Images - Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Many city council districts would welcome the kind of rapid growth, ethnic diversity, and stable tax base that San Antonio’s largest district knows. But the grass isn’t always greener when it comes to roadways. The same assets that make District 8 strong also yield some of the city’s worst traffic congestion, and area residents are calling for a fix.
In the May 6 municipal elections, voters across the city, including District 8, overwhelmingly approved a proposed $850 million bond package that includes 64 projects to improve streets, bridges, and sidewalks throughout the city. Yet in the race to succeed mayoral candidate Ron Nirenberg for the District 8 seat, 33% of district voters also backed candidate Cynthia Brehm, who waged a campaign against the bond proposal while running for office.
With 3,716 votes, Brehm finished slightly ahead of Manny Pelaez, who had 3,034 votes (27%). Four other candidates were on the ballot.
A runoff election on June 10 will offer voters another chance to determine the next Council representative of District 8.
“I’m going in with an open mind and open attitude. God has a master plan, and whoever he wants, you can’t change that. But it doesn’t mean I will stop my activism,” said Brehm, who also ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2015.
With leadership experience that includes military-related volunteer and charitable fundraising positions, Brehm founded the nonprofit organization Band of Angels, now called Soldier’s Angels. “One of the highlights in my life was working with the Fisher House at Fort Hood,” she said. “God used me to do something and now it’s bigger. So I am ready to devote myself to District 8 if the Lord wills.”
Brehm, 59, holds a master’s degree from St. Mary’s University in public administration with two minors, in urban planning/development and public affairs. A descendant of the Canary Islanders, Brehm said she is the granddaughter of Juan Leal Goraz, the first mayor of San Antonio.
“I am retired now so I have time to devote to District 8 and serve the people,” she said. And like her opponent, she sees traffic in the area as a key issue.
“I see opportunities within District 8 to improve the daily traffic congestion that clogs our roads in District 8 such as a city ordinance for ‘all trucks, trailers, buses, RV’s, and 5th wheels — right lane only’ — get them out of our way,” she said. “Other cities have had this ordinance for decades.
“Another solution is to use 7-foot black tarps that will surround the scene of an accident. London, England, has successfully used these black tarps since 1995.”
At the District 8 Council candidates forum in April, an audience member questioned Brehm about posts to her Facebook page in 2015 that reportedly called for Syrian refugees to be sent back to their home country and urging voters to exercise their Second Amendment rights. She denied posting the comments.
Contributing to the ethnic and religious diversity of District 8, at least 8,000 refugees from various war-torn countries now living in San Antonio reside mostly in the district, and two of the city’s mosques also are located there.
Brehm reports endorsements by Texas Values Action and the San Antonio Family Association, which support passage of the state Senate’s proposed “bathroom bill,” and the faith-based Joshua Initiative and Pastors PAC.
Within minutes of the election results being posted, the phones started ringing, mostly with calls from the business and nonprofit community, Pelaez said. He added that County Judge Nelson Wolff and NuStar Energy have endorsed him for the District 8 council seat.
“I’m excited. Our message of experience and expertise resonated with a lot of people,” Pelaez said after the election. “I’m in a runoff with a person with a totally different message. We are going forward with a real simple comparison of résumés and experience and expertise and ideas for moving forward.
“The others who didn’t make it ran decent races. They were all strong, and I’m excited I got to be on the ballot with classy people and now I’m looking to beat one more.”
A graduate of Trinity University and St. Mary’s University School of Law, Pelaez, 43, is a labor attorney who has served as a trustee for VIA Metropolitan Transit and was appointed to serve on the SAWS Rate Advisory Commission. He chaired the 2008 bond committee on drainage.
Pelaez tells District 8 constituents that he will give the traffic crisis the priority it merits.
“I will bring to bear my experience and expertise in the area of intelligent traffic systems, traffic dispersion modeling, and infrastructure to develop resilient solutions that are realistic, multi-modal, and cost effective,” he said.
He challenges his opponent’s experience in addressing that issue and more.
“[She] has never done a single thing with regard to economic development, streets, parks, water, land planning, whereas I have done all of those,” Pelaez said. “My opponent … has been curiously quiet on jobs in her past, whereas I have an employment history that displays subject matter expertise relevant to the city and citizens.”
Pelaez’s campaign felt the sting of accusation in February when opponent Anthony Valdivia challenged his residency in the district. The City Clerk’s office did not investigate, however.
“I live in District 8, and I am an integrated member of the District 8 community,” Pelaez said. “I am proud to work in District 8 and focus my attention on my District 8 clients, for whom I am very thankful. My opponents have brought up a non-existent residency issue to distract from the experience and expertise I bring to the table.”
Of Brehm’s reported comments about refugees, Pelaez said, “I’m not sure that’s a San Antonio I want to live in, where we have city council thinking the most vulnerable population are running from a bullet. We’re the city of the Alamo, where people came looking for sanctuary. … It’s offensive to the DNA and history of San Antonio.
“Her statements run contrary to who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Pelaez and Brehm will square off during several upcoming debates; on Texas Public Radio at noon on May 22, with Northwest Democrats on May 20 at 8:30 a.m. at Luby’s restaurant (9251 Floyd Curl Dr), and another evening debate with the Northside Neighborhoods for Organized Development on May 30 (location TBA).
Other forums are pending confirmation.