District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal attends Leticia Van de Putte's address to her supporters on election day. Photo by Scott Ball.

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The rumor mill has churned for weeks about District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal’s possible run for state representative. Last night, the council member tweeted:

Bernal confirmed amid well wishes from his colleagues on the dais that Thursday’s City Council meeting will be his last as a vacancy opens in Texas House District 123.

The 38-year-old council member would not go so far as to announce or confirm his campaign for the legislative position on Thursday. Several council members encouraged the move, though indirectly.

“You’ve done a good job of making sure that we have a city that’s fair for everyone,” said District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg. “I look forward to your continued service.”

“I’m convinced your public service is only beginning,” said District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier. “(We’ll) continue this conversation in Austin, Texas, down the road.”

Rep. Mike Villarreal will be running for Mayor in the May election. Political analysts speculate that state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) will also begin campaigning for mayor soon.

The special election to fill Villarreal’s seat has not been called yet, but he has said he will serve until his term ends on Jan. 13.

“I’ve been here for so long because I had to make sure some key (initiatives) get through,” Bernal said. He was the driving force behind the non-discrimination ordinance which added sexual identity and sexual orientation to the City’s list of protections, the anti-predatory payday lending policy, the initiation of the Alamo Plaza master plan, and – as tweeted – the solidifying of Local Preference and Veteran-Owned Small Business Preference programs.

The ordinance clarifies and enhances the preferences given to local and veteran-owned businesses when the City awards contracts.

“This is the vote that I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “This will be the most aggressive local preference ordinance the city has ever seen … local businesses will have a leg up (for contracts that qualify) … City contracts should be looked at as opportunities for local businesses.”

The ordinance language approved Thursday plugged any loopholes that outside companies might take advantage of, he said.

“(This ordinance is in line with what) you’ve been about for your entire career – leveling the playing field for the little guy,” District 7 Councilmember Cris Medina said.

District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal and staff pose for a photo after his last City Council meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal and staff pose for a photo after his last City Council meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Bernal’s replacement will be appointed by a City Council vote after a series of B Session interviews. He will be the fourth council member to leave during the 2013-15 term.

An Eastside runoff election between District 2 Councilmember Keith Toney and young challenger Alan Warrick II is scheduled for Dec. 9 with early voting starting Dec. 1. Visit NOWCastSA to find early voting locations and information. Toney was elected by City Council after the District 2 seat became available when Council elected Taylor as interim mayor to fill the unexpired third term of former Mayor Julián Castro, who now serves as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration.

“(It’s a) season of transition,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said to Bernal. “Thank you very much for your distinguished service.”

A civil rights attorney and artist – listen to his music here – Bernal has been a strong advocate for the inner city and supported by both Millennials and Baby Boomers in District 1. He was voted into office in 2011 after a heated runoff election.

“(Bernal brought) that attorney mentality to a lot of discussions,” said District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher, “which opened our eyes to a lot of things we would not have considered.”

His downtown initiatives will not be lost on this or future councils, said District 6 Councilmember Ray Lopez. “We certainly appreciate the momentum you’ve created (with) downtown revitalization … rest assured, we’ll take care of it.”

City Manager Sheryl Sculley quoted Mark Twain to best describe Bernal’s service:

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

Bernal was known for bringing playfulness and candid conversation to council chambers as well as measured professionalism.

“I will miss our colorful and thoughtful conversations, especially in executive sessions,” said District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran.

Toney agreed, adding, “Your language is as colorful as mine off this dais.”

Going around the room, Bernal took a moment to thank each council member, Sculley, and City staff.

“Serving on this City Council has been the greatest honor of my life – to be selected by folks in the neighborhood and area where I grew up,” Bernal said. “Whenever we do something wrong, it’s absolutely our fault. Whenever we do something right, it’s because of our staff.”

*Featured/top image: District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal attends Leticia Van de Putte’s address to her supporters on election day. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com