way.

  5. Being a minority herself Ivy doesn’t seem to care much for minorities in general. Does she not realize that almost 63% of this town is “brown?” Bravo for Ray Saldana and the rest of the Council members who stand up to Taylor’s obstinacy and religious biases.

  6. While I do not agree with SB4. The move by Saldana the Castro’s group is clearly a action to get wesside and southside voters mostly Mexican American to vote for Ron Nirenberg. The action could have waited till after the election but in an effort to cause controversy by the Saldna/ Castro group they pushed it before the election.

    What many do not understand is that many mexican american voters just could careless with illegal immigrants issues.

    • Controversy was started with some of the ludicrous comments made by Ivy Taylor and then justifying herself by using the word of God. Poor word choice happens quite frequently.

  7. lol.

    “… I think the later sort of writing is what the American public are starting to recognize as “fake news”.

    Spot on, and then Rivard’s response ! lol

    Reporters manipulating facts to push their own views on people is the definiton of fake

    Rivard just got called out on it.

    • Mike

      Why does your email ID you as R.E. Reddington, yet your email address suggests the name is Mike Sanchez? Just curious, a question from someone who always signs his work. For the “fake news” crowd that has infected this country’s body politic, I would ask you this question: How do you self-identify as “conservatives” at the same time you repeatedly support laws like Texas Voter ID that the federal courts, our third branch of the federal government, rule to be unconstitutional? A true conservative would have a bedrock respect for the U.S. Constitution and would never support legislation that is written and rewritten to skirt the law and the courts. There is nothing “conservative” about it. “Extremist” is a far more accurate word for those of you suddenly showing such a keen interest in word choice here.

      We know very well from experience in Arizona, to cite the most obvious and contemporary case, of what happens when authorities are given powers that are neither lawful nor necessary. Most of San Antonio’s law enforcement officers, I believe, do their duty and are only interested in upholding the law, not abusing it. But there are racists in our community who wear a badge and carry a firearm who would take the powers granted to them in SB4 and use them to illegally harass citizens, mostly those of Mexican descent, given our city’s ethnic profile. If officers were to start asking white, Non-Hispanic citizens who run afoul of the law to demonstrate their citizenship, we would see a very different reaction to SB4.

      My prediction is that zealous legislators have overreached and SB4 will not stand the test, and in two years they will be back trying again. I wish those legislators and those who support them cared as much about public education outcomes in San Antonio and Texas. –RR

      • :/ Mr. Rivard. Thanks for this site, I have spent time here for several years and enjoy the content.

        Was just having some fun this morning over coffee, I apologize if you think it came at your expense, -it was nothing personal.

        Of course this a complicated topic and would really want to expand on my thoughts, yet- as a policy, I do not share personal political views in public for business reasons.

        I just thought the “allowed” vs “required” deserved attention. And you did your job of correcting the record and it seems there is some actual controversy of what the bill actually calls for. But please, don’t lump me in with “fake news crowd” whatever that is, or “conservative” or “extremist” .

        I am the son of Mexican immigrant myself, my father came here on a work visa, showed his worth to an Employer(a dairy farm) and got assistance, to get the paper work to be here permanently–and I will leave it at that.

        I get your write up was an “editorial” and you get to have your opinion heard—yet speaking to other “real news” people who may have an agenda, and who are still confused over the election results of November 2016 need to take note, and learn from their mistakes, instead of attacking people and forcibly fitting them into a category of a pre-defined electoral profile and using harsh language to describe people they don’t agree with.

        For the record, I don’t have a public opinion on this issue, and was merely pointing attention towards potential bias, because of the word choice, in the approach of a certain topic.

        As Obama said, “Words matter”

        • Mr. Sanchez:

          I appreciate your reply and the subtle change in email handles. My response was actually a response to a number of readers who commented. I appreciate the spirit and substance of your reply, and I especially appreciate you sharing about your family and the sacrifices your parents made and, of course, your readership. –RR

        • I agree. It’s very unprofessional and has no relevancy in regards to the article. Although I enjoy the Rivard Report, his supercilious attitude is unbecoming and the reason I typically skip posts he authors.

  8. Mr Rivard mocks conservatives for suddenly discovering something about the Federal Constitution; whatever. Liberals only care about federalism–which they appeal to here–when they don’t like the result from the Lege. They wouldn’t care about federalism if the Lege had banned firearms or mandated state funding for abortions.

    The thought behind the state bill is that the federal government has abdicated its role on immigration for so long that the states most affected have to do what we can to protect ourselves. It’s pretty simple. If the government entrusted with immigration regulation–as the federal government undeniably is–refuses to do its job, don’t be surprised when the states pick up the slack.

    Finally, our law’s different than Arizona’s–you think the drafters didn’t write our bill accordingly?

  9. I am a little curious as to what this statement by Saldana means…

    “In fairness to the mayor, she has said she opposes SB 4, as does the City staff, the police chief, the sheriff, the county judge, and just about everyone else who matters in this city,”

    Is it that those who offers a different opinion than those cited in his statement do not matter?

  10. If not “falling in line” with the Mayor’s position (read: disagreeing) is some kind of special rebuke worth an editorial, what do we make of the Council not “taking a stand” against Nirenberg on the barge contract, and by an even greater majority (10-1!)? Or of this author failing to extend his logic to the liberal (his words) candidate? Like most of the local and national election coverage I’ve seen circulating on social media, what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.

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