San Antonio City Council appointed Ivy Taylor as interim mayor on Tuesday. Much has been made about the historic nature of her appointment as the first African-American woman to hold San Antonio’s mayoral seat and rightly so. I can spend lots of ink reflecting on the historical nature of Ivy's appointment, but those of us who have been paying attention already understand.
What I really want do is to tell you about our new mayor from a personal perspective.
Ivy and I are neighbors. We both live in the Dignowity Hill neighborhood within District 2 (D2) and for the last five years we have been partners in leadership roles on the Eastside. In the spring of 2009 Ivy was elected councilwoman, a month after I assumed the role of president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. So in the course of five years both us found ourselves in the midst of dealing with the dynamics the district, the challenges of living in a changing urban core neighborhood, and dealing with controversial issues related to economic development and revitalization.
After one of the first community meetings I presided over, Ivy came up to me and asked, “Are we ready for this?”
Not if I was ready – but if both of us were ready for these challenges. I remember telling her, “I am if you are!” Looking back it’s safe to say neither one of us had any notion of what was in store for us as we both stepped into community leadership roles.
For those who do not know Ivy Taylor, let me introduce you. She is gracious, private, and low-key with a quiet, steely determination to thoughtfully work through difficult issues. From my perch, Ivy’s urban planning background and work experience with the city has served her well. She’s been able to articulate a vision for the Eastside in terms of revitalization and bringing much needed attention to an area of the city that has seen several generations of disinvestment.
At the same time, initiating change can be messy. In a district as large, diverse, and economically challenged as D2 there are many voices, many concerns, and many unmet needs. Rising above the chatter takes guts, insight, and perseverance.
I remember a conversation I had with Ivy regarding the changing demographics of the district. She listened thoughtfully as I pointed out that the district was increasingly becoming more Latino. She understood the need to diversify her message, but she also made me understand that a sea of change was occurring on the Eastside. The community was moving away from an activist mode to a more consensus building, community-based approach in solving complex issues. That was evident when she, along with then-Mayor Julián Castro, initiated the Eastside Economic Summits in 2010.
Closer to home, Ivy and I worked together in shepherding the Alamo Brewery project through a series of neighborhood association and community meetings. No matter how messy, community process and involvement are important.
Ivy is a great believer in listening to the voice of the community. We may not agree with all her decisions as a member our city council, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that she will listen to your concerns and thoughtfully work through a decision. Last year, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the non-discrimination ordinance issue. She personally explained to me why she was struggling with the issue and as always listened to my concerns. While I didn’t agree with her viewpoint, I respected her for being thoughtful as she worked through her decision.
Being a City Council member is not an easy task. The pay is almost nil, the time commitment enormous, and the opportunity for criticism is wide open. I know that Ivy has taken some “hits” for some of her decisions and positions, but you don’t walk into the swamp unless you’re ready to deal with the alligators. That is just the nature of politics. I have seen Ivy grow in building her leadership capacity. She has been gracious in dealing with difficult people, patient in dealing with criticism and resolute in dealing with difficult issues. Expect that level of leadership from our new mayor as we move forward in the next ten months.
Some final thoughts: Ivy loves to dance the Electric Slide. So I’m hoping that as mayor we’ll see her strut her stuff on some dance floor in the near future. The Dignowity Hill Pushcart Derby is coming up in October. She’s been a participant as a council member in past derbies, so perhaps this year we’ll see a mayoral pushcart careening around Lockwood Park. Finally, I want to wish Ivy the most sincere best wishes as she starts her stint as our new mayor.
*Featured/top image: Ivy Taylor and Juan Garcia at a community fair in Dignowity Park in October 2010. Courtesy photo.