For Nirenberg, a Thin Victory and Challenging Second Term

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg addresses supporters during election night at his campaign watch party.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg addresses supporters during election night at his campaign watch party.

San Antonio’s most divisive and bitterly fought mayoral campaign in memory came to an end Saturday as Mayor Ron Nirenberg narrowly edged challenger and District 6 City Councilman Greg Brockhouse.

With about 16% of eligible voters participating, Nirenberg squeaked by with a little more than a 2 percent margin, less than the 3 percent margin he tallied in the first round of voting on May 4.

It was a far more muted victory for Nirenberg as incumbent mayor than his defeat of Mayor Ivy Taylor by a 54.59-45.41 percent margin in 2017.

Nirenberg’s first term as mayor was marked by ambitious longterm planning initiatives that do not necessarily translate into support at the polls, and a near-constant volley of challenges and political firestorms.

In the end, Nirenberg barely prevailed against a first-term councilman who is a close ally of the firefighters union and was beset throughout the campaign by allegations of domestic violence.

Still Nirenberg won and his longtime antagonist Brockhouse lost. The man who firefighters union President Chris Steele called “our guy” in a secretly taped firehouse political speech gambled all as a rookie councilman to take on Nirenberg. He now will have to reassess his future political trajectory without the benefit of elected office as a platform to remain visible in the public eye.

The outcome shows once again that for all their political muscle, the police and fire unions most often come out on the losing end when they challenge incumbents with their own hand-picked special interest candidates.

Brockhouse spent much of his one term on City Council serving as a weekly critic of Nirenberg and his initiatives, many of which were the work of the council majority. He did, however, participate in one huge political victory when two of the three charter reforms pushed by the firefighters union passed by big numbers last November. Brockhouse was the only council member to endorse passage of the measures, which led to the unions’ long-sought retirement of City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

Greg Brockhouse gestures to supporters after conceding defeat to incumbent Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Robin Jerstad for the Rivard Report

Greg Brockhouse gestures to supporters after conceding defeat to incumbent Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Victory Saturday by no means guarantees Nirenberg success in his second term. For that he will have to hit the reset button to protect long-term planning initiatives while navigating more immediate challenges, notably the lack of a deal with the hostile firefighters union.

Council incumbents also will expect Nirenberg to build better lines of communication and avoid what they say were surprise decisions and initiatives in his first term in which they were left in the dark.

The much broader challenge will be uniting a deeply divided city, seemingly infected now with the same partisan rancor that has long characterized national politics.

San Antonio’s electorate, as analysis of the runoff vote undoubtedly will show in the coming days, is increasingly divided along partisan and geographic lines, with voting blocs espousing very different social values and agendas, and generally speaking, residents in the more affluent white suburbs and those in the minority-dominant urban core living in two different cities.

Whether Nirenberg can bring together these very different populations and continue to work effectively to close the equity gap in one of the most economically segregated cities remains to be seen. Finding ways to accelerate the construction of badly needed affordable housing, and ways to help an underfunded VIA Metropolitan Transit are key to demonstrating the ability to manage the city’s rapid growth and rising cost of living.

Nirenberg will be helped considerably by the makeup of the new City Council, with three new members and, for the second time ever, a female majority. Nirenberg will no longer be faced with a vocal antagonist bent on deterring his agenda and challenging his leadership.

Should Brockhouse decide to pursue politics or public office in the future, he inevitably will have to do more than stonewall the media and public on credible charges of domestic abuse leveled against him by a former wife and his current wife.

Nirenberg seems happier governing than campaigning. Starting Sunday, he can stop being a candidate and return to being mayor.

17 thoughts on “For Nirenberg, a Thin Victory and Challenging Second Term

  1. Grateful Nirenberg won. I do hope the mayor, city council, and city staff make it a top priority to resolve the contractual issues with the firefighters. The lack of resolution on that issue seems to threaten the peace and stability of our local politics.

  2. How long before Mr. Brockhouse is hired by the firefighters Union to negotiate on the city contract? I sure hope they do not.
    Thanks to Mr. Rivard and his staff for good, fair, honest reporting on this less than desirable election campaign in 2019.
    I hope future elections are more centered on policy and plans for all the city.

    • I hope the firefighters Union find another negotiator too. How can anyone, including firefighters trust Brockhouse now? His stint as a city councilman consisted of taking potshots at others, & belittling the entire process of government. He doesn’t play well with others….He’s a bully. He never came clean about his domestic abuse issues, or fully addressed his failure to pay child support for 10 years. Fundamentally, he’s too divisive & he’s not trustworthy…not for mayor…and not for firefighters. Perhaps he’ll use his newly acquired free time to seek the therapy he so desperately needs. And I’d throw my support for him in that effort.

  3. Bob, thanks for telling us what percentage of eligible voters voted in the election. That to me is more of the story than who won. Why did only 16% vote in the election? I suspect it is because few know of what the major issues are facing the city and fewer care. I challenge the RR to write stories about the top 10 issues the mayor and city council believe are important to address and then periodically report on how the mayor and council are doing toward meeting those challenges.
    Regarding your statement: “Should Brockhouse decide to pursue politics or public office in the future, he inevitably will have to do more than stonewall the media and public on credible charges of domestic abuse leveled against him by a former wife and his current wife.” I find it quite a strong parting shot at a defeated candidate. Was it necessary?
    One last comment. You are normally the king of generating comments from readers with your commentaries. However, today it looks like Iris defeated you!

  4. We have an amazing city and as community leaders we will continue to work with our Mayor and City Council to make sure it continues thriving! All we have is love for our Mayor RON! If we work together we cannot fail!

  5. And I would challenge you to take it several steps further and list all the city non-profits, alphabet groups created, task forces, working groups,etc. with their members’ bio, budget, expenses, proposed policies and costs (inc where the $ came from), awarded contracts, and brief article on minutes of their meetings including: who was in attendance (and their bio if not a member), polices/decisions voted on, cost of policies, accounting on progress on initiatives including cost (and source of funding). There are so many of these groups who are making. and enacting policy that is not presented fully to the public. Could you start with just a list of all these groups, their mandate, the members with their bio and what the current status is of their mandate? Thanks.

  6. This election wasn’t a mandate for Ron as it was a repudiation of Brockhouse. Too bad electorate got duped on Prop 3 last year.

    • A repudiation? RN won by less of a margin than he had in May to a not ideal candidate! A win is a win for sure, but a repudiation? The numbers aren’t even close to that. The win was so narrow it actually should serve as a warning…esp when you will need bond votes to accomplish anything…

  7. I think Ron stated “I have been through a 15 round fight and I have learned a lot. The most important is to bring our community together.” I’m paraphrasing a bit here. But, hopefully, lesson learned. Let’s heal, compromise, and get back work making San Antonio the best community for all of us.

  8. I hope you are correct…SA has not been a city for all of us for quite some time—unless you are in some way connected to city insiders it will be business as usual.

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