Chick-fil-A a Defining Issue in San Antonio’s Mayoral Race? Really?

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Chick-fil-A is located at 1350 Austin Hwy.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

San Antonio voters are more likely to be disturbed over the rights of all citizens than the rights of out-of-town fast-food restaurants. 

Early voting in San Antonio’s mayor’s race is underway, and according to a front-page article in the local newspaper Sunday, a new controversy “has emerged as a defining issue” in Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s race against Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6). The issue: City Council’s decision not to allow Chick-fil-A to operate a fast-food restaurant at the city’s airport.

Chick-fil-A was mentioned 10 times in the San Antonio Express-News article, taking up nearly all the front-page territory before the article continued on page 10.

A “defining issue”? Really?

I don’t think so.

I’ll get to the real defining issues in a moment, but first let’s discuss the politics of the Chick-fil-A controversy. Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of the council’s move to bar the company because of its opposition to marriage equality. 

But by far most of the criticism, here and nationally, has come from conservative political and religious outlets. These are not the folks most San Antonians turn to for electoral guidance. Two relatively recent San Antonio events tell the story.

In 2013 then-City Councilman Diego Bernal led the council in passing an ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Several conservative political groups announced they would gather signatures to recall Bernal and then-Mayor Julián Castro.

Bernal was worried. He called several major donors, saying he needed to raise money to fight the recall. He was wrong. The effort fizzled when its organizers failed to get the signatures.

Four years ago, shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court declared bans on gay marriage to be unconstitutional, Republican Bexar County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff announced that he had already “de-gendered” his office’s marriage license application forms.

“I’m very tired of violating these peoples’ civil rights,” he told the San Antonio Current. “I’m personally very tired. We’re going to embrace it.”

Yet last year Rickhoff did not draw a single opponent in the Republican primary. In November he was wiped out by the massive Democratic wave, but it certainly didn’t have anything to do with his comments on gay marriage.

The reality is that San Antonio voters are more likely to be disturbed over the rights of all citizens than the rights of out-of-town fast-food restaurants.

So what are the real “defining issues” in this campaign? It may not be easy to tell, because this may be the lowest-key mayoral election I’ve seen since arriving in San Antonio not long after the fall of the Alamo. But I see two defining issues.

The above-mentioned newspaper article mentioned that the fire and police unions “are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars” to elect Brockhouse, but it doesn’t cast this as an issue in the campaign. This despite the fact that Brockhouse earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from the unions as a political consultant before his election to City Council two years ago.

We won’t know how much the unions are spending on their independent campaign for Brockhouse until after the election, but it is certain to be several times more than Brockhouse (and possibly more than Nirenberg) has been able to raise from all the rest of San Antonio for his own campaign.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) and Councilman Greg Brockhouse shake hands during the debate hosted by the Rivard Report at The Spire at Saint Paul's Square.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg (left) and Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) shake hands April 17 during the debate hosted by the Rivard Report at The Spire at St. Paul Square.

San Antonians like their police and firefighters very much, and we want them to be well paid. But I suspect that most of us don’t want the unions to be able to buy the mayor’s office, especially while the firefighters union, whose president has called Brockhouse “our own guy,” is still in contract negotiations with the City.

How much power the unions should have at City Hall is certainly a defining issue. The other defining issue has been made very clear by both Nirenberg and Brockhouse. It is how aggressive we should be in preparing and spending for major challenges facing us as one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.

Nirenberg has spent much of his first term generating citizen and expert involvement in tackling such matters as transportation, affordable housing, and climate change. Brockhouse has called the plans emerging from these efforts as too expensive, saying the City should go back to basics.

Certainly the City needs to do some cost-benefit analyses before implementing the ambitious plans being proposed, but we should also be aware of some of the costs of not taking action. These already include sclerotic traffic jams daily, especially in the northern suburbs. They include going out of federal attainment for air quality. They include the fact that a large and growing percentage of our families cannot afford market-rate housing. Without action, it will get far worse.

How we deal with these challenges is clearly a defining issue.

One other issue has been mentioned – a couple of domestic violence incidents in Brockhouse’s past. As the Rivard Report noted in its story on a debate it hosted last week between the two mayoral candidates, the councilman threatened to leave the event if either of the two moderators (one from the Rivard Report and one from Texas Public Radio) asked about the incidents.

The tactic appears to have worked, which prompts me to offer some advice to my younger colleagues. The better response was to wait until you had asked him other important questions, then to put this one to him:

“Mr. Brockhouse, you said shortly before the beginning of this debate that if we asked about the domestic violence police reports in your past you would walk out. I’m not asking about those reports, at least not yet. My question is this: Do you think elected officials should control what questions reporters can ask? Should Mayor Nirenberg have been able to condition his appearance on us not asking him about Chick-fil-A?”

63 thoughts on “Chick-fil-A a Defining Issue in San Antonio’s Mayoral Race? Really?

  1. I’m surprised that you’re surprised it’s a concern. Because simply going back to the basics, the government serves the people, not the opposite. When the people speak, it’s an issue for the government if it’s an issue for the people. I’m surprised this simple reality still confuses people.

    • Brockhouse has not explained how “going back to the basics” serves the people. How will the “basics” solve our biggest issues of climate change, traffic, housing? His only plans seems to be supporting the unions that are getting him elected. This is myopic and self-serving, not “basic.”

  2. Brockhouse is following the Trump playbook slavishly. Lie, deny, lie, obfuscate, lie, spin … repeat. That a ridiculous, hot-button, Tea Party non-issue like Chik-fil-A is even sucking up any oxygen when we have SERIOUS problems to address in this city is shameful and contemptible.

  3. Rick nails it again! Thanks, Rivard Report, for allowing a true journalist to speak to the issues and show us what is important to San Antonians; even those of us who live in the ‘burbs. Ron Nirenberg is still our mayor. The entire health of this community rests on what happens at the big City Hall.

  4. The furor over Chick-Fil-A being kicked out of the airport isn’t so much about LBGTQ issues as it is an incapacity for the City to follow its own rules in the procurement process. Frankly, I’m not pleased with either candidate for mayor. The Mayor is an ineffective leader, and the Councilman is in the union’s pocket.

  5. San Antonio government supports companies with real track records of human rights abuses. We/they have only singled out Chick-fil-A because it’s popular to bash Christians at the moment. Enforce your selective human rights agenda across the board Mr. Mayor or not at all.

  6. Typical liberal slant as a fake factual stat. …”Opposition to marriage equality”….. sited as a reason to discriminate against Chick-fil-A. Not true! Talk to the employees. Talk to the customers. Talk to store management. Casey does it again. Start the discussion with a bogus stat and build a story on that falsehood.

    • Oh Chick-Fil-A is quite happy to take LGBTQ dollars and to pay LGBTQ people less than the value they add to the company, but when it comes to allowing them to live as any of us, they’re going to do their best to make sure that doesn’t happen.

    • Re: Chick Fil A: The airport is operating every day, and food vendors there need to be open every day to serve the travelers.

      • Marg – Nonsense! The busiest airport in the world has several Chick-Fil-A outlets. Those passengers are not starving as they depart. Malls across the country also have these restaurants. They, and their customers, seem to manage to scrounge for food on Sundays without fainting from exhaustion. The basis for banning Chick-Fil-A from the San Antonio is bigotry and hatred. You can’t cover it up with; it was announced as such by the city council: “We’re welcoming and inclusive . . . as long as you’re not Christian.”

  7. Perfect column about what should be a non-issue in any election. The mayor’s decision was based on economics, as it should have been. However, the domestic violence complaints about Brockhouse ARE an issue because they raise questions about his character and fitness to serve. I also question his job hopping.

    • What led you to believe the Mayor’s decision was “based on economics”? He was quoted multiple times saying it’s a social injustice issue.
      Did you know the ACLU condemned his and the council’s decision and called it a violation of Civil Liberty?

  8. Sorry, read em below and weep kid. (But you won’t of course because anything you disagree with is obviously “fake news.” Have a nice day – or not.)

    Chick-fil-A: 5 Reasons It Isn’t What You Think

  9. The reason its a big deal is people here don’t want their beloved town to be turned into the political mess in Washington. Would have been best to just let the Chick-fil-A process go on with out politicization.

  10. Chick-fil-A is an issue NOT about LGBTQ, but about the lefts vendetta against openly Christian businesses. CFA does NOT DISCRIMINATE in their hiring practices or service. How and to whom anyone chooses to make charitable donations is NOT an issue for government interference.

    Secondly, City of San Antonio procurement in this case is extremely biased and illegal. Unless the Request for Proposal (RFP) sent to all bidders specified days and times of operation for all businesses, then the “closed on Sunday” argument is obviously DISCRIMINATORY.

    San Antonio can and should be a city that allows our citizens all of their constitutionally granted freedoms, not just cherry pick who gets what. Otherwise you would insist that every restaurant owned by Jews or Muslims serve pork. Oh, yes, this is a real issue, as it goes to the roots of moral and ethical application of the law.

  11. It’s a sure shame that I live in a far left liberal city that is trying its hardest to make us like Austin, Seattle, and San Franscisco!! This feels just like national politics you have the media in this case the Express News, and The Rivard Report driving the narrative in this city! We all know the Express News is in the Mayors pocket because everything this current Mayor does good for the city, but just good for all the special interest PAC’s that funded and continues to fund his campaign. Say what you will about Mr. Brockhouse, but he is fighting for all the forgotten citizens of San Antonio, and when you have to go so far back into someone’s past it shows that this current Mayor CANNOT campaign on his accomplishments because he has none. All this Mayor and Council has done is divide this city. I hope and pray that ordinary citizens with no involvement in special interest groups or PAC’s will go out and vote and drain the swamp that has been in this city for years!! I expect my post to be deleted because this is the kind of replies that they do not want citizens of SA to see!!

    • Actually we resisted bringing Amazon to town, a move that would undoubtedly have helped make us Austin/Seattle/San Francisco – you know, the cities where residents have to sell their homes because they can’t afford the taxes, and none of them can get jobs at the major firms in town, and all the major firms get massive tax breaks. That was thanks to this Mayor and City Council. When you talk to your friends in Austin about how unaffordable their city is, remember that we are on the precipice of that issue ourselves and Amazon undoubtedly would have pushed us over.

      • How would Amazon bringing all those jobs and business make living more expensive and jobs harder to find? How would more taxable income in the city lead to an individual paying more for taxes?

        • We didn’t try to get Amazon bc we knew we would be used as pawns since SA does not have the skilled workforce to even have a shot at landing Amazon!! It would have been a national embarrassment…just like CFA debacle and declining the RNC bid.

          • Based on WHAT exactly? Like the city council has any inkling of the makeup of the workers in this city and surrounding area. The military bases here alone have thousands of professionals that are contractors in these job categories that would LOVE to change to Amazon.!

            Even if what you say was true, a draw like Amazon would have gotten plenty of applicants from all around Houston, Austin, Dallas, etc that would be happy to move here. Speaking as a 30 year tech professional that is.

  12. Good article! R. Brook house needs to allow for his domestic cases to be public..why not? He’s making a major issue out of the Mayor’s decision with ChikFilA. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!

    • Brockhouse is just reflecting the outrage of a major part of many citizens, both here , and statewide, that are disturbed by the council making an issue of Chik Fil A!

  13. I’m not buying your shocking claim above . “…may be the lowest-key mayoral election I’ve seen since arriving in San Antonio not long after the fall of the Alamo”. You may be old, but claiming to arrive in the mid-19th century is a stretch.

  14. Gotta hope our local voters are smarter and better informed than statewide and national voters. We can’t let the unions pick our pockets while we fight about chicken sandwiches.

  15. Read just about every comment railing against this article and Casey and see why this city needs to refocus on, say, education. Good Lord, the reckless abandonment of syntax. Oh, sorry — you’re just “forgotten.”

  16. The issue has to do with what is essentially a fake narrative about the CEO of the company, NOT THE COMPANY ITSELF, that donates to in the way of Christian oriented non-profits. NOTHING to do with any lack of inclusiveness by the restaurants. They have demonized them unjustly. Especially since the matter seems to be that if you have traditional Christian values that (only in theory) discourage same sex marriage, etc., then suddenly that is being anti-LGBTQ hate.
    It’s become an issue because a certain councilman, mine unfortunately, (with what smacks of political currying of favor with uninformed liberals) made it an issue.
    We see enough of that sort of nonsense in California without having it come here to Texas.

    • You are exactly correct! Trevino introduced this bc LGBT votes were being diverted from him and he needed to shore them up! Nirenberg and the other council members that voted to exclude CFA did it on a religious basis. Only AFTER there was blowback did Nirenberg come up with the ‘open 7 days a week’ argument…total lack of leadership and courage! The process was violated and council did not do their due diligence of the RFP…bc if the charitable contributions of all owners or being open 7 days a week were not in the RFP, city council, in fact, should not have voted to exclude CFA. It is the hubris and arrogance of council that is the issue…and THAT is why CFA is an issue for voters!!!

    • Agree, and he’s my councilman too. I am not excited about the other candidates either for District 1 or mayor, but I have cast my votes for the most reasonable opponents. Trevino and Nirenberg will still win, but they need to hear our voices.

  17. No matter what side of the fence you are on this article is absolutely points to the left. I’m an independent voter and I’m tired of journalists trying to manipulate voters. How come I’m not reading about our current mayors transgressions? Only a fool would believe he has none. I Persian tired of the smear campaign. How about focusing on what each candidate brings to the fight?

  18. Totally missed the mark. The controversy had nothing to do with religious freedom. This was 100% a civil liberty violation. Then controversy was that any future business could be barred from public buildings for personal beliefs – even the ACLU was against this.
    Good click bait though.

    • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t think that Chic-fil-a refused service to anyone that came through their door. The only evidence of the company’s anti-LGBTQ views seem to be in their donations to nonprofit organizations. As far as I can tell, donating to a nonprofit organization is the company’s choice and it is not grounds for discrimination. Regardless of what people what like to call the barring of Chic-fil-a from San Antonio’s airport, it is simply political discrimination. A company’s ideals are not subject to investigation. Just like any individual in the United States, corporations have the right to believe what they want and do what they want with the money they have earned.

  19. Ut oh, comment on City Procurement is right on. ALL bidders must be provided with ALL information used to make their bid. Amendments to the proposals may be made. If there was NO mention in the RFP or any Amendment for being closed on Sunday, back to the drawing board. Especially since the mayor stated that was his reason for not allowing CFA in the airport. Do the losers have a case against you. Yes.

  20. Absolutely!! Apparently City Council-including the Mayor need a lesson in understanding procurement procedures and the law. These procedures are in place to avoid knee jerk, personally motivated actions such as council took in excluding CFA.

  21. With the Mayor and City Council so concerned about CFA closing on Sundays for religious beliefs and how this would affect tourism in San Antonio… last Sunday, Easter Sunday, we were at the Mercado elbow-to-elbow with hundreds of people including hundreds of tourists. Both shopping areas were CLOSED, locked tight with signs posted being closed. And these were the businesses that reflect the Culture of San Antonio the Mayor spoke of when excluding CFA from the airport. We had to laugh wondering if the City Government was aware of this and how this affected tourists!!! Is this being the TRENDY city the Mayor talks about???

  22. I would like to know what charitable contributions are made by the other restaurants that were approved. I believe Chick-fil-a is in 28 other airports in the United States. Are there problems in any of those airports because they are there or that they are closed on Sunday? I do not agree with their beliefs and I do not like their food. I go there with my grandson who loves it. His mother is an atheist. She goes there because she likes the food not because of their beliefs. I also contribute to the Salvation Army because of all the good work that they do, not because of all their beliefs.

  23. Bad leadership at city hall have created many of problems you talk about in your article. Ron Nirenberg voted to allow an uncontrolled or unlimited amount of Uber and Lyft vehicles to pollute and congestion our city streets. All in the name of accommodating two multi billion dollar corporations.

    Affordable housing has become a problem because city hall once again is handing out tax abatements and building incentives to real estate developers that only cause high rents and market values to skyrocket.

    The public is dissatisfied with the establishment candidates and establishment donor, big money controlling of city hall and the media. That is why 2 out of 3 charter amendments passed and the 2 million dollar spent by the powerbrokers to defeat the ammendments went down the drain.

    The time for change in our local government is now and voters will vote for change.
    I understand articles like these need to be publish to satisfy the money brokers. I also understand that voters can no long be fooled because they are sick of the pay to play environment at city hall.

    We are voting for Greg Brockhouse!

  24. Can comments be numbered (along with the date and time stamp) as they are posted? It would certainly be easier to seek out the latest musings.

  25. Brockhouse’s domestic violence **allegations** are from a decade ago… it’s a below-the-belt personal attack to bring this up in a mayoral debate.

    It’s not the same thing with the Chick-fil-a controversy. This is because the San Antonio Council cited a pedantic article from ThinkProgress as reason to disallow Chick-fil-a from the San Antonio airport.

    The ThinkProgress article interpreted donations made by Chick-fil-a to organizations that support traditional Christian values as anti-LGBTQ.

    Whatever happened to religious freedom? Like a previous commenter mentioned, is it justifiable to force businesses owned by Jewish or Muslims to serve pork products?

    Bringing up Brockhouse’s decade old allegations of domestic violence would have just turned the debate into a circus. If I wanted to see drama I would tune into a soap opera show.

    Nirenberg’s argument about the Chick-fil-a decision being about “business hours” is weak and a cover for the Council’s real reasons. There are already 19 states that have Chick-fil-a in their airports, 4 of those airports being located in Texas.

  26. As my mother used to say, “The proof is in the pudding itself.” We will know how the Chick-Fil-A pudding, the GOP convention turn down, removal of Confederate Statue, turning away the Amazon overtures, Alamo Plaza “REIMAGING” and so forth play out on election day. Do they matter to those who come out to vote? We will never about the ones who don’t come out to vote. I guess it doesn’t matter what they think, because it wasn’t enough either way for them to take the time to exercise the right to vote, which was bought by so many men and women in uniform.

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