Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Former Councilman Greg Brockhouse will again pursue the mayor’s office in the 2021 municipal election, he told the Rivard Report last week.
That may not come as a surprise to many, but it could signal another divisive campaign season as rumors have already begun to swirl around current Council members and others considering a run.
Brockhouse, who was elected to the District 6 seat in 2017, captured nearly 49 percent of the vote in the 2019 mayoral runoff, and Ron Nirenberg was narrowly elected to a second term with 51 percent of the vote.
While municipal elections in San Antonio are technically nonpartisan, the results showed a city philosophically divided as voters faced a stark choice between Brockhouse, who has more conservative viewpoints, and Nirenberg, a then-first-term mayor with more progressive plans for the city.
Since Nirenberg was elected mayor in 2017, the Council approved its first-ever “equity budget” that allocated dollars based on greatest need rather than geography; adopted affordable housing and climate action policy frameworks; and launched ConnectSA, a comprehensive multimodal transportation planning effort led by a nonprofit of the same name. It also adopted a citizen-initiated paid sick leave ordinance, though implementation has been blocked by a district court.
Brockhouse faced allegations of domestic violence stemming from 2006 and 2009 incidents with an ex-wife and his current wife. While his wife at first denied the latter incident occurred, she later admitted that she had called the police to their home as she was suffering from post-partum depression.
It’s unclear what impact that history had in the 2019 election or what it will have on the next election, but the conversation managed to motivate City Council to increase spending on domestic violence-related programming and policing.
When he sat down with the Rivard Report last week at Barrio Barista Coffeehouse, Brockhouse was in a good mood. He openly talked about the toll the campaign took on him and his family, what he’s been working on since the election, and his future plans in politics.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rivard Report: What have you been up to since the last election?
Greg Brockhouse: I’m back to building my mortgage business. Before I got into politics 10 years ago I was into mortgage work. I’m [also] focusing back on my janitorial company.
I’m a guy that likes to have two, three, four things going. I’m kind of a serial entrepreneur. I enjoy trying to start something.
I’m also helping candidates – different people in different races. I’m at a position in my career where I can help people just because they’re friends, Democrats and Republicans. I’m trying to build that [political consultant work] back up. I had to give up a lot of that when I was elected. I couldn’t run a political campaign for someone else while [in office].
And I started a podcast which I’m happy is growing. We have about 12,000 followers now. People enjoy it.
RR: Was starting the podcast a way to stay in the conversation?
GB: I started it to continue saying things about what’s going on in San Antonio. I think, by any stretch, I created some serious momentum. Nobody’s going to deny that, [even though] they may not like what I was saying as a candidate.
It’s a movement, and you have to find ways to continue to engage with what you created. The podcast made a lot of sense for that. We don’t just talk about politics, but it’s mainly political. I bring Democrats and Republicans on; it’s all over the map.
What I think is lacking is a real conversation in this city. After the campaign, I found a lot of people didn’t want me to stop. When you lose, they take a part of that loss, too.
I’m proud of it. It’s stylized, it’s sharp, we’ve really invested time in it. It’s serious one day and ridiculous fun the next.
RR: What have you been doing personally since the election?
GB: After the election, I started the keto diet. I’ve lost 32 pounds. It was all the Whataburger and Bill Miller and Chick-fil-A during the campaign. I’m reading again. I get to hang out with my family. After such an ugly campaign, it’s so rewarding.
Whatever it is you like to do to take care of yourself – you don’t have time to do that during a campaign. You can run around and act like it doesn’t bother you – which I think I did very well – but the truth is it’s very stressful. A campaign takes a physical and mental toll.
A campaign is like a controlled crash landing; it never goes exactly as planned and you have to be comfortable with that. I think it prepares you for when you actually win, too. When you get elected you know you’ve gone through the gauntlet to get there.
RR: Now that you know how stressful it is and what’s involved, are you going to be running for mayor in 2021?
GB: I would definitely like to come back and do it again.
If you get smoked by 30 points you can walk away. It’s easy to say, “Well, I didn’t resonate.”
This was a very divisive campaign. You have to question: Did people listen to what I put out there? Did it resonate? The answer, for me, is an undeniable yes.
You get to 48.9 percent of the vote – that far in the race, that just doesn’t happen for no reason. You don’t get that close and just walk away.
I equate it to the Spurs. They lost Game 6 in Miami a few years ago. They could have crawled into a cave and given up. And then they came back and had the greatest run in basketball. They didn’t give up. When you get that close you don’t give up.
RR: How does your family feel about you running for mayor again?
GB: I’ll need to get my wife’s permission again.
She tells me all the time she’s happy I’m home. My son Luke probably tells me five times a week: “I’m glad you lost.” My worst enemy in politics is missing my family.
But they both know, I think, that I got the short end of the stick. They watched me go through all of it – the lies and anger and misdirected information – and some truth and personal stuff that came out. It’s hard to go through all that and just stop, because we put it all on the line.
I think I just ran out of time. A couple more weeks we would have had it. Early polls showed I was at 15 or 19 [percent of the vote] – to 49. That’s messaging, that’s team, that’s people wanting change.
Frankly, I don’t think I went negative enough. He was super negative and … I could have done a lot more in the negative arena.
RR: Do you think this campaign will be easier since your past is out in the open and your wife admitted to calling the police that night?
GB: Friends have asked me why I didn’t have her come out earlier. I just say I don’t need to sell my soul to win a race.
She’s told her story and [Nirenberg’s supporters] called her a liar. They’re going to do anything it takes to destroy the other person to win – they’ll make things up. That’s not going to stop.
Like the tax thing – [the Nirenberg’s campaign] said I wasn’t paying business property taxes. They took something that wasn’t factual and they lied. And that’s politics. I told them the charges were under protest. I won the protest – I got a notice last month that the charge has been reduced to $109. The next campaign, they’ll lie again.
It was stunning I think to the extent that they were attacking [me]. But I think we’re better geared toward it [this time]. We understand [those angles of attack]. I think it actually brought me votes. Some people say if they hadn’t run a negative campaign I would have won. Well, if it wasn’t for 50 things I would have won. It was so close that no one thing ended it.
My wife’s a better warrior for it now. She’s far more vocal now than she’s ever been. I think she will be a much bigger asset in the next race. I was trying to protect her too much. I wouldn’t do that again; I’d just let her go [defend me]. She’s just damn good at what she does.
We were in protection mode more than anything. You think you’re just going to ignore the media. You can get into that mindset in the campaign that they’re all after you.
I don’t think it will get very personal again. You can’t re-run the same moves and get the same results.
There are two jobs I would love to have in this City: the mayor is one, Bexar County judge is the other.
Number one is mayor because I think our City’s path is flawed. I don’t think it’s the one I grew up on.
One of the bigger things I wish I would have done in the campaign is just be more me. You can get into campaign mode and have talking points – it gets very formulaic. I think I’m just going to be unleashed. Say what you mean, get after it, and don’t be so poll-tested.
I want people to know that I’m a Latino. We never capitalized on … my roots, my history in the city, and who I am. I think I’m far more relatable – and I think people recognize that, yes, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve done good and I’ve done not so good. I think that humanity will be a big piece of the next race. That’s what people want in politics nowadays.
RR: Would your general platform and messaging – that Nirenberg’s vision is the wrong vision for San Antonio – remain the same?
GB: Yes. A lot of what I said would happen ended up happening to a T. That includes Ron’s lack of working with people. He has a go-it-alone mentality.
Ron has a vision of what San Antonio should be in his head and nobody really knows what he’s trying to build because it’s so much. His own colleagues don’t know what he’s trying to do. [Council members’ frustration with not being told about a plan to move aquifer protection funding to SAWS] is a recent example of what I’ve said for years.
It takes a lot for people to be willing to fire someone; that’s what voters do: hire and fire. I think they were right there – but the public just wasn’t pissed off enough. That’s why I think other Council members who are thinking about running won’t make it. None of these people are different from Ron because they all voted with him.
RR: What do you think are the things that are pissing people off?
GB: There’s a massive disconnect between City Hall and the public. City Hall doesn’t represent what’s happening in neighborhoods.
Things like the SAWS rate increase, trying to jam aquifer protection into SAWS while doing Vista Ridge. I think the spending is the issue.
You can’t spend billions without someone in the public finally asking what’s behind all this? The affordable housing policy alone is $30 million to $40 million per year.
RR: You don’t think that money is getting stuff done in terms of helping people afford housing?
GB: It’s the wrong stuff. They want to subsidize people’s ability to afford housing. I get that. How about helping them make more money themselves? I’m on the other side of it, which is jobs, economic development, partnerships. Let’s put more money in their pockets so that they can afford their homes.
The transportation plan, Connect SA, I think that’s a joke.
RR: Do you agree with finding more funding for VIA Metropolitan Transit?
GB: I do, but here’s the priority game. You can’t fully fund all these priorities [housing, climate, transportation, etc.] at the same time. We can only spend so much. I’m a big supporter of VIA. I have no problem with helping VIA grow. The hard fact is Ron’s out of money.
He can’t sacrifice Pre-K 4 SA – although in my opinion that’s reducible and it’s gotta go back for a public vote. If somebody had the guts and the resources they’d probably take Pre-K [4 SA] down.
RR: Is that something you would do?
GB: No. [But] the governor and the State [Legislature] stepped in with more funding for pre-k programs. In my opinion, you’ve got to right-size it.
Those issues all line up to needing to get back to basics. People don’t feel like City Hall represents them. Those issues don’t matter to the local community.
You can take Ron’s playbook and it matches up with what’s happening in San Francisco, matches up with what Elizabeth Warren is talking about, with what Seattle is trying to do. … It’s a playbook and all those cities are struggling because of overspending with lack of priority on the basics.
You pick one priority per term and you go. I do believe transportation is important, but Connect SA isn’t the answer. And I would never touch the aquifer protection money. That is an overwhelmingly voter-approved subject. It’s odd to me that this climate guy wants to put aquifer protection in a bad light by virtue of attaching it to additional taxation.
There are 240 plus neighborhoods and they all want something different. You get chewed up in one area and praised in another on the same issue.
The Sierra Club didn’t like that I wanted to trash the [Climate Action and Adaptation Plan] – but I would never cut aquifer funding.
RR: Are partisan politics and divisive campaigns here to stay in San Antonio?
GB: We own it in the city now. It’s never going to go away. I still cling to the nonpartisan piece of our system – I think we should try to hold onto that. But national politics were brought here before Ron and I [faced off for mayor].
It started with Julián Castro, actually. When he had goals to be president of the United States and spoke at the Democratic National Convention. That’s when the hyperpartisan divisiveness started.
When you go speak at the convention, you’ve put a stake in the ground. San Antonio is what it is now and anybody challenging me is going to be the opposite of that. I don’t think Ron or myself brought that to the fight.
I think what our team discovered is that San Antonio is about to choose a path. He didn’t defeat me on the ideas, he came after me personally. People are ready for something different.
RR: The fire union will likely have a contract with the City next month. Do you think the removal of that battle from the political environment will have an effect on your campaign?
GB: The police and fire relationship is nothing I’d ever trade. My relationship with them is different now than it was three or four years ago. I’m not on Council, I’m not working for the unions. Ron’s campaign got some traction with saying I was bought and paid for by the unions. But they’re great friends to have and I would hope to have their support again.
But I think that the contract issue being cleaned up will allow us to stick to the issues that matter.
My relationship with police and fire probably gave the business community pause about me. They thought I would give away the farm – but a mayor can’t do that alone and why would I?
Paid sick leave is probably a bigger issue to them now. But the business community has really recognized that the mayor and the Council are not partners. And people in the business community recognize poor leadership faster than others. The Council’s dysfunctional. It’s a rudderless ship. The business community wants stability.
RR: When do you think you’ll formally launch your campaign?
GB: If you’re considering it, you’ve got to be active by next summer. You’ve also got to discourage other people from running and get your stuff together.
Now the presidential campaign and the November election makes it tougher. You’re going to get drowned out – nobody’s going to care. All that’s going to be the most crazy political environment of all time. The mayor’s race is going to be an afterthought. So, really, you’ll see a lot of announcements in December.
RR: If you lose again, what’s next?
GB: I’m not a multi-run guy that keeps going and going and runs eight times.
By all measures, I have a great shot. I think we’ve earned the right to come back again.
We’re solid, we’ve got a great base, we’ve got nowhere to go but up. So we’re going to try it and then we’re done. I don’t need to keep coming back.
Running countywide [for Bexar County judge] would be very good for me. Unincorporated areas are places where my message is incredibly strong. I looked at Congress and passed at a couple of opportunities for State rep but I wanted to give myself and my family a rest.
I’m not done yet. The job opportunity will present itself — I just want it to be mayor. I would love to be county judge – I don’t know how it would be if I was the judge and Ron was the mayor.