Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The May 4 election is widely seen as a race between Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), but there will be nine names on the mayoral ballot this year – most of them newcomers to the political scene.
The first four candidates San Antonio voters will see on their ballots – John Velasquez, Nirenberg, Matt Piña, and Michael “Commander” Idrogo – were not able to attend the candidate forum on Saturday at New Creation Christian Fellowship. But Brockhouse was joined onstage by Antonio “Tony” Diaz, Bert Cecconi, Tim Atwood, and Carlos Castanuela.
The media, including the Rivard Report, have had ample opportunities to cover the differences and debates between Nirenberg and Brockhouse over the last few months. Here’s an overview of what the other candidates said, and click here to read their own words from our Q&A with them published in February.
The candidates hail from different professions and backgrounds but agreed on at least one thing: San Antonio, especially City Hall, can be better. Each of them said the City is still not doing enough to right the unequal treatment, in terms of infrastructure investment and economic opportunities, of the East, South, and West sides of town.
The event was organized by the San Antonio Black Lawyers Association, the local chapter of the NAACP, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity/Delta Rho Lambda Chapter, the local League of Women Voters, and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority/Alpha Pi Zeta Chapter.
The candidates agreed that the City should take a more proactive role in getting minority-owned businesses contracts and keeping young minorities off the streets and into jobs.
Diaz is a seasoned community activist who has worked in San Antonio for decades. He founded the Texas Indigenous Council to help Latinos find their indigenous ancestry and has worked to register eligible voters awaiting trial in Bexar County.
“I’m for empowering our residents,” Diaz said, “in the East Side, South Side, West Side, and even in the North Side.”
He blames the City for the years-long delay in getting a new contract with the local firefighters union. The focus of the City, he said, should be on protecting the residents who are struggling in San Antonio – not the expected 1 million more people coming to the area over the next 20 years.
“Stop putting [the costs of growth] on the backs of people already paying taxes,” said Diaz, who has previously run for mayor. “As much as I like both [Brockhouse and Nirenberg], they are part of the problem.”
Cecconi’s platform surrounds education. He wants every Bexar County resident to have access to “tuition-free junior college with no increase in taxes.” That, he said, would “level the playing field” and solve most issues with inequity in San Antonio. To pay for it, he said CPS Energy should install solar panels on every able roof in the city to cut its energy costs.
He would have voted against the mayor when City Council voted to take Chick-fil-A out of a recent airport concessionaire contract, said Cecconi, who has run for the office before and is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and dentist. The fast food chain was removed because many on Council felt the company was anti-LGBTQIA and would send a negative message to visitors. Each of the other candidates onstage Saturday agreed with Brockhouse, who voted against the removal and is actively trying to get a re-vote on the contract.
Atwood, who teaches Spanish at a private middle school, said he would focus on reducing the City’s debt.
“Priority number one for me will be to try to slow down what has become a runaway train of excessive borrowing and spending that is getting the City of San Antonio deeper and deeper and deeper into debt,” he said. “Don’t be mesmerized by the AAA [bond] rating that we hear so much about.”
The City still owes plenty of money to the banks that buy the City’s debt in the form of bonds, he said. “The bills will come due one day.”
City officials have said that the amount of debt San Antonio has is within a sustainable range and allows it to provide critical infrastructure and facility improvements.
Atwood thinks voters will be open to voting in political newcomers because they are looking for “freshness and detachment from the status quo. I believe it is my destiny to be the next mayor of San Antonio. I don’t say that in a mystical, clairvoyant sort of way. I simply mean that I believe this is what I’m supposed to do.”
Castanuela has worked at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant for nearly 10 years. He admits he does not have experience in City governance, but he said he has firsthand experience in what citizens need. He was born in the West Side and now lives in the South Side of San Antonio.
“I really wasn’t born with a lot of stuff,” Castanuela said. “I know … how hard it is for people to support themselves and their families. There’s not that many high wage jobs and I think I could help.”
He agreed with Atwood, who said the City and fire union each need to compromise to come to a deal.
“We should give them some of what they ask for, but not the whole cake,” Castanuela said. “Next time they come to the table, they’re going to want more.”