Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Joe Krier, the outgoing District 9 City Councilman, has spent much of his remaining time in office visiting with homeowners and neighborhood associations across the district. He’s been thanking his constituents for their trust in him, drumming up support for the $850 million municipal bond, and doing plenty of listening, too.
“I’m hearing high concern for public safety,” said Krier, who is not seeking re-election after serving nearly two full terms. “People want more police protection in their neighborhoods.”
In a traffic-clogged district that stretches from Stone Oak and Encino Park to the San Antonio International Airport, transportation also weighs heavily on the minds of District 9 residents.
“People are wondering whether the [U.S. Highway] 281 improvements are going to be completed on time,” Krier said, referring to a long-awaited project that will expand the highway to 12 lanes north of Loop 1604. The first phase of work, from 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway, begins in May.
“I’ve heard from people in Encino Park, worried how the 281 expansion will affect them.”
The field of candidates looking to replace Krier is nearly as jammed as some of the district’s roads. Ten candidates, several with considerable civic experience and high-powered endorsements, are running in the May 6 municipal election that also includes a mayoral race and the bond election. Early voting begins Monday, April 24.
Candidates such as businesswoman Patty Gibbons, 57, have learned that seemingly small issues can loom large in a Council race.
“Overall, it’s what affects people the most in their neighborhoods – that’s what they’re concerned about,” Gibbons said. “Take Castle Park neighborhood and their issues with oak wilt. Encino Rio is concerned with traffic. Then there are crime and [homeowners associations] issues.”
Candidate Marco Barros, president and CEO of the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, shares Krier’s assessment of the district’s principal issues: “I have personally met with 20-plus HOA associations in District 9, and they are concerned about public safety, plus traffic congestion on 281 and 1604, and specific issues of moving traffic better in areas like Wurzbach Parkway and Northwest Military, which is today a bottleneck.”
For educator John Courage, 66, public safety and transportation are on his radar.
“While District 9 experiences less crime than other parts of the city, many residents have expressed concerns over property crime and mailbox theft,” said Courage. “Traffic is also a big issue on the Northside. Highway 281 continues to become more and more congested, particularly during peak traffic times, and that’s an issue that affects many of the voters living in District 9.”
At a League of Women Voters forum Saturday, several of the candidates cited the need to increase SAPD staffing levels and recruit more police officers in order to reduce response times in a district with a population of nearly 160,000 residents.
“My district isn’t used to dealing with crime like the rest of the city does,” said Matt Piña, a 30-year-old Grainger sales associate. “[Crime] has been mostly ignored by past Council members.”
Lynlie Wallace, 33, counts strong law enforcement and transportation among her key campaign issues.
“Having personally knocked on several thousand doors, the most common concerns voiced by District 9 residents include traffic congestion, high property taxes, public safety concerns – things like mailbox theft, auto break-ins,” said Wallace, who is the chief of staff to State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-122).
Patrick Von Dohlen, a 47-year-old financial planner, also counts public safety, infrastructure, and accountability as critical issues.
“I am most often asked about quality of life issues that have made daily life in the district and the city more difficult over the last few years – increase in crime, traffic congestion, and taxes,” he said.
For some of the candidates seeking to succeed Councilman Krier, reflecting District 9’s conservative political heritage is important. Barros, Gibbons, Wallace, and Von Dohlen, in particular, have sought to demonstrate their conservative credentials.
Conservatives such as Kevin Wolff, Elisa Chan, Tim Bannwolf, and Carroll Schubert have represented the 55-square-mile district over the last 20 years.
“If we don’t have a conservative voice at City Hall, I don’t see how the City will keep growing in a healthy way,” Gibbons said.
“We need someone conservative and knowledgeable about City budgets like we have had with Joe Krier, Elisa Chan, and Kevin Wolff,” Barros said.
Von Dohlen described himself as a consistent social and fiscal conservative, who opposed changing the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens.
“My record shows voters that I am a principled candidate that does not shy away from issues that are usually seen as too controversial to address on a local level,” he said.
However, most of the candidates stressed the importance of setting partisan views aside on the City Council.
“Is there a conservative or liberal way of replacing a traffic signal or filling a pothole?’ Courage said. “I believe I can work with any mayor or City Council person.”
Courage said District 9 is ready for a representative to advocate for mainstream values, “ordinary San Antonians,” and for small businesses against what he calls corporate special interests. The U.S. Air Force veteran and former Alamo Colleges trustee ran two unsuccessful bids last decade to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith.
In a crowded field, many of the candidates also are using their résumés, fundraising, and endorsements to try and distinguish themselves.
Barros, who has served on the San Antonio Airport Advisory Commission, has gotten endorsements from Krier, Chan, Bannwolf, Kevin Wolff, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, former Mayor Ed Garza, former Councilmen Reed Williams and Roger Flores, numerous business leaders, and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.
“I have lived in District 9 for over 30 years, so I know the district and the streets, bridges, sewage, and public work challenges,” said Barros, 59.
Wallace has her share of support from the business community, with backers including the Texas Auto Dealers Association and Texas Association of Builders. Having served with Larson for more than 10 years, Wallace has worked on various issues impacting District 9.
“I am proud of what I have helped accomplish for residents of District 9, particularly my work on the more than decade-long effort to expand the section of 281 between Loop 1604 and the county line without tolls,” she said.
Gibbons, who has been endorsed by former District 10 Councilman John Clamp, has been active with several City and private organizations over several years. She was one of three District 9 appointees to the Streets/Sidewalks/Bridges Bond Committee that helped determine projects for the $850 million municipal bond.
Von Dohlen has been more of a grassroots activist. He was part of the successful effort to pass a ballot measure requiring a public vote on any streetcar or light rail proposal. His supporters include former State Rep. Frank Corte Jr. and former U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco.
“I have been emphasizing my community advocacy as a private citizen,” Von Dohlen said.
Every week at his campaign office, Courage and his staffers invite residents to address any issues affecting their neighborhood. His endorsers include the San Antonio AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club-Alamo Group.
“I’ve made a genuine effort to start conversations with voters,” Courage said. “I ask which issues are important to them and what improvements they see a need for in our city.”
Having grown up in District 9 and graduated from Churchill High School, Piña describes himself as the one candidate most familiar with longstanding district issues.
“I don’t think anybody else really represents or reflects District 9,” Piña said. “Where you’re raised has a big effect on how you view things.”
With such a large field vying for Krier’s seat, fundraising has been an emphasis for some candidates. Wallace had contributions of $60,555 between Jan. 1 and March 27 and had $45,925 on hand after expenditures during the same reporting period. In the same timeframe, Barros placed second in the money race, raising $45,901. He had $8,500 on hand on March 27.
Courage raised $10,759 during the reporting period, with $4,042 left on hand, while Gibbons had $6,130 in contributions. Von Dohlen raised $15,528, and retired thoracic surgeon David “Doc” Cohen, 70, had raised $2,375.
Retired Air Force colonel and dentist Bert Cecconi, 81, reported only contributions to two current candidates for different offices: Mayoral contestant Manuel Medina, and Council District 6 candidate Greg Brockhouse. Cecconi has run unsuccessfully for City Council numerous times over the past 30 years.
Although Wallace’s political connections have attracted contributions, her campaign has been sidetracked by questions about her residency in District 9 and how much time she spends in San Antonio.
Wallace has stated that a house on the Northside – the address on her filed candidacy application – is her primary residence. However, the San Antonio Express-News reported that property records show her claiming a homestead exemption on an Austin home. The newspaper reported that a tenant has occupied Wallace’s San Antonio home and that a SAWS account for the address had been in the tenant’s name since 2013.
Von Dohlen announced April 17 that he was filing a lawsuit, asking a district court to rule Wallace ineligible to run. By law, Council candidates must have lived in the city for a year and the district they are seeking to represent for six months prior to filing for candidacy. However, residency records are rarely enforced unless challenged in court.
Von Dohlen dinged Wallace’s claim to accountability and transparency “…when her character already displays a propensity to be dishonest and, to continue in that lie, exposes her political aspirations to be above the common good.”
Wallace said she plans to fight the legal challenge: “I have engaged legal counsel and am confident that I can demonstrate that I meet the legal qualifications to be an eligible candidate for this office.”
In response to the residency questions, Courage and Gibbons called for greater transparency and ethics in City government. Barros declined to comment on the residency issue.
“There exists a clear need for reform in terms of enforcing residency requirements and other administrative items which, when left unresolved, can have a significant impact on our community,” Courage said.
“It is disheartening when a candidate shows little self-government,” Gibbons said, “but maddening when governments have no teeth in their laws and ordinances and disregard their own reasons for creating them.”
On the whole, Krier praised the candidate field and said he hopes the large number of mayoral and Council candidates will spur a high voter turnout. Only 12% of registered voters cast ballots in the May 2015 municipal election.
“I like to think I’ve been a good Councilman, and that my work has made the position more attractive, encouraging people to see you can get things accomplished,” Krier said.