Citing what he called the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s “bad decision” not to lobby for the city to bid to host the Republican National Convention, a prominent hotelier has resigned from the chamber’s board.
Henry Feldman, who owns a La Quinta Inn & Suites Medical Center and is a past chairman of several tourism- and industry-focused organizations in San Antonio, sent an email Saturday to San Antonio Chamber CEO and President Richard Perez in which he cited the chamber’s absence from the debate over whether the city should pursue a bid to host the 2020 GOP convention.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced Thursday that the city would not bid to host the convention after he and the Council discussed the economic pros and cons of seeking the bid during a closed-to-the-public executive session.
“It was clearly a bad decision,” Feldman said, “to walk away from this huge economic benefit for the city of San Antonio.”
Feldman said that he did not know of any other board members or Chamber members who are taking a similar stand, but there were “so many who felt as strongly as I did,” he said.
“This was a personal decision I made,” he said. “I just believe the chamber’s responsibility is to support the philosophies of the business community and economic development – not to be involved in a political way, but solely for the economic benefit of the community.”
Feldman has chaired such organizations as the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association, the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, and Visit San Antonio – formerly the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In an email exchange with Perez, a copy of which was obtained by the Rivard Report, Feldman underscored his wish that the chamber include the hospitality industry in its advocacy for the business community.
“We have fought many battles together and knowing you were with us gave us comfort and resolve,” Perez replied. “We accept your reasoning and will miss your counsel.”
Perez said Monday he was disappointed but that he understood Feldman’s reasoning for resigning from the board.
Before deciding not to lobby City Council to bid for the GOP convention hosting rights, Perez consulted with the chamber’s so-called tri-chairs, chairman Shaun Kennedy, immediate past chairman Rad Weaver, and the chair-elect Paula Gold-Williams. Perez didn’t, however, seek the counsel of his 100-plus-member board. He said he hasn’t heard any other board members bemoan the chamber’s neutrality on the issue.
While the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was also among the chambers who declined to take a position on the issue, the South San Antonio and North San Antonio chambers of commerce both urged the City Council to bid for the hosting rights.
Perez said he understands the disappointment felt in the local tourism and hospitality industry, but that the chamber must focus on the needs of all of its 2,100 members.
“We’ll move on,” Perez said. “There’s a ton of things coming down the way. The sour taste will eventually go away, and we will move on as a community.”
But others say the bitter taste will remain unless the City Council becomes more responsive to the will of the business community.
Eddie Aldrete, one of 14 business community leaders to sign a letter urging the Council to pursue a convention bid, said this is the third Council decision that has exasperated many in the business community. Aldrete cited a proposed labor peace agreement that would have allowed unionizing efforts among concessionaires at the San Antonio International Airport, a proposal that was dropped, and the Tobacco 21 ordinance that will raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes in the city and criticized for disproportionately affecting small business owners.
“There continues to be growing frustration with the direction of this Council,” Aldrete said. “There have been several issues that have not been in the best interest of the business community. It is the business community and private sector that creates jobs. Every time you throw a roadblock in front of a company or you prevent a company from economic prosperity, you have a negative impact on job creation.”
Feldman said he retains his San Antonio Chamber membership and will continue to be an active voice in the local hospitality and tourism sector.
“I will continue to support the business community,” he said. “I’ve not given up on San Antonio by any means.”