Mayor-elect Ron Nirenberg won far more North and Westside precincts than Mayor Ivy Taylor in the June 10 runoff election, according to data provided by the Bexar County Elections Department. Nirenberg defeated Taylor by a 54.59-45.41% margin, a stunning nine-point victory.
"It doesn't take a political scientist to say, 'Wow, Nirenberg killed it," locally active political consultant Christian Archer told the Rivard Report on Tuesday after we shared with him maps showing which candidate won the majority of votes in each precinct in the general and runoff elections. Archer didn't work with either candidate's campaigns, but has previously worked with Nirenberg's campaign manager Kelton Morgan.
"He went and picked up a super-majority of the Hispanic voter" and most of the voters who chose other candidates in May, Archer noted.
San Antonio's Northside, which is home to the most voters and highest per capita income in the city, was considered a stronghold for Taylor, but Nirenberg was able to win dozens of precincts that favored Taylor in the May 6 general election when 14 candidates crowded the ballot. He was even more successful in Westside precincts captured by Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman former Manuel Medina in May.
Nirenberg was able to gain substantial ground in most Council districts, including districts 9 and 10, but he added the most votes in District 7 and in the northeast portions of District 8, the district he has represented on Council for four years.
"I have to think traffic had something to do with that, too" said Morgan. He and Nirenberg focused much of their ad budget and talking points on the need for better transportation infrastructure.
A majority (175 to 91) of voters in Taylor's own precinct, which includes much of the historic Dignowity Hill neighborhood on the Eastside, voted for Nirenberg – as was the case in the general election.
"To win by [almost] 10 points against an incumbent mayor in San Antonio is a phenomenal endorsement of Ron,” Archer said. "It puts him in the mayor’s office with a mandate.”
Archer worked with former State Rep. Leticia Van de Putte when she ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Taylor in 2015.
"Nirenberg had such a huge advantage over Leticia Van de Putte, and that's District 8," he said. "That's where all the voters are. Where we weren't winning any of those precincts [in 2015], Nirenberg just swept it up."
"They had a better message and they clearly had a better plan," Taylor campaign general consultant Colin Strother said. But, he added, this was also a "mood election."
"There was a mood out there that people want to go in a different direction, and I think that’s what they did," he said. And what he called "bad data" that his campaign received did not pick up on that mood.
"There's a big difference between polling and performance," Strother added. "[Nirenberg] block-walked his a-- off ... and the proof is in the pudding."
The campaign, particularly in the runoff election, was marked by negative television ads, websites, and mailers.
“We weren’t aggressive enough in protecting the mayor against the attacks,” Strother said. “The relentless attack line that the mayor doesn’t care about traffic isn’t true, and Nirenberg knows it’s not true, but it was an effective line to move voters away from us and it worked.”
Archer said he was shocked when Taylor opposed a majority of City Council and City staff when they moved to join a lawsuit blocking Senate Bill 4 – the "sanctuary cities" law set to go into effect on Sept. 1.
"You had the chief of police, sheriff, Sen. [José] Menéndez, and others standing on the courthouse steps wagging their finger at the State Capitol saying, 'Do not do this,'" Archer said. "For Ivy to not support [the lawsuit] ... was completely tone-deaf to our city and to the state of Texas, for that matter."
But while SB 4 may have influenced the election, it did not decide it.
"What people really responded to was Nirenberg's message of leadership and taking the city down a clear and decisive path," he said. "Now the six new Council members have a leader to rally behind."
The "sanctuary cities" lawsuit didn't come up as an issue in the Taylor campaign's polling or door-to-door canvassing, Strother said.
The "sanctuary cities" issue likely didn't draw new voters to the polls, Morgan said, but it may have swayed some existing ones. There wasn't a surge of voter turnout in areas of sizable Latino populations.
"Nirenberg’s strong, clear stance on the issue as opposed to Mayor Taylor’s efforts to obfuscate her own positions certainly helped crystallize voters in his favor," he said.
The Nirenberg campaign focused, as most successful candidates do, on Northside voters. But what really made a difference in the runoff campaign, Kelton quipped, was tacos.
"I spent like $900 at Carmelita's in the last 30 days," he said.
"Okay, really, I would say it was passion" he said. "A passionate candidate who inspired passion in his campaign staff, in over 1,000 volunteers, and in more than 54,000 voters to stand up and demand better from their city’s leaders – Demand the city you deserve."
Editor's note: In an effort to underline that local elections are nonpartisan, we will no longer be using the colors red or blue to indicate a candidate or voting preference.