A phalanx of the Eastside’s elected leadership gathered on East Commerce Street Wednesday afternoon, only six blocks away from Mayor Ivy Taylor‘s home in historic Dignowity Hill, to endorse former Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in her bid to become San Antonio’s next mayor.
With a small group of African-American supporters shouting pro-Van de Putte slogans, the candidate stood on the sidewalk flanked by Councilmember Alan Warrick II (D2) and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert Jr. (Precinct 4). San Antonio Independent School District Trustee James Howard (D2), Chief Apostle Bishop Rosa “Rosita” L. Wilson, and Eastside community activist Nettie Hinton (Warrick’s aunt) stood with the elected officials but did not speak.
“We’ve got to stop making this (mayoral runoff) race about race. It’s not about that,” Calvert said at the hastily called press conference staged in front of the largely vacant Friedrich Building. “All of us represent people who are outside of our race. We were sent here to solve problems.”
Van de Putte, Calvert said, is the candidate that has the leadership mentality – rather than a bureaucratic mentality – to get things done in District 2 and the city as a whole.
“I do think it should give the constituents of Precinct 4 and District 2 in particular great pause that every single elected leader in the mayor’s home district has now endorsed (former) Sen. Van de Putte,” he said. “These are the people that know the mayor’s track record best. … We need a leader that doesn’t take no for an answer. … We need a mayor who will be a grown up when it comes to disagreements.”
State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon sent a letter endorsing Van de Putte from Austin where the Texas Legislature is in the final week of the biennial session. During the press conference, Van de Putte basked in the praise of the Eastside bloc of officeholders, clearly relishing the moment on Taylor’s home turf as the elected officials attacked Taylor and her record as a council member and as interim mayor.
Taylor served as District 2 council member for five years until she was selected by City Council last July to serve out the remainder of former Mayor Julián Castro’s term. If she wins, Taylor will be the first popularly elected African-American to serve as mayor. The winner also will be only the second woman to hold the office, following in the footsteps of former Mayor Lila Cockrell, who held the office from 1975-81 and again from 1989-91.
Van de Putte’s Eastside event came fives days before the start of early voting on June 1 that runs through June 9. The runoff election will be held on Saturday, June 13. Click here for more voting information.
The officeholders pointed to the long-vacant and decaying Friedrich Building behind them as an example of Taylor’s failed leadership in District 2.
“It’s been an eyesore in the community for tens of years,” Warrick said. “Ivy Taylor had the opportunity as mayor to make a statement. As a District 2 council person she mentioned that this was a catalytic project, and yet she didn’t do anything as mayor to move this project forward.”
At the end of the day, the building is private property, explained Taylor during an interview later in the afternoon Wednesday.
“The Friedrich building is a difficult project with an owner that’s been difficult to deal with and I think maybe four mayors and four city managers have tried to tackle that and I certainly gave it a good go,” Taylor said.
“During my tenure as District 2 council member I brought over half a billion dollars in new projects to the district. Everything ranging from new apartment developments, the Promise Neighborhood Wheatley (Courts) development,” she added.
She criticized Van de Putte and her campaign for the use of “old school, back-room politics as usual. … The voters of District 2 elected me three times by over 75% each time and I think that speaks volumes.”
Taylor said she was not surprised when she heard of the announcement.
Calvert and Warrick went on to criticize the mayor’s handling of local chef and attorney Joan Cheever’s recent citation for feeding the homeless and for having more than $551,000 of unspent money in the district’s budget when she left office in 2014.
“(Council districts) get $200,000 a year for these funds,” Warrick said, who replaced interim Councilmember Keith Toney after a runoff election in December 2014 and won the seat again during the May 9 City Election. “I expected her to tell me that she had a master plan or something was going to happen…nothing.”
“I, as a careful steward of taxpayer dollars, didn’t spend funds willy nilly as a result of political pressure,” Taylor said. “We want to make sure that any investment made in infrastructure was going to connect to something. … He (Warrick) has never talked to me about that. Would have been glad to have had that transition conversation, but the question has never been asked.”
It’s not atypical for council members to save money year to year to spend on bigger-ticket items or wait for a development – be it private, state, or federally funded housing or commercial projects– to see where the best investments can be made. It’s also not atypical to spend a majority of funds available – especially in times of crisis.
“But she didn’t support the neighborhoods that supported her. There’s tons of improvements, as you can see, that need to be made,” Warrick said.
Cheever attended the press conference on Wednesday. So far she has ignored the City’s citation and cease and desist order and continues to feed homeless people every Tuesday night in Maverick Park.
“We need to re-look at our rules on this issue (off feeding homeless people),” Taylor said. “We also need to revisit Haven for Hope and determine whether or not it’s been a success. … Being that we’re still having these types of challenges I think we need to look at that model and take a comprehensive look at how we’re addressing (homelessness and hunger).”
Calvert said that a citation like Cheever’s would not have been issued under the leadership of Mayor Julián Castro and the criminalization of compassion should never happen in San Antonio.
Van de Putte said she was honored to accept the endorsement of City, County, and State officials.
“I want to be the mayor, not to sit on the dais of do-nothin’ – not to sit on the dais of neglect,” Van de Putte said. “The quality of leadership is not to consistently say no but to try to find a way to yes.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Taylor as saying million – it is in fact more than a half billion dollars that has come to the Eastside during her tenure as City Council member.
*Featured/top image: Allan Warrick II endorses Leticia Van de Putte for her bid for mayor across the street from the Friedrich Building. Photo by Scott Ball.