Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
In a ceremony preceded by a handshake with outgoing Mayor Ivy Taylor, and with his young son Jonah at his side, Ron Nirenberg was sworn in as mayor of San Antonio Wednesday after City Council officially approved the results of the June 10 runoff election.
The occasion marked the arrival of a new mayor to office along with a very different-looking City Council. Five new council members also were sworn in Wednesday, including William “Cruz” Shaw (D2), Greg Brockhouse (D6), Manny Peláez (D8), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10). They joined a sixth newcomer, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who was sworn in last month after ousting incumbent Cris Medina in the May 6 election.
Four incumbents remain from the prior term: Roberto Treviño (D1), Rebecca Viagran (D3), Rey Saldaña (D4), and Shirley Gonzales (D5).
Mayor Nirenberg and the 10 City council members will complete the day’s ceremonies with an inauguration ceremony staged at the Arneson River Theatre at 6:30 p.m. with officeholders and, perhaps, family members, arriving with some pomp – San Antonio style – aboard river barges.
The day’s rituals signal a new day at City Hall as Nirenberg and others put behind them hard-fought political campaigns – the runoff between Nirenberg and Taylor having been particularly contentious. Taylor had not made the traditional telephone call of congratulations to Nirenberg the night of the election or in the following days, but Wednesday’s handshake in front of the cameras seemed to bring the matter to a peaceful close. Taylor shook the new mayor’s hand and smiled as she handed him an official certificate of election.
“It’s been a privilege to be a blessing to others,” Taylor said, enumerating job creation initiatives, investments throughout the districts, and educational opportunities that have marked San Antonio’s trajectory. “I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to serve [as mayor], and I’m looking forward to the next chapter knowing that I’ve done my best, and I believe the results speak for themselves.”
Nirenberg presented Taylor with a plaque of her own, recognizing her three years of service as mayor of San Antonio. Taylor mentioned the historic nature of her role, being the first African-American woman to serve as the city’s mayor and only the second woman to hold that office. However, Taylor said she wants to be remembered more for “making a difference” in the city.
“We all know that we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us,” Nirenberg said. “The work doesn’t start or end here … This is a house of honor, so it’s for us to ensure that we respect and admire the legacies of those people who stepped up and served.”
Taylor and Medina are not the only one who were ousted this election season – Alan Warrick (D2) was defeated by Shaw in the runoff.
Outgoing council members Warrick, Joe Krier (D9), Ray Lopez (D6), and Mike Gallagher (D10) all received plaques for their service and were given the opportunity to highlight accomplishments, challenges, and what they will miss about serving on Council. Council members Saldaña, Viagran, Gonzales, and Treviño also shared words of praise for their departing colleagues and thanked them for their public service.
“There’s some comments I will miss in these meetings,” Gallagher quipped. “I’m going to miss an architectural view of the world … bowties … Miss Missions … a young man that rides the bus to go to meetings – I really admire that. Someone who takes their bike to work, we’ve also got a world traveler … think about public art and cheese graters … our friends at the chamber of commerce … also we have to say to goodbye to a great and classy mayor, Ivy Taylor. She’s done a great job for us, and we want to thank her.”
After a traditional month-long break in July, the new Council will convene to discuss the fiscal year 2018 budget, consider revisions to the City Charter, and more. The majority of new Council members told the Rivard Report that public safety issues are at the top of their priority list.
Shaw, an attorney and former Zoning Commission chair, plans to address the poverty and crime that plague District 2. He wants to see more community-based policing on the northeast side of his district and increase police officer response times.
“Regarding our SAFFE (San Antonio Fear Free Environment) officers, we want to make sure that’s adequately funded and get more officers throughout the district because it’s been a positive presence in our neighborhood,” Shaw said Tuesday. “We have a lot of issues we have to tackle but we have to start having those conversations and be realistic with our goals and priorities and time measures for those goals.”
Courage, 66, an educator and U.S. Air Force veteran, takes the spot of Krier, who chose not to seek re-election. Courage, who served as an elected trustee on the Alamo Community College District board and was a member of the board of trustees that created Palo Alto College, said his main priority is to ensure that the San Antonio Police Department is at full strength.
“Fortunately for most of us in District 9, we don’t have so much physical crime like muggings, rape, and murder, but we have rising rates of property crime and it certainly makes people uneasy,” Courage told the Rivard Report. “We need to make sure[SAPD officers] are well trained and that there is great communication between police and the population they protect.”
Courage added that he’ll make sure the scheduled improvements to U.S. Hwy. 281 in his district are done “as expeditiously and effectively as possible” to reduce congestion. Expanding Loop 1604 and discussing citywide transportation solutions with the new Council also are on his mind.
Peláez, 43, is a labor attorney who will take Nirenberg’s District 8 council seat, representing an area considered one of the most diverse and fastest growing in the city. Peláez previously served as a trustee for VIA Metropolitan Transit and was appointed to serve on the SAWS Rate Advisory Commission. He hopes to bring his past experience to the table to focus on traffic, transit, and safety.
“There seems to be consensus among the council members on the Northside that traffic and safety are two issues at the top of our list,” Peláez said. “… I’ve already [spent time with] the fire chief and police chief talking about safety issues. I’ll be meeting with TxDOT and meeting with City departments that oversee traffic, roads, drainage, and infrastructure to see what resources we do have … That will keep my time almost monopolized for the next months.”
Another looming issue is the City’s almost three-year-old lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association‘s 10-year evergreen clause in its contract. The battle stems from a unanimous agreement forged by Mayor Julián Castro in 2013, which aimed to hold public safety spending to 66% of the general fund budget. The City was engulfed in an identical lawsuit with the police union, but Taylor intervened in the deadlocked negotiations and both sides agreed to a five-year contract, which reduced the evergreen clause to eight years.
Brockhouse, now in charge of sprawling District 6 and known for his work as a political consultant for the police and firefighter unions, believes he can be a “bridge builder” and help the new Council come up with a solution that appeases both sides.
“There’s a lack of trust between our first responders and City leaders,” Brockhouse told the Rivard Report. “I’m hopeful that Mayor Nirenberg uses my relationships and that trust to begin building that relationship back again and at least start the communication. My primary goal is to serve residents of District 6, but I do believe we have to rebuild trust by using factual and accurate data in our negotiations and we have to be very transparent.”
Perry, a retired U.S. Air Force engineer, has been in the construction business most of his life, managing projects in the military and the private sector. He said he’s looking forward to working on infrastructure projects for District 10 and the rest of the city.
“My first priority working with my colleagues is the crime issues in the city and I’m also really interested in working on infrastructure,” Perry said. “That’s my wheelhouse since I’ve been in the industry my whole life. I intend to use [my experience] on the Council.”