Composite / Scott Ball (L) - Robin Jerstad / Rivard Report
Runoff election results by precinct paint a familiar picture of which areas voted for Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilman Greg Brockhouse.
Nirenberg squeaked ahead by 2 percentage points in the June 8 runoff to earn a second term in the mayor’s seat, getting a majority of the votes in inner-city precincts and spreading that into the North Side where most voters live.
“We upped our share [of votes] in district 9 and 10, which were crucial,” said Kelton Morgan, Nirenberg’s campaign manager. “Both sides had a little bit of a slog to keep their bases turning out. We just did it a little better than they did.”
The results released by the Bexar County Elections Department are preliminary, as mail-in ballots continue to trickle in.
Brockhouse was able to maintain his strongholds in the outlying precincts, getting a majority of voters in districts 4, 6, 9, and 10, but did not grow his voting base enough to take over Nirenberg’s 51 percent majority citywide.
“Overall we did pretty well,” said Matt Mackowiak, a political consultant who worked on Brockhouse’s campaign. “It appears Nirenberg turned out some Democrats on the North Side in the runoff. The precinct and district numbers in both rounds were pretty similar. We got really close, but just came up short.”
In the May 4 election, Nirenberg and Brockhouse were joined by seven other names on the ballot, who gathered a collective 5.8 percent of the vote. If voters who selected those candidates showed up at the polls again, it seems Brockhouse and Nirenberg largely split them.
Voter turnout across the City increased for the runoff from about 11.5 percent to nearly 16 percent of registered voters. In the May 4 election, nearly 102,000 people voted in the mayoral race compared to more than 120,000 in the June runoff.
Districts 2, 4, and 6 also had runoff elections, which likely boosted turnout in the mayoral race as well.
The increased voting during early voting indicates that “most of the voters already made up their mind early,” said Henry Flores, a professor and researcher of political science at St. Mary’s University.
It’s possible that people on both sides who sat the first round out “voted the second time out of fear,” he said, but it’s hard to tell why they voted how they did.
“Regardless, the mayor looks like he has an opportunity to really go forward with some policy [discussions] he was holding back on,” Flores said, such as transportation planning, charter and election reform, and the climate action plan. “We’re no longer in a situation that’s kind of a holding pattern. The City can move forward now.”
Though Nirenberg didn’t get a majority of votes in District 9, he was able to gain another 2,000 votes in the historically more conservative district. He also made headway in District 6, Brockhouse’s home turf, said Colin Strother, a political consultant who works for the fire union, which endorsed Brockhouse.
“There are some pronounced areas in [District 9] that changed” to be majority Nirenberg supporters, Strother said. He credits progressive and Democratic groups for turning out more Democrats in northern districts.
“He changed his behavior and actually started campaigning,” Strother said, likely because not winning the May 4 election outright was such a surprise.
The District 9 results could also be indicative of a more progressive constituency, said Laura Barberena, a political consultant who has worked for progressive political action committees.
Councilman John Courage, a left-leaning independent, surprised everyone in 2017 with a win in District 9. Courage won key endorsements and re-election this year.
That would have been unheard of 10 years ago, Barberena said. ‘There’s definitely a story in that there’s a shift in what’s going on in District 9. … It’s certainly not as conservative as it’s been in the past.”
Other than that, she said, “we just basically saw a magnification of what happened on May 4.”
Brockhouse’s main areas of support, she noted, are also generally situated in concentrations of religious groups – on the East Side where the Baptist Church is strong and on the West Side where many Catholics live. On the far-North Side, “that’s Pastor Hagee country,” she said.
Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church hosted a “citywide prayer” to encourage several congregations to vote in the runoff. Brockhouse received an ovation from attendees for his vote against removing a Chick-fil-A restaurant from an airport contract. Nirenberg was invited, but could not attend the forum. Brockhouse has often called that decision, Nirenberg, and Council as a whole “anti-religion.”
There are, however, plenty of churches across the City in areas that did not vote for Brockhouse; the proximity to those groups may not be causal.
Morgan said he expects to see good numbers for Nirenberg in mail-in ballots when those totals are calculated. One of the first things his campaign did after the May 4 election was launch an effort to get mail-in applications out to voters likely to vote for the incumbent, he said.
While they can’t interfere at all with the ballot itself, campaigns can help senior citizens and out-of-towners apply for mail-in ballots.
Morgan sad his campaign identified more than 3,000 possible Nirenberg supporters that used mail-in ballots in 2017 and sent them filled-out applications.
“All they had to do was sign it and drop it in the mail,” he said. Then the campaign followed up with phone calls and other communication to get them to vote.
Mail-in ballot results show that strategy worked. Nirenberg received 3,748 votes via mail in the May 4 election – that’s just over 62 percent of the total 5,771 mailed ballots. With seven other candidates on that ballot, Brockhouse received 32 percent.
For the runoff, Nirenberg received nearly 64 percent, or 4,792 votes, of the 7,523 mailed ballots. These numbers are preliminary as some mail is still trickling in, according to the Bexar County Elections Department.
Morgan has two main takeaways from this campaign: “Take nothing for granted … and never underestimate anyone.”