Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Councilman Greg Brockhouse has officially thrown his hat into the mayoral ring.
The first-term District 6 representative ended a year of speculation at a campaign event Saturday at a Westside record shop when he publicly announced he will give up his Council seat to challenge Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
“We’re stuck and we’re running in place,” he said during his campaign announcement on Old Highway 90. “We’re in neutral at City Hall. … [Nirenberg’s] time is up.”
“I accomplished everything I wanted to do [in District 6] in my first term up to and including changing the city manager,” he told the Rivard Report.
The “City you deserve” is Nirenberg’s slogan, he said this week, but San Antonio “needs to ask itself is this the direction that we want to go?” Instead, we should work to “maintain who we are as a city,” he said.
At Saturday’s announcement, Brockhouse outlined three things he would improve if elected mayor: economic opportunity, transparency, and public safety.
There will be “no more backroom deals” while he’s mayor, he told the crowd, and police officers and firefighters won’t have to worry about if they have a labor contract.
The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association provided several tents for his event to serve food and coffee to the nearly 100 attendees. Union officials said it has not officially endorsed Brockhouse.
Brockhouse, a 46-year-old former political consultant and Air Force veteran, likely will be Nirenberg’s biggest competition on the May 4 ballot. As of Saturday afternoon, five other lesser-known candidates had registered.
Brockhouse has asserted himself as the contrarian’s voice on a largely progressive City Council. While local municipal elections are technically nonpartisan, Nirenberg and Brockhouse generally follow liberal and conservative lines, respectively.
They’ve often taken opposite sides on votes and issues since Brockhouse was elected in 2017, but their most notable clashes have surrounded the November ballot propositions aimed at challenging City Council authority, the city manager’s position, and the City’s handling of firefighter union negotiations. All were supported by Brockhouse, who used to work for the police and fire unions as a political consultant.
During Nirenberg’s first term as mayor, the City initiated several task forces, committees, and plans to address such topics as affordable housing, climate change, transportation, and airport expansion. Such initiatives have received praise from business and community leaders as an effort on Nirenberg’s part to include diverse community voices, but Brockhouse has been one of the most vocal critics of some of the costly recommendations that emerged, such as the 10-year, $3.9 billion affordable housing plan.
“That’s a lot of spending of other people’s money,” he told the Rivard Report, adding that the City needs to get “back to basics” with a focus on “public safety, neighborhoods, job creation, wages – [and other] garden-variety, one-on-one public services.”
“… At the end of the day, we lack the leadership,” Brockhouse said. “[Nirenberg] creates task forces because he has an inability to get the work done himself. … The No. 1 ‘task force’ that Ron forgets is the City Council – that’s the most important task force, yet he doesn’t include us in decisions.”
Brockhouse has launched beheardsa.com to collect feedback via a survey from residents across the city.
Brockhouse points to the decision not to pursue the Republican National Convention or Amazon’s second headquarters as the most significant examples of Nirenberg’s lack of communication with Council. That led to Brockhouse’s protest of City Council’s executive session process in which personnel, contracts, and other sensitive matters are discussed behind closed doors. He has attended only a handful of those private Council meetings since May last year because he believes some discussions – especially about whether to pursue multimillion-dollar contracts – should be held in the public eye.
Despite his criticism of some Council procedures, he has successfully brought resources to District 6 and championed other priorities such as funding for a City position to improve employment rates for military veterans and their spouses. But other efforts he spearheaded, such as requesting that city manager interviews be conducted in public – did not receive broad council support. Brockhouse and Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) often find themselves on the losing end of 9-2 Council votes.
“I wanted to shine a light on City Hall and I think I’ve done that,” Brockhouse told the Rivard Report, adding that he led efforts to improve the City’s open records request process. That initiative upgraded the document search process with digital technology in 2017.
While Brockhouse said he has known for some time that he’s running for mayor, the stress that a heated mayoral campaign could have on his family gave him pause.
Brockhouse has four children, each with different women; he has been divorced twice. He makes regular child support payments, he said, and is proud of his sons and daughters, including wife Annalisa’s son from a previous marriage.
“Some men take longer than others to learn what it means to be a man, a father, a husband, and a leader of a family and [understand] what matters most,” he said. “Faith was huge for me in getting there.”
“It’s not easy paying child support. It’s also not easy for the children,” he said. “I think it actually kind of gives me a little bit of insight into what it means to struggle. There have been times in my life when I had zero. … I’ve stood in that payday loan line because I knew I can’t make this payment. The shame of that, I know that. And I think that gives me a perspective to understand. I think I connect well with residents.
“It was tough, but I’ve got five great kids. Did my life choices make it tougher for them? Yeah, it did. But I don’t have regrets about it. I’d do it all over again. … If someone wants to make a point of it, bring it on.”
Brockhouse said Saturday that he had to ask his wife for permission to move forward with his bid for mayor because campaigns can take a toll on family time and become deeply personal. After the announcement, Annalisa Brockhouse told the Rivard Report that she and her family are fully prepared to make those sacrifices.
As a faith-based family, they will “remain respectful” in the face of any criticism, she said. “There’s no other way to respond.”
Brockhouse was born in Peoria, Illinois, while his parents were visiting his father’s family, but he grew up on San Antonio’s South Side, where his mother, of Mexican descent, grew up with nine brothers and sisters. Her family has been in San Antonio for multiple generations. Brockhouse said his grandfather was a Canary Islander.
After graduating from John Jay High School, Brockhouse followed his father’s footsteps and joined the U.S. Air Force, primarily working on missile maintenance. His main assignment was in Montana, but he later worked at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He left the military in 1999, after earning a bachelors of applied arts and sciences from Southwest Texas State University and a public manager certification.
He told the Rivard Report that he worked in management at H-E-B, found “it just wasn’t my thing,” then started work in mortgage lending. He worked for World Savings Bank until the housing loan crash in 2008. But he received a “heck of a severance package,” he said, and was able to do volunteer work until figuring out his next career move.
“Probably the one decision I regret from a professional perspective was jumping [out of the military] when I did,” he said. “I just wanted to make more money.”
A ‘random opportunity’
Brockhouse was volunteering at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower when he met and started working for then-Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros in 2009. That led to work as a political consultant for other local campaigns, and eventually he joined the campaign of underdog candidate Rey Saldaña in District 4. Brockhouse briefly served as his chief of staff when Saldaña took office in 2011.
“I kinda always wanted to run for office. I was very interested in public service,” Brockhouse said. “Life and military and family [got in the way] – I kinda kept putting it off. But me getting laid off from the bank was like a God-given epiphany of a gift. … It was a random opportunity that wouldn’t have produced itself if I didn’t get laid off.”
In 2013, Brockhouse ran against incumbent Councilman Ray Lopez and lost, but he gained experience, name recognition, and a connection to public safety unions that would end up shaping San Antonio’s political landscape for years to come.
“I met with [police and fire union leaders] in 2013 for their endorsements … and I didn’t get endorsed. They liked Ray,” Brockhouse said with a laugh. “We just kinda hit it off. That was it. And I told them I could help them in other areas and they said, hey, we think you can help us, and it just took off from there.”
Brockhouse worked for the firefighters union’s anti-streetcar coalition in 2014, an effort that led to a charter amendment requiring a public vote on street- or light-rail projects. He worked against the Council pay charter amendment and a San Antonio Water System rate hike related to the Vista Ridge water pipeline. Brockhouse also worked for the police union during its contentious labor contract negotiations with the City. The police got a deal in 2016, but the firefighters have gone more than four years without a pay increase as negotiations have begun just this month.
Because of Brockhouse’s close dealings with the fire union and a leaked recording in which the union president said Brockhouse was “our guy” and headed towards the mayor’s seat, some political observers worry Brockhouse, if elected mayor, might help usher in a labor contract that’s good for the firefighters but not necessarily in the best interest of the city.
“If I did that … the public would know the instant I did it and I’d be out of office in the next election,” he told the Rivard Report. “If I gave them the farm, I’d be out of a job. The citizens don’t want me to give them the farm as the mayor. What they want is a good contract that takes care of [firefighters], pays them well,” and is fair to the taxpayer.
A ‘strong mayor’ in waiting?
The union-backed propositions, two of which passed, were largely seen as a political win for the union. And the retirement of City Manager Sheryl Sculley furthered that perception.
Brockhouse was never shy in criticizing Sculley and often called for her resignation. He contended Sculley had amassed too much power in her 13 years as city manager and suggested moving away from the council-manager form of municipal government and into a mayor-council system, which would put more power – and day-to-day responsibility – in the hands of elected officials.
However, with Sculley’s impending retirement and Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh assuming the city manager role on March 1, Brockhouse has backed off his procedural criticisms for now.
“I still think there’s a lot of value in [changing to a strong mayor form of government], but let’s reserve judgment and see how [Walsh] does,” he said. “If he’s able to right the city power structure, I think what we then look at is: where is some consolidation [possible], where can we save more money?”
“Let’s see how we transition out of [the Sculley era],” he said. “Was it really just Sheryl Sculley that was bad about the position or is it the position itself?”
Of course, if he loses, he’ll have no platform to have a say in any of this.
A proud Catholic
Brockhouse’s path to this campaign was no coincidence, he said. Although he was raised as a Lutheran, he converted to Catholicism soon after he lost his banking job and went through his second divorce.
“I lost everything. … Usually that’s when you find [religion],” he said. “I had an epiphany with the Lord.”
His faith leads him to take strong stances on caring for the homeless population, he said. “I’m just proud of the fact that I’m Catholic and I think it helps me be a better policymaker,” he said.
The Catholic Church does not support same-sex marriage and he follows the church, he said. But that doesn’t mean he can’t support “equity and fairness.”
He said he would not support repealing a section of the City’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification. “Why fight a law that says we shouldn’t discriminate against a human being?” he said. “… I’m anxious for people to know that I’m far more inclusive, I think, than people have ever given me credit for.”
Abortion is where he, and the Church, draw a firm line.
“I’m pro-life. I make no concession,” Brockhouse said, adding that he won’t preach from the dais. While abortion laws are not in a municipal government’s purview, City Council does control zoning rules, which can impact where clinics that perform abortions can be located. He would vote against abortion whenever possible, he said.
“I’m not going to be party to it under any circumstance,” he said. “There are some things I won’t vote on and sell my soul on.”
A calculated risk
Brockhouse knows that running for mayor puts his political clout in jeopardy, but he’s willing to run the risk.
“If they choose Ron’s path, so be it,” said Brockhouse, who thinks he’s leaving District 6 in a good place. “It’s not the end of my life. … If I lose, I go back to my family and get back to making money again and raise my last boy at home, and we’re going to have a good time.”
He did say Saturday that, win or lose, “I will miss my [District 6] seat dearly because I love and fought for that seat for four years.”
He told the Rivard Report this week that he thinks the fact that Nirenberg isn’t a native San Antonian – though he’s lived in the city for 17 years – should work in his favor.
“I don’t think it’s a negative that Ron’s not from here, I think it’s a positive for me,” Brockhouse said. “It just makes me better qualified.”