Local runoff elections are usually the territory of the heavily-invested – those who have economic, social, or domestic interests dependent on civic ordinances, initiatives, and bonds. However, with the federal government’s increasing lethargy, the course of events set by local elections may be the only bellwether for progress that Americans see in the coming years.
One such race is the runoff between appointed incumbent Keith Toney, 62, and Alan Warrick II, 33, for the District 2 City Council seat vacated by Mayor Ivy Taylor this summer. The election is Tuesday, Dec. 9, and early voting ends Friday.
Almost $50 million in federal funding has been awarded to areas within District 2 through the $23.70 million Eastside Promise Zone and $29.75 million Choice Neighborhood designations, which have a geographic footprint of four square miles in the heart of the historic Eastside. The new development to drive Eastside revitalization is collectively known as Eastpoint.
The person elected to represent the area will be at the center of an economic and cultural conversation that could generate national attention. A good reason why all San Antonio voters, even those not in District 2, should keep an eye on Tuesday’s election.
Besides that, elections are expensive. Holding any election, even a small runoff like this one, carries a price tag. During A Session on Thursday, City Council approved $204,753 for election services with the Bexar County Elections Office. Only 10,000 district residents voted in the November election.
In the interest of an informed electorate, the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association will be hosting a forum for the candidates from 1-3 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Ella Austin Community Center at 1023 N. Pine St.
When it comes to the changes expected in the district, Toney said he would like to make one thing very clear:
“I don’t want to change things, I want to transform them,” he said.
The incumbent council member said he wants to see more businesses opening on the Eastside, and more new faces moving in, even if that means a slight shift in demographics. He welcomes businesses like Alamo Beer Company and housing developments like Charlie Turner’s Cherry Street Modern. He sees each business as a piece of the whole, creating more appeal for further investment. More businesses mean more jobs. More neighbors mean fewer vacant properties, which are magnets for illegal activity.
“It’s like a pearl necklace. I see each as connected,” Toney said.
Some critics see this as “selling out” to the big-name developers, Toney insists that he is interested in the good of the community, and that the work of the best architects and developers in town is something residents of District 2 should welcome. He also said he hopes his constituents will look for ways to float their boats on the rising tide. Toney said he plans to encourage new businesses to offer job training to the underserved district.
“Then they won’t have to be served, they can serve themselves,” he said.
He is also friendly toward those who have no prior ties to the district, and who see neighborhoods like Dignowity Hill and Government Hill as great opportunities for home ownership. He dislikes any notion of what he calls a “litmus test” for who can call themselves an Eastside resident.
As a transplant himself, Toney believes in the energizing effect of newcomers as well as the return of native sons. He wants District 2 to be a first choice for returning graduates.
“If I have my way, when you say, ‘I live on the Eastside,’ no one will say, ‘Why?’ Instead, when you say that you don’t live on the Eastside, they will say, ‘Why not?’” he said.
Toney is a native of Ohio, but has been in San Antonio since 1992, and wasted no time getting active in service to the city. He is a Bronze Star veteran with a resume of civil service, including two prior appointments by the San Antonio City Council, including Keep San Antonio Beautiful and the San Antonio Housing Trust Board.
In addition to problems of housing stock and unemployment, which he believes can be alleviated by developments like those happening in Dignowity Hill, Toney acknowledged that recent upticks in violent crime deserve renewed attention. He is working with SAPD to extend the gang injunction.
“(Infill and development) doesn’t do any good if you can’t walk your dog at night,” he said.
Toney said he is ambivalent about the rebranding of the near Eastside as Eastpoint, but he urged patience among constituents eager to see the benefits of so much city and federal attention. While rebranding and federal grants play out, he will continue to focus on tangible results of economic growth and community improvement.
“Rebranding is cosmetic. As long as the work gets done … you can call it what you want,” he said.
To those who worry about the loss of identity, Toney reassures them, “It will always be the Eastside.”
Alan Warrick II
Warrick is almost 30 years younger than his competitor, but his bow tie and thorough plans belie his youth. He has garnered support from a wide range of constituents, from those who would be labeled “gentrifiers” to some of gentrification’s most vocal opponents.
Warrick is a native of District 2, born into a politically-active family. He lived across the country as his mother pursued her graduate degrees at UCLA, Georgia Tech, and George Mason. She eventually became the president of Grambling University, and he returned to San Antonio to work for World Technical Services in 2006. By 2008, he was serving as the nonprofit’s CEO.
“WTS provides meaningful employment for people with disabilities throughout the state of Texas. I saw a need for leadership and vision for the Eastside in this time of great growth. I was inspired by the SA2020 goals and am surprised that much of the development on the Eastside still hasn’t occurred,” Warrick said.
He said he sees his home district as a place of opportunity that has yet to be realized. He does take a measured stance, though, hoping to learn from other developments and avoid some of the downsides associated with development, such as gentrification. He hopes to see proactive measures taken to avoid these problems, while the area capitalizes on its opportunities.
“The proximity to downtown of the near Eastside, the number of vacant properties, and the low cost of land are huge opportunities for growth and prosperity in the district, and the growth in those areas will ripple further out into the district,” Warrick said.
He does not, however, believe those ripples alone will undo years of neglect. He cited examples from Buffalo, New Orleans, and East Austin in addressing issues of infill, infrastructure, and smart development.
“Infrastructure, public safety, education, the lack of move-in ready housing, and low voter turnout pose great challenges for District 2. The city will have to allocate additional infrastructure funding to make up for the years of neglect for District 2 streets, drainage, sidewalks, and other infrastructure projects,” he said.
His plan of action is detailed, including everything from developing databases so that citizens can track their requests, to bringing in experts in educational innovation. He sees the rebranding of the Eastside as a public relations effort in its infancy, with the potential to be used to help create a “new persona” for the near Eastside. Like his opponent, however, he wants to take action in the now.
“I will address public safety with increased police protection and increased and diverse youth programs in order to prevent our young black and brown males from entering the criminal justice system,” Warrick said.
His plan is well-studied, but he also capitalizes on his youth. His campaign has an active Facebook presence, and his style of leadership – largely influenced by his education – resonates in many a Millennial’s ear.
“My architectural background and the holistic problem solving that is part of that education allows me to look at a number of the problems that San Antonio faces in the near future from a different light than the current council members. This will inspire new ideas and new synergies that the council hasn’t experienced in recent years,” said Warrick.
His desired mix of capital improvements and smart development would, in Warrick’s estimation serve the broad range of constituents in the district.
“If you look at my four point plan, those key points of infrastructure improvements, better jobs and job opportunities, reinvestment in housing, and improved public safety can bridge the gaps of the different populations that I would serve as the District 2 City councilman. Every citizen wants those opportunities and wants the opportunity to live work and play in their community.”
Constituents are encouraged to come to the public forum on Saturday and, of course, to exercise their early voting rights on Friday and the runoff election day on Dec. 9.
Featured/top image: Alan Warrick campaigns in District 2 during early voting. Photo via Alan Warrick’s Facebook page.