Forced into an unexpected runoff by challenger Greg Brockhouse, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has packed his schedule with events hosted across San Antonio to rally supporters and reach out to those who may have sat out the first round of voting.
Leaning hard on the power of incumbency, Nirenberg is coming off a week chock-full of endorsements from major organizations and political heavy hitters. Nirenberg has stayed relatively quiet in the media since the election. Instead, he’s relied on his campaign manager to speak for him while he concentrates on engaging his base on a grassroots level.
On Wednesday, Nirenberg appeared at a campaign gathering at The Dakota East Side Ice house, one of a series of events staged by loosely organized groups of supporters. About 125 people, most of them young, crowded inside to meet the mayor and hear him speak.
“This is the first big city in the country that has actually dared to tackle the issue of socioeconomic inequity and has now budgeted its resources, allocating every single thing we do on the basis of compassion,” Nirenberg told attendees, “and now equity is a lodestar for this city, not political expediency.”
Last Friday, the mayor visited with “Retirees for Ron.” The following day, he kicked off a volunteer field day with former San Antonio Mayor and current presidential candidate Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro in the morning and headed to a “Familias for Ron” Tejano concert with Little Joe y La Familia that night.
“We’re talking to a lot of constituencies to make sure they’re fired up,” said Kelton Morgan, Nirenberg’s campaign manager. “More often than not it’s people contacting us” to arrange events.
Morgan said that was the case with the organizer of a “Women & Friends for Ron” event scheduled for Monday, June 3. The organizer is not affiliated with the Mētú group formed to oppose Brockhouse, who is named in two police reports alleging domestic abuse, Morgan said.
Online and in-person, there’s more chatter about the runoff than there was for the May 4 election, Morgan said. “Everyone realizes what the stakes are now.”
That Brockhouse and seven other candidates were able to grab enough votes away from the incumbent – who got 48.67 percent of the vote – to force a runoff election surprised a lot of people, said Laura Barberena, a political consultant who is not working for either candidate.
“Now he’s actually doing what campaigns do,” she said of Nirenberg, noting that he probably should have hosted these events before the May 4 election.
“As we go into the last final days, Ron’s trying to touch certain constituencies by having these events,” Barberena said. “Do these rallies [and other events] achieve their goal of inspiring and motivating people who haven’t voted to vote for him? I’m not sure if they do that. Is he just preaching to the choir?”
Nirenberg needs to grow the electorate or suppress votes for Brockhouse, Barberena said.
Almost 13,000 people cast ballots on the first day of early voting for the runoff, a turnout that Nirenberg’s campaign claimed as an indication of “momentum.”
“Our runoff campaign is surging and we’re sprinting to the finish line, but we can’t take anything for granted,” the mayor’s campaign wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday.
Scoring endorsements from Texas Organizing Project and Texas Democratic Project means Nirenberg’s “ground game has gotten stronger and better organized,” said Henry Flores, a political science professor and researcher at St. Mary’s University. Those groups have block-walkers and other resources that will help Nirenberg reach voters.
“He’s concentrating on increasing turnout in areas he was strong in already,” Flores said.
Meanwhile, Brockhouse has been doing his own grassroots campaigning, spending recent days traveling around the city to talk to residents about problems in their neighborhoods. He has appeared at at least two gatherings of religious leaders.
“I don’t need to rev up my base,” Brockhouse said earlier this week.
But Nirenberg’s rallies and discussion with senior citizens doesn’t grab headlines, Barbarena said. “What Greg’s doing is getting eyeballs” on issues like Chick-fil-A and vandalism of campaign materials and the firefighters union headquarters, she said.
“People weren’t talking about La Familia and the Castro brothers this weekend … they were talking about graffiti and [FAA’s investigation into] Chick-fil-A,” she said.
Brockhouse hosted a “Get Out The Vote Breakfast” Tuesday morning and then stopped by a gathering of a religious group calling itself San Antonio Stronger Together, during which former District Attorney Nico LaHood wished him good luck, but did not offer an official endorsement.
With just over a week remaining before the runoff, no formal debates between the candidates are scheduled and none are planned; though there will be some candidate forums in which they appear separately.
“You’re at a point in the campaign that’s about motivation as opposed to persuasion,” Morgan said.
Rivard Report Photo Editor Scott Ball contributed to this article.