Mayor Ivy Taylor has delivered keynote speeches in front of hundreds of citizens, business leaders, and dignitaries before but on Wednesday morning, she sat down before a smaller audience of almost 20 people.
The backyard cottage of The Workery, a co-working compound just north of downtown San Antonio in the Tobin Hill neighborhood that opened its doors to members this week, was a cozy venue for the intimate conversation with Taylor.
"The election was the hardest thing I’ve ever done besides giving birth,” she said laughing. Becoming an elected official – let alone the first elected African-American and second female mayor of San Antonio – was not part of her original plan. "But I found that in order to do the things that were important for me ... I was going to have to also do the things that I don’t like — campaigning and asking people for money.”
Her laughter came easily as she was interviewed by The Workery co-founder Mari Aguirre-Rodriguez. The interview felt more like an inviting, casual conversation between two friends; the two women have known each other for about 10 years after all. They talked about the challenges Taylor faced during a runoff election, dealing with criticism, her priorities as mayor in 2016, and the seemingly constant struggle many elected officials have – both men and women – with balancing their public and private lives and responsibilities.
By the end of the runoff election, Taylor and her opponent former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, were barely shaking hands. Both of their families were drug into the spotlight, especially Taylor's husband, Rodney, when their bail bonds business on the Eastside was the site of a shooting.
The process of deciding to to run for mayor, after previously stated she would not, was also one of the most uncomfortable periods in her career, she said.
People had encouraged her to run, others saw the plan-change as deceptive, but what really struck her was that some people, and some media, stopped treating her as a human being.
“(People didn't get to see) the real, human side of me – as a person in a moment having to make a decision,” she said.
Elected officials, mayors especially, have to develop thick skin because there will always be a constituent that disagrees with you. Women also have to deal with comments their male counterparts would never have to, Aguirre-Rodriguez said, referring to the stereotype that strong, intelligent women are often called "cold" or worse.
"Quite often I’m able to completely brush it off," Taylor said. At home or in the office, she'll have a laugh about it with friends and family. "I cuss a little bit ... cry a little bit ... but my faith is a source of comfort for me.”
Attending church is a large part of her life, but day-to-day, she carries a pink planner with her that has the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 on the cover:
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
"When people start talking crazy, I just look at the planner,” she said, joining in the audience's laughter.
Taylor hesitated to begin to try to narrow down her priorities as mayor for 2016 to a list of three as requested by Aguirre-Rodriguez.
"Three things? How do we boil it all down?” Taylor said.
After some boiling, she emerged from the question with three general priorities: 1) managing the city's growth via SA Tomorrow and annexation discussion, 2) workforce development, and 3) transportation.
She added a fourth priority: demonstrating the benefits of inner city living.
While she recognizes and respects that the urban lifestyle is not for everyone, Taylor wants to show locals and people looking to move to a new city that San Antonio's urban core has almost all the elements to live, work, and play downtown.
Taylor lives in an historic home that overlooks Dignowity Park, just less than two miles away from work at City Hall.
"I live for weeks at a time without getting on the freeway," she said. "(I want to) make it easier for people who would be open to that option.”
Her proximity to downtown also affords her more time to spend with her family than she would get if she had to commute. Moments of stress-free downtime are few and far between, increasing their value.
Her professional duties at City Hall and out in the community fill her daily calendar with meetings, luncheons, site visits, and media interviews. It leaves things like picking up her 12-year-old daughter Morgan from school, laundry, cooking, and shopping for groceries a bit tricky.
"Yes, the mayor does her own laundry," Aguirre-Rodriguez said. "That's good to hear."
"I can’t sit here and claim to have the greatest system,” Taylor said, but having an extremely supporting husband has been key for her. He picks Morgan up from school and they divvy up daily to-dos, but often times the mayor gets home as her daughter is headed to bed.
"There have been sacrifices on one side with time," Taylor said, but she tries to bring Morgan with her to social and work-related events. "The other side is the opportunity (for her) to meet new people and experience new things."
Things that Taylor herself would never had imagined as a 12-year-old growing up in Brooklyn. Morgan, for instance, recently had a lively conversation with the Namibian Ambassador to the United States Martin Andjada about American history.
As far as plans for the decades ahead, Taylor said she's committed to staying in a position that allows her to "connect people to opportunity."
People have suggested she look into elected/selected offices in Washington D.C., but she's not sure that's where the connections happen. One thing is for sure, she'll need to look into finding a position that pays better as Morgan approaches college age.
"At some point, that will be more of a priority for me," Taylor said.
It was somewhat surreal for some in the audience to hear the mayor talk about her personal aspirations and concerns.
"She’s not going to be the mayor forever, there’s a path for all of us,” Mari said.
After the interview, Taylor lingered in the cottage briefly to intorduce herself to the audience. Most were some of the founding members of The Workery, others were friends and professionals that had heard through the grapvine of the event.
*Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor shared how she looks to her new planner when meetings get tough. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.