Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
With eight candidates on the District 2 ballot for the May 4 City Council election, a runoff is likely for the right to represent a district that has seen considerable turnover in representation in the last five years.
After less than two years on the job, former Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw resigned from the seat in December to accept a judicial position. In January, Art Hall was appointed as the interim representative by City Council members to in January and is not running for the permanent position, leaving the field without an incumbent to challenge.
Since Ivy Taylor left the seat in 2014 to serve as interim mayor, District 2 has had four representatives on City Council, both interim and elected.
In this election, three candidates seem to have gained some community support: Keith Toney, who served as an interim councilman in 2014; Jada Andrews-Sullivan, who sought the interim seat earlier this year; and Denise Gutierrez-Homer, an artist and community organizer in Government Hill. However, with such a wide field, there could be surprises.
Toney, 67, is running on the basis of his experience in City Hall and enjoys substantial name recognition in the political and business communities. Andrews-Sullivan enjoys considerable community backing despite being a political newcomer, and Denise Gutierrez-Homer became frustrated with the Government Hill Neighborhood Association’s support of development projects and formed a new group, Government Hill United.
Also on the ballot is Joseph Powell, a self-described “protest candidate;” Richard Anthony Ramey, a graduate student studying counseling; Salena Santibanez Guipzot, who owns a construction consulting company and a drywall business; Walter E. Perry Sr., who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in marketing; and Ruben Arciniega, a program coordinator at the UTSA. None of the candidates except Toney have experience in political office, and he did not win election after his interim appointment.
The near East Side neighborhoods of Government Hill, Dignowity Hill, and Denver Heights are undergoing substantial changes demographically and physically, with new homes and apartment complexes being added and historic homes being renovated. Gentrification is often mentioned among District 2’s major concerns, along with crime, street infrastructure, and jobs.
At a recent candidate forum at St. Philip’s College, the candidates were asked about their positions on the residential development slated for land next to the Hays Street Bridge. Andrews-Sullivan was the only candidate who suggested a compromise: to “work with the developer and the community” to try to find a path forward. Her response was met with some hisses from the audience.
The other candidates voiced support for having City attorneys drop legal challenges to the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group’s lawsuit against the City and turn the land into a park. Andrews-Sullivan has received campaign support from the developer of the controversial project, Mitch Meyer.
The issue has divided the community for long enough, Andrews-Sullivan, 43, told the Rivard Report last week. “How can we … rebuild trust in the community?”
She said she has talked to Meyer and Hall and a compromise is close. “It’s not about me,” she said. “It’s truly about bringing back that unity and inclusiveness … to give us the harmony that we need [on the East Side] and [throughout] the whole city.”
Toney served on City Council when it conveyed the land to Alamo Beer Company, which later deeded the land to Meyer when the brewery decided not to expand toward the bridge.
Gutierrez-Homer points to this as evidence that Toney “sold out the East Side.” She said the land should become, as requested by the restoration group, a public park and that the land sale was the result of “back-room deals” between developers and politicians.
In a video on her Facebook page, she says Toney “sold” the Hays Street Bridge. However, the vote was a procedural one on an updated contract and did not pertain to the bridge or the land sale, which had occurred in 2012.
“I was voting in favor of the brewery,” said Toney, who stands by his 2014 vote. “The project was great for District 2, especially because [the owner, Eugene Simor] was going to hire locally.”
At the time, Council was not aware of future plans to develop an apartment building, Toney said. “I was misled. I never wanted anything there that would obscure the view [of the bridge].”
Several City Council members and the Mayor have said they want to back away from the lawsuit to find some kind of resolution.
District 2, which stretches to just north of the City of Windcrest and as as far east as the City of Converse, is much more than the Hays Street Bridge and rapidly changing neighborhoods.
Toney’s top priority, if elected, is street and drainage infrastructure, he said. “That’s not very exotic, it’s not very sexy … but the infrastructure in D2 is abysmal.”
He also wants to see a bigger emphasis on job training and supporting small businesses.
He did not seek the interim District 2 spot this time, but supported former firefighter Dereck Hillyer’s bid for the interim seat. Hillyer was not selected as a finalist and later removed his name from the May ballot after his record as a firefighter came under scrutiny. The coalition of faith and community leaders, including some from the Government Hill Neighborhood Association, that backed Hillyer is now largely supporting Toney.
“My getting into the race was not contingent on him dropping out,” Toney said, adding that he was asked by several members of the community to run again for the seat. “When trust is placed in you like that you have to honor it.”
Toney, who is a retired federal employee, dropped out of the 2017 Council race amid allegations that he sought payment from Shaw to do so. He then backed incumbent Alan Warrick, who lost to Shaw after being found unconscious on a bench at City Hall after a night of drinking.
Andrews-Sullivan lists small business support, crime, and economic development among her top priorities. She is a disabled U.S. Army veteran and motivational speaker.
She, too, was told by friends and acquaintances that she should run for office. “When other people see the potential in you, you answer the call,” she said.
Her work on the MLK Commission and at Goodwill Services gave her the experience she needs working with people to accomplish goals, she said.
Gutierrez-Homer, 55, said she is running after becoming frustrated with City Council decisions – from allowing “inappropriate” development, to the Alamo Master Plan, to the removal of Chick-fil-A from an airport concessions contract.
“I can’t turn my back,” said Gutierrez-Homer, who holds a degree in political science, runs her own business, and is involved in the arts.
“I am not against development. We need responsible development,” she said, and she will “speak in English and Spanish” to make sure the community is better informed about development plans.
Powell, 32, wants to abolish residential property taxes and thinks “capitalism is an abject failure,” he said a candidate forum. He also said he expects to lose the race.
His main concern is climate change and that the City – the country – isn’t doing enough to combat it. He is supportive of the draft Climate Action Plan that calls for San Antonio to be carbon-neutral by 2050, but thinks it could be more aggressive. He did not respond to a request for an interview.
Ramey, 31, is also concerned about crime and thinks there should be a bigger police presence in the district. He admits he’s young and politically inexperienced, but confident that could make District 2 a better place. A high school dropout, he later graduated from Texas A&M-San Antonio with a degree in sociology and is working on a masters in counseling from the local university.
He’s running on a platform of community input. “My agenda is their agenda.”
Salena Santibañez-Guipzot, 35, is president and CEO of GPS Consulting and a graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Latina Leadership Institute. She established the nonprofit Boardroom Project to help girls and women get the skills they need for corporate board positions.
To her, homelessness is a personal issue because she grew up on the streets in 11 different states, she said. She said she was homeless “not just like one day or a month – I mean chronically [homeless].”
“Too many people are not fortunate enough to come out of [homelesssness] and not be overwhelmed,” said Santibañez-Guipzot, who serves on the board for the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless.
Public safety is another priority, she said, especially for cyclists and pedestrians.
She worked on the Eastside Promise Zone’s safety committee and was able to gain critical experience working to fix sidewalks and vacant homes, she said.
“The people in the community already know me and the work I’ve done,” she said.
Perry, 43, used to work for San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside. That experience led him to see how the system of development – commercial and residential – works and doesn’t work in San Antonio, he said.
He sees the Promise Zone investments in infrastructure and housing as positive, but too narrow, he said.
As neighborhood associations develop factions and divide, Perry says he wants to bring them back together.
“They’re not united,” he said. “My job at Council will be to go to these neighborhood associations [and other groups] and try to fix those relationships.”
As a young man, Perry was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and spent more than seven years in jail. When people ask him about his criminal background, he said, he explains that “everyone deserves a second chance.”
“I’m 43 years old. I was 17 [when that happened],” he said. “I was with the wrong people at the wrong time. … I’ve learned my lesson from that and I’ve moved on.”
Arciniega, 38, is a program coordinator for UTSA’s college of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He said it’s been difficult for him to campaign and maintain his full-time job, but he would be willing to leave his job to represent District 2 full time.
“We felt it was an obligation to the community [to run] because of all the instability,” said Arciniega, noting that the last two council members served only one term each.
When it comes to getting District 2 more resources to combat crime and create better opportunities for residents, he said getting to know his colleagues on the dais would be critical.
“You have to the the community and City Council behind you,” to get things done, he said.