Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Greg Brockhouse is a City Hall veteran, even if he is still in the first year of his first term as the elected council representative of District 6, which he describes as the city's fastest growing district receiving the least money out of the 2017 $850 million bond.
We are still fact-checking that claim, but it's worth repeating to give you a sense of his growing profile as an outspoken challenger of City Manager Sheryl Sculley, and a dissenting voice and vote on many issues coming before City Council.
The former John Jay High School and Southwest Texas University (now Texas State University) grad and Air Force veteran might be a rookie elected official, but he's a familiar name and face to the public. He served several terms as chief of staff for different former City Council members, and until his election, he was a high-profile consultant for the public safety unions.
Perhaps that explains his political restlessness and his bold, or brash, declarations of intent to run against Mayor Ron Nirenberg in the coming years. It takes some guts, if not hubris, to take on a popular incumbent mayor who continues to enjoy public support since defeating former Mayor Ivy Taylor in a June runoff last year.
I base that latter statement on considerable community feedback rather than empirical data since San Antonio, regrettably, lacks independent and reliable polling data on such public issues.
Brockhouse and I shared a stage at the San Antonio Food Bank Tuesday evening, where I moderated the latest in the Rivard Report's Conversations with the Council. These are district-level events, free and open to the public, that we are presenting in the first 12 months of Nirenberg and the new council's first year in office together. Most who attended the District 6 event were enthusiastic supporters of Brockhouse who cheered when he confirmed his intent to challenge Nirenberg.
One who didn't cheer was his wife, Annalisa, who sat at the back of the room, wagging her finger to communicate a decided "NO!" when Beth Frerking, the Rivard Report editor-in-chief, posed the question. The couple's young son, also in attendance, was a reminder that public service and family obligations are often hard to balance.
Brockhouse and I disagree on a number of issues, but I like him. He's personable, youthful, served his country, and he now serves his constituents with a decided passion. I do not doubt his sincerity or convictions. That doesn't necessarily make him an effective city councilman eight months after taking office.
City Council reps have to perform two essential duties to succeed, especially if they harbor greater political ambitions. The first challenge is to meet constituents' most basic needs: filling potholes, serving neighborhoods, solving city service issues, and winning a fair share of the budget. That's a full-time job.
The second challenge is to become part of a greater whole by working with the mayor and other council members to tackle difficult, often long-range challenges. To do so a council member must work well with others, compromise, and help build consensus. That doesn't seem to be part of Brockhouse's plan as an outlier.
No district representative can win every battle, and learning to lose quietly and bide one's time is an acquired skill. In some instances, an officeholder with one vote is better off not starting a battle that can't be won, or that makes one appear always ready for a fight.
Brockhouse, at this juncture, seems to offer up a weekly dose of opposition to the mayor and city manager, jumping from one issue to another almost reflexively. The most effective elected leaders I've seen have a fixed agenda and stick to it, not allowing distractions to derail them.
Voters re-elect officeholders who accomplish things. It's harder to move up on a record of loud dissent. Its takes a few singular accomplishments to inspire voters to deliver a promotion.
Brockhouse supporters defend his often lonely votes of opposition and the positions he takes on principle, and say he isn't unlike a former District 8 councilman named Nirenberg. That might seem to be true at first glance, but upon closer examination there are key differences. Nirenberg spent two terms in office developing a near-encyclopedic command of every important public policy issue. He also chaired the SA Tomorrow planning process
, – even as he and Taylor grew farther apart , – showing a sure grasp of the city's long-term growth challenges.
Nirenberg often cast a lone vote against Taylor, but in doing so, he often spoke not only in opposition to her but also ahead of her in his thinking. Of course, his upset victory over Taylor without the support of his council colleagues or the backing of the establishment business community shows that a lone ranger can galvanize the community with a vision and a message and prevail. It's a rare occurrence.
That's where Nirenberg presents an formidable obstacle to Brockhouse's political ambitions today. A serious challenge to Nirenberg from the current council seems unlikely. That's especially true of anyone who declares prematurely for higher office rather than taking the time to first build a record of accomplishment.
Editor's Note: There are four more "Conversations With the Council" remaining in the Rivard Report series. All events are free and open to the public and include audience Q&A with elected officials and opportunities to visit informally with them and staff members.
- Rivard will moderate a Conversation with District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval at St. Mary's University, Conference Room A, on Jan. 29, 6-7:30 p.m.
- Frerking will moderate a Conversation with District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Main Campus, Retama Auditorium, on Feb.6, 6-7:30 p.m.
- A Conversation with District 9 Councilman John Courage, originally scheduled for Jan. 16, will be held at Weathered Souls Brewery in February. The date has not yet been determined.
- Rivard will moderate a Conversation with District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño at Trinity University, Ruth Taylor Recital Hall, on March 6, 6-7:30 pm.