Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Two Democratic primary challengers on Tuesday night said it is time for a change in leadership in Bexar County's Precinct 2, where incumbent Paul Elizondo seeks to claim a 10th term in the office he has held for nearly 32 years.
Ahead of the March 16 primary, Elizondo and his challengers Mario Bravo and Queta Rodriguez debated how to best represent the Westside precinct, each answering six moderated questions, including why they are Democrats.
Neither Bravo nor Rodriguez have held elected office before.
Rodriguez, 47, is Bexar County's veterans service officer and a Marine veteran. She said was born and raised a Democrat in "the poorest zip code in the city," which fueled her motivation to strive for equitable opportunity through economic development in her precinct.
"I was out serving my country for the last 20 years," she said. "But I returned, and unfortunately we still have the same level of poverty in the near-Westside as we had when I left."
Rodriguez, who has been with the County for more than four years, said she would seek to implement innovative ideas such as community schools.
Bravo, 42, is an outreach specialist for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund and a self-described progressive Democrat. He emphasized the importance of governing with community health in mind. Having earned a master's degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, he said he would use that knowledge to change poor health outcomes through policy.
"Our biggest challenge to improving the health of Bexar County is our economic inequality," Bravo said. "We need to go into these low-income zip codes and help people have every opportunity to meet their basic needs."
Despite their differences, the two challengers were unified in advocating for new leadership for Precinct 2.
Elizondo proudly referred to his 32-year tenure throughout the night, touting his accomplishments and influence, such as his namesake 10-story Paul Elizondo tower, located down the street from the debate's locale, the Cadillac Bar.
"I welcome everyone to look at my record," said Elizondo, who is 82. "I've done the work, I've walked the walk. I've done the things – and that is deeds, not words."
He portrayed himself as a successful Democrat, saying he'd appointed Democratic judges, networked with former Democratic presidents, helped increase the minimum wage at the County, and effectively redistricted Precinct 2 to solidify it as a Democratic stronghold. Elizondo is a Marine veteran, former educator, and a former state representative, all of which he pointed to as examples of being a lifetime public servant.
If re-elected, Elizondo said he wants to continue working toward the proposed $390 million Women and Children's Tower addition to University Hospital.
Two GOP candidates, Ismael Garcia and Theresa Connolly, will join the three Democrats in the primary, according to the Bexar County Republican Party's website. Of the two, only Garcia has filed a campaign finance report.
Moderator and Bexar County Democratic Chairman Manuel Medina, who ran for mayor in 2017, questioned candidates on subjects ranging from campaign priorities to generational poverty on the Westside to transportation, public health, and veterans.
All three stated support for multimodal transportation options, but agreed on little more than that.
After needling Elizondo for failing to answer a question about how he would improve Bexar County's veterans services, Rodriguez touted her track record of supporting veterans by partnering with County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) and fighting for her Veteran Services budget, determined by the Commissioners Court.
Both Rodriguez and Bravo pointed to institutional norms that they felt kept Elizondo in office for too long. Rodriguez said a lack of term limits had created similar problems with career politicians in Washington.
"No public office should be for life," she said. "There's a reason that we have term limits."
Bravo said he would seek to institute term and campaign contribution limits if elected, adding that commissioners receive too much in campaign contributions, many of them up to $5,000.
"I don't want big money influencing our Commissioners Court," Bravo said. "...It's good to have experience and to carry on institutional knowledge. But when you're there too long, you start to develop better relationships with the donors and [lose] touch with your community."
Bravo said he would work to reduce generational poverty by increasing homeownership in the precinct, if elected. He specifically pointed to criticism Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) cast against fellow commissioners Tuesday. Calvert's letter said a proposed County incentive program would continue to encourage development unaffordable to working taxpayer families throughout the County.
Through the sustained criticism, Elizondo maintained a firm resolve that he had the energy and drive necessary to continue his work with the County.
"If you want to know who the leader is on the Court, ask Nelson Wolff, ask Chico Rodriguez, ask Kevin Wolff," Elizondo said.
"I'm a Democrat for life."