At least 10 potential candidates emerged at a community meeting Saturday to fill the San Antonio City Council seat left by Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2), who is vacating the position next month.
The packed meeting drew at least 60 people Saturday to Eastwood Community Baptist Church at 207 Upland Road. It served as an example of neighborhood-level democracy in action. Multiple candidates discussed why they would be best to fill a roughly five-month interim position, the next term on City Council, or both.
Council members will appoint a temporary replacement after Shaw’s resignation from City Council, effective Jan. 7, to become an associate judge for a state district court in Bexar County.
Applications for the interim candidate are open until 5 p.m. Jan. 4, and the council expects to vote on an appointee Jan. 10. On May 4, voters will choose a District 2 representative among candidates running in the upcoming municipal elections.
Community organizers, including longtime resident and business owner Norma Witherspoon and Government Hill Alliance Neighborhood Association President Rose Hill, set up the meeting. State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), who represents the 120th District, facilitated.
Before the candidates spoke, Gervin-Hawkins led the group in a discussion of what qualities they’d like to see in their candidates to make a unified recommendation to the City Council.
Residents raised their hands to vote on issues such as education, work experience, length of time living in the district, and whether the person seeking the interim appointment should be someone who would go on to run for the seat.
The majority settled on an appointee with at least a high school diploma, at least six to 10 years living in the district, and the intention of making City Council a full-time job through the remainder of Shaw’s term. They should have good communication skills, knowledge of the community, and have served the district in some way, whether professionally or as a volunteer. Many people said they’d like to see the appointee maintain existing staff in the District 2 office, if possible.
As a group, they have no preference on whether the person appointed to the interim role goes on to run in May. “No shackles,” is how Gervin-Hawkins described it. Retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Mims said that restricting who could apply would “limit the talent pool.”
But others made an argument for asking council members to appoint someone who wouldn’t run in May.
“If they are planning to run, they end up spending all their time campaigning, and they will not make a decision. They’ll be afraid that’s the way to go,” WestCare Foundation executive Beverly Watts Davis said. “We need focused attention, and it can also give us time to get our great candidate in for the long haul.”
Attendees also voted to rank their top five issues and came up with the following order: Affordable housing, community and economic development, criminal justice reform, workforce development and jobs, and infrastructure (primarily streets and drainage).
One of the potential candidates was Hill, who aside from her community efforts talked about her work advocating for children within San Antonio Independent School District.
Another who spoke was San Antonio Fire Department Engineer Dereck Hillyer, who said the East Side community raised him his whole life.
“Talent is equally distributed among everybody, but opportunity we have not had,” Hillyer said.
Stephen Lucke, who heads community gardening nonprofit Gardopia Gardens, said his top issues are “education, health, environment, cannabis, and transportation.” Lucke ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017.
Walter Perry, who worked for San Antonians for Growth on the East Side, described a vision of vibrant stores, clean streets, and safe walking areas. Perry founded the Suit Up! program to help provide clothing to help young people dress for success.
Chris Dawkins, a leader of the Lakeside Neighborhood Association, said crime is a significant issue in the district. Dawkins ran unsuccessfully in 2016 for the Texas House 120th District formerly held by longtime State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon.
Liz Franklin, an active member of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, got up to the microphone to say she “probably will not run” but that she wants whoever makes it on City Council to know she’s engaged.
“It blows my mind that I’m engaged on the regular, and I can’t move the needle one bit,” Franklin said.
Denise Gutierrez Homer, a Government Hill resident and artist who specializes in painting vintage vehicles, said her experience as a teacher helped prepare her for a City Council role.
Potential candidate Dan Martinez, a longtime resident who used to own a billboard advertising company on Chestnut Street, said the district suffers from a lack of a hospital within its bounds. Martinez served on the board of trustees of Alamo Colleges in the 1980s.
Lester Bryant, who has held leadership roles on the VIA Metropolitan Transit board as well as the PTA of Sam Houston High School, also expressed interest. He talked about his experiences volunteering, working in the corporate sector, and living outside of San Antonio.
Ba’Ron Head, who represents District 2 on the City’s Zoning Commission, said the East Side “has been used as a dumping ground for projects they don’t want on the North Side or the Northwest Side.”
“What we need to do is have someone in office who can work with everyone within District 2,” he continued.
Filing for the May elections begins Jan. 16 and ends 5 p.m. Feb. 15.