Infecting San Antonio With the Washington Twitter Virus

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Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20)

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro's tweet called out San Antonio's 44 leading donors to President Donald Trump.

Count me among those who cringed after reading U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro’s tweet calling out San Antonio’s 44 leading donors to President Donald Trump. The tweet, presumably intended to help the Democratic presidential primary ambitions of twin brother Julián, injected a megadose of national partisan vitriol into the local community.

It also accomplished what Trump, the Castros, and so many others in the political arena covet the most: the nation’s notoriously short attention span, which these days is most responsive to whoever is the loudest, the most outrageous, the most in-your-face.

Nothing about my criticism of Castro’s tweet diminishes the horror of what happened in El Paso or how Trump has stoked racist fears and xenophobia, particularly against Mexicans, since the day he announced his own candidacy in 2016.

Congressman Castro has every right to use social media to attack political adversaries. Such speech is protected by the First Amendment, and no one engages in such divisive attacks more than Trump.

And contrary to the hypocritical responses of various elected Republicans, Castro did nothing to endanger the lives or well-being of local Trump donors. If he did, then Trump himself has put in danger the lives of dozens of individuals with his countless hateful tweets without drawing the same criticism from his party’s enablers.

But the Castro tweet unnecessarily divides San Antonio in ways that benefit no one. Anything we do to keep bitter partisan politics out of community life serves everyone’s interests. While we are somewhat powerless to influence events at the national and state level, we accomplish more locally by focusing on what unites us rather than divides us.

Money fuels politics, unfortunately, and people have the right to support whichever party and candidate they choose. Many wealthy and powerful individuals, and business leaders give to both parties, knowing that such support affords them access and consideration they can’t afford to forgo. I don’t like the system, particularly after Citizens United v. FEC, but it is the law of the land.

Here is what I object to most about Castro’s tweet. He offered a distorted, one-dimensional picture of some of San Antonio’s leading citizens and most generous benefactors. We would be a much poorer city without the generosity and community spirit of several of the people Castro targeted in his tweet.

Bill Greehey, the founding CEO of Valero and founding chairman of NuStar Energy, has had more to do with building the city’s energy economy over the last four decades than anyone else. There would be no Valero Texas Open, which has generated more than $138 million in charitable donations, without him. He inspired San Antonio to conceive and build Haven for Hope, and has put tens of millions of dollars of his own fortune behind that vision. Another transformative gift led to the establishment of the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute at UT Health San Antonio. I could go on.

Kit Goldsbury is a private man, someone whose idea of a good news story is one that doesn’t include him. Yet Goldsbury, who became a billionaire with the sale of Pace Foods and its popular picante sauce to the Campbell Soup Co. in 1995, has done as much to change and advance San Antonio as anyone who is alive today.

Goldsbury purchased the defunct Pearl Brewery, a blighted industrial wasteland on the San Antonio River, in 2001 and transformed it into one of the country’s most recognized adaptive reuse projects. A lot of smart people advised Goldsbury not to do it, but he did and the Pearl became the catalyst for San Antonio’s “Decade of Downtown” redevelopment.

The Culinary Institute of America at Pearl.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Culinary Institute of America at Pearl.

Without it, there would be no Culinary Institute of America campus here, which is graduating waves of young Latino chefs, many of them beneficiaries of Goldsbury scholarships who are helping drive San Antonio’s growing reputation as a culinary destination.

Greg Kowalski is not exactly a household name, but his mother, Rosemary, is one of the city’s living icons, a pioneer woman in business and community. Even into her 90s, Rosemary Kowalski regularly attends public events where she is showered with love and appreciation.

Greg also is a private person, focusing his energy on the RK Group, the catering company he has turned into a national powerhouse. The company’s pending move to the former Red Berry Estate anchors a larger, $61 million investment on the city’s long-neglected East Side.

And then there is Ed Kelley, the former president of USAA Real Estate and a trustee of CPS Energy. He has been one of the most-in-demand nonprofit board members in the city in recent decades. His fingerprints, his leadership, and his own generosity are everywhere.

Kelley, like some but not most of those mentioned in Castro’s tweets, is a Rivard Report reader and donor. 

The conservative newspaper Washington Examiner published an article Wednesday noting that several of the Trump donors singled out by Castro also had donated to him or to his brother Julián Castro who served as San Antonio’s mayor from 2009-14.

The Castro tweet, like Trump’s near-daily diet of tweets, has left a bad taste in the mouth of many locals, while others regard it as fair payback for their support of a highly controversial president. Is that how we want our city defined?

This takes away nothing from the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, and the growing number of mass shootings that have preceded it. It should be obvious to everyone by now that negligent elected leaders must gather their courage and find ways to keep weapons designed for war out of the hands of angry, unstable people.

Meanwhile, life amid our neighbors, here and everywhere, has become less certain, thanks to the toxic state of national politics, the depressing regularity of mass shootings, and the inevitable social media aftermath. 

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