Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Mayor Ivy Taylor was surprised to find herself the subject of video that went viral this week. Local and national media outlets picked up on a weeks-old clip of Taylor’s answer to a question about the causes of poverty during an April 3 mayoral candidates forum.
“To me, it’s broken people … people not being in a relationship with their Creator, and therefore not being in a good relationship with their families and their communities … and not being productive members of society.
“I think that’s the ultimate answer. [But] that’s not something that I work on from my position as mayor of the community.”
A clip of her answer was uploaded to YouTube six days ago by user “Juan Doe” but cut off the rest of her response, which addressed public policy. In her further comments, Taylor said that improving access to education and reducing teen pregnancy are critical pieces to ending systemic poverty.
In her re-election bid, Taylor faces 13 opponents on the May 6 general and bond election ballot, and she told the Rivard Report on Wednesday that she suspects that someone associated with one of those campaigns uploaded and edited the video.
The Huffington Post, now HuffPost, published a story Monday with the headline “San Antonio Mayor Suggests ‘Broken People’ Without God Cause Poverty.“ The San Antonio Current published “Mayor Taylor Says Poverty is a Symptom of Atheism” (which has since been changed to “Godlessness”). WOAI-TV News 4 San Antonio ran with “Mayor Taylor links poverty to lack of faith in God.”
Twitter and Facebook featured a host of criticisms of Taylor’s remarks from community leaders and citizens.
San Antonio Mayor attributes systemic poverty to lack of belief in God. This is deeply problematic.https://t.co/CyNHuhd5mn
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) April 24, 2017
Vicki Gettman, executive director of South Texas Atheists for Reason (STAR), wrote an open letter to Taylor. “Far from being ‘broken people’ who are not ‘productive members of society,’ STAR is a thriving group dedicated to learning, service and community,” Gettman stated.
“I didn’t say anything about people believing in God,” Taylor told the Rivard Report on Wednesday, later adding, “I never said anything about atheists.”
It all started with a question asked by San Antonio Christian Hope Resource Center Executive Director Megan Legacy at a mayoral forum focusing on the nonprofit community and its impact on San Antonio. The event was live-streamed by NOWCastSA.
The candidates’ answers can be viewed starting at 1:07:45 in the video below.
“What do you see as the deepest, systemic causes of generational poverty in San Antonio?” Legacy asked Taylor and Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8).
Taylor and Nirenberg both chuckled at the notion that mayoral candidates like themselves – or anyone for that matter – could address such a complex issue in two minutes or less. Nearly 15% of San Antonio residents live in poverty.
“The way the question was framed … lent itself for a more personal answer,” said Taylor, a devout Baptist.
The first part of her answer was her personal opinion, she said.
“I wasn’t talking as a policy wonk,” she said. “… I was really trying to express that I felt that some of the deep causes [of poverty] have to do with people being in pain … broken-hearted, people being disconnected. [Faith] is a place of healing that allows you to build.”
Neither Taylor nor Nirenberg’s response, which was that improved growth management and civic engagement could help mitigate poverty, incited a critical reaction from the crowd.
“It’s a question you could probably spend a week unpacking,” Legacy told the Rivard Report on Tuesday.
In the world of helping people overcome poverty, she said, “brokenness” is a term used to describe all sorts of problems people face, including and outside of crisis of faith: intellectual poverty, economic, health, and safety poverty.
Systems and infrastructure can also be “broken,” Legacy added. “The problem is … it’s not a technical or policy term and doesn’t translate very well in a forum like that. It was a subjective and easily misunderstood term in the context of this topic. We all have ‘brokenness.’ No one’s life is perfect – poor or rich.”
Both candidates seemed to understand that public, private, and nonprofit support of a variety of initiatives is key, she said. “There is no silver bullet.”
“‘Broken’ was probably the wrong word to use,” Legacy said, adding that it was taken out of context.
“I don’t think it was [taken out of context],” said Simran Jeet Singh, an assistant professor of religion at Trinity University.
“I understand how someone could have trouble in answering that question,” he said, “but at the same time it is revealing that in a moment of searching for the answer, the mayor tapped into something within her own personal worldview that reflects something that’s pretty disappointing … to look down on people just because of their worldview or religious perspectives.”
The points Taylor made about education as the great equalizer and the importance of preventing teen pregnancy were “quite good,” said Singh, who is a member of the Sikh religion, and demonstrate that she understands part of the problem.
“But for those of us who belong to minority religions and ethnic backgrounds, we’ve lived in this country long enough to know that many of our political leaders have problematic religious and political convictions that are exclusivist and denigrating in nature.”
The nonprofits and faith-based organizations that try to address the root causes, he said, “have more reason to be offended by this. … Her comments essentially, unintentionally, illustrate that she doesn’t understand the type of work that we’re doing and the type of work that needs to be done.”
Nirenberg did not bring up religion or faith in his answer at the forum. He declined to comment on Taylor’s comments.
Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina, another frontrunner for mayor who did not attend the forum, emailed the Rivard Report this statement: “Veterans, Seniors and families in San Antonio live in poverty, but they are not ‘broken people.’ The Mayor’s comments on the plight of the poor do not represent our Christian values. She should apologize.”
Taylor did not.
“The role that faith plays in my life is very important, it provides a moral foundation, a basis, a lens for the way in which I see the world,” she said. “I don’t think it makes sense for anyone to separate from that. … But I also realize I have a responsibility to represent a diverse community.”
As a City Council member in 2013, Taylor voted against expanding the City’s non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. She cited her Christian faith and conscience as reasons for her vote.
“I’m happy that so many people are talking about poverty and seeing it as something we can tackle,” Taylor said. “For a long time, people have just thrown up their hands and just assumed nothing can be done.”
Beyond education and teen pregnancy initiatives, Taylor brought the Obama Administration’s My Brother’s Keeper to San Antonio, supported the “ban the box” ordinance for City job applicants that does not require disclosure of criminal history, and has been a “wonderful partner” with the faith-based organizations and others to reduce crime and recidivism, said Rev. Michael Laney, dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at Our Lady of the Lake University.
“Day care and food assistance and paying a living minimum wage … all of these things are part of the conversation,” Laney said. “It does require us to be compassionate.”
Taylor’s comments were made to an audience of nonprofits, many of them related to the churches in some way, he said, so that could be part of the controversy that ensued.
“If you just take the sound bite and you don’t understand the context, it’s easy to find miscommunication,” Laney said. “You can take something that the Pope said and take it out of context.
“What’s important is what her audience thinks.”