Once an Insurgent Challenger, Nirenberg Now the Embattled Incumbent

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaks, Saturday May 4, 2019, at Augie's Alamo City BBQ Steakhouse.

Edward A. Ornelas for the Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaks, Saturday May 4, 2019, at Augie's Alamo City BBQ Steakhouse.

Ron Nirenberg is still the mayor of San Antonio, but he was the big loser Saturday night. Even though he survived a stunningly close challenge by City Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) and lives to run another day in June, more than half the city’s voters said they did not want Nirenberg re-elected.

That’s a humiliating setback for a first-term mayor who himself was a challenger given slim odds of unseating incumbent Mayor Ivy Taylor in 2017. He did so, of course, by stunning Taylor with a stronger-than-expected finish in the first round of voting and then riding that momentum to finish off a politically weak incumbent in the runoff.

Now the tables threaten to turn as an emboldened Brockhouse woos the 5.7 percent of voters who supported one of the seven other mayoral candidates to help him finish the job. Nirenberg’s best chance of winning is inspiring people who sat out the first round to jump in and vote for him in the runoff.

One of the election law peculiarities is that you do not have to vote in the first round to be eligible to vote in the runoff. Any registered voter in the city is eligible.

With 99.47 percent of precincts counted, Nirenberg finished with 48.68 percent versus 45.55 percent for Brockhouse. The remaining 5.76 percent went to also-ran candidates, most of whom did not even campaign. A handful of votes were voided. A dismal 11.47 percent of registered city voters went to the polls.

Despite the advantages of incumbency, Nirenberg was nearly equaled at the polls by a pro-union councilman in a right-to-work state, a first-termer with no real record of achievement, one who was accused of domestic violence, who has had children with four different women, and has wages garnished to make child support payments. (See correction and clarification below).

That’s a hard comeuppance for someone who has won election three times to office in San Antonio, and is a model family man who prides himself on a scandal-free record.

Analyzing the results at this juncture is mostly guesswork, but one thing is clear: Nirenberg did not inspire a significant base of supporters to turn out and vote. More than 45 percent of the voters who did turn out appeared willing to overlook Brockhouse’s personal failings in order to send a message.

Certainly, the recent furor over the ousting of a proposed Chick-fil-A franchise from a food court at San Antonio International Airport gave social conservatives and some in the business community one more reason to dislike Nirenberg. Many already felt that way after the City failed to bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention, and more recently, after the proposed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan ruffled feathers and ran into political headwinds.

Saturday’s stunning results were presaged by an air of uncertainty that settled over Nirenberg supporters in the closing days of the campaign: “What’s your prediction in the mayor’s race?”

Looking back, the frequency of that question signaled a widely-held view that Nirenberg and Brockhouse were locked in a race much closer than anyone had once imagined. In the days leading up the final tally, few expressed confidence in predicting a Nirenberg win. Conversation turned to the probability of a runoff, and predictions that such a first-round outcome would leave Nirenberg weakened and Brockhouse emboldened.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse calls for continued action following the confirmation of a runoff against incumbent Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse calls for continued action following the confirmation of a runoff against incumbent Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

In the backs of people’s minds were the passage of two charter amendments last November engineered by the firefighters union, and even earlier, President Donald Trump’s stunning upset of Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 presidential election.

I wrote earlier in the campaign that my gut told me the incumbents at City Hall would prevail, and so they did in the individual council races. All three open seats are headed to runoffs.

The seven incumbents, however, all won by significant numbers. Councilman John Courage (D9) won with about 54 percent of the vote, but his closest challenger only managed 41 percent. The other incumbents put up landslide numbers.

Not so for the mayor.

In a city with 961,087 registered voters, only about 110,000 showed up to vote during two weeks of early voting and Election Day, with only 3,168 votes, or 3.1 percent, separating Nirenberg and Brockhouse. One way to look at the final result is to say Nirenberg fell only 1.32 percent short of winning outright. The other way of looking at it is that a longshot challenger fought him to a draw and prevented his outright re-election.

Nearly 1 million registered voters in San Antonio need to take the runoff as a second chance to get involved, to do their duty. The runoff gives the majority of registered voters who stayed home the opportunity to turn out in June. It’s an opportunity to use their vote to say what kind of city they want San Antonio to be, and what kind of elected leaders they want in office to represent them here and to the world.

When so many choose to stay home, we citizens are the real losers.

Correction: An earlier version of this column said Brockhouse was taken yo court for child support payments when, in fact, an administrative agreement with the attorney general’s office was reached and child support payments are now made though standard payroll withdrawals from his City Council paycheck. On a second note, he also provided the Rivard Report with  documentation showing a good credit record. 

42 thoughts on “Once an Insurgent Challenger, Nirenberg Now the Embattled Incumbent

  1. Don’t let 11% of registered voters elect our next mayor. Please vote on June 8. Turnout was low. I want to see sll registered voters vote by mail, early or o. Election day. Your voice is your vote.

    • That’s actually a nice post. No political stance or support for either candidate, just encouragement for people to get out and do what they have an OBLIGATION to do, not just a right. Good for you, Evelyn!

    • What does family values have anything to do with running the city? Plus, I’m getting tired of the domestic case being brought up…old news.

  2. We don’t elect good men, we elect those who listen and get the job done. Many horrible Presidents were good men, Wilson, Hoover. The people don’t like think tanks and being talked down to by politicians who think they know better than us.

  3. Ron Nirenberg did not win because is a terrible mayor. June 8, the majority will elect a new mayor.

  4. Couldn’t have said it better! I did not vote and assumed Nirenburg would win by a landslide.

    I WILL VOTE. There’s no we can let Brockhouse ruin this city.

      • We lost our perfect credit rating thanks to him and I’ve yet to hear anything in the way of policy – a few platitudes about “representing taxpayers” won’t cut it.

        • Nirenberg lost the propositions because of the appearance of working with city insiders, for the benefit of city insiders instead of listening to citizens. To blindly give hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and bonuses without a matrix for job evaluation is the luxury of private enterprise, not city government!! I think Sculley was probably worth the salary/bonus…but the process was amateurish and does not reflect well on the mayor. Most of his task forces/working groups are headed by or have members who are city insiders -many former city leaders…they are on these task forces to try to tell us how we can ‘fix’ what they did?? No thanks…

  5. I neither voted for Nirenberg nor Brockhouse in this first round. I doubt I will vote for Nirenberg in the runoff. I remain unconvinced that he is an effective leader, and feel that he is arrogant with constituents.

  6. Nirenburg is an ineffective mayor. Brockhouse has many gaps in performance, personal and political.

    The chick-fil-a explanation and denial of the Republican Convention to meet in San Antonio turned off a significant number of voters.

    Not great choices. But Nirenburg lost this primary more so than Brockhouse won it.

  7. Calling Brockhouse “pro union” doesn’t feel accurate. He’s pro two unions and I doubt very much he’d support any of the rest of us unionizing, though it’s hard to know because he seems to stand for very little beyond “support the firemen” and “Chick-fil-A is welcome here”.

    RR must take some responsibility here for not pressing Brockhouse on the domestic violence issues at the debate.

    If Brockhouse does prevail, I’m reassured by the fact that a majority of adults remain on the city council.

    • I agree that “RR must take some responsibility here for not pressing Brockhouse on the domestic violence issues at the debate”. In all of the debates, why was the question removed because the candidate threatened to walk out of the debate if it were asked? The moderators should ask the pertinent questions and let the candidate answer it or walk out.

  8. Brockhouse is unqualified to take on such a huge responsibility. In his time on council, he never initiated any programs or efforts to improve the city, he just jumped on the firefighter contract bandwagon because it would get him the perceived power he craves. If elected, his ego will drive his decisions. Re the RNC convention. If it was such a good deal, why weren’t 50 other cities fighting to get it? And how can one decision about a fast food restaurant (not even brought up by Nirenberg) make you think a city’s business community is under attack? Our city is growing so fast, we need someone with urban planning experience and long-term strategic vision. Nirenberg.

  9. Brockhouse will set this city back 10 years! The mayor is the “face” and voice of San Antonio outside of the city, too. Smart, and sophisticated in dealing with business and people, or not…that’s the choice.
    The fact there are so many attracted to Brockhouse is disappointing. Have a beer with the guy, but don’t elect him mayor.

    • The face of this mayor shows a lack of ‘playing well with others’; back door deals; zero transparency by the many task forces and city non-profits that are not accountable to citizens; and ties to city insiders who drive his policies and head most of his acronym laden groups! The CFA decision hurt Nirenberg way more than Trevino and made SA the city that is intolerant and does not have fair dealings with businesses. Worse, it set a precedent that the requirements of any RFP can be overturned by a mayor and council that didn’t do their homework or excluded bc mayor/council don’t approve of the charitable contributions of the business…we were a joke. (Nirenberg only came up with the Sunday closing AFTER there was such blowback across the city and country. The RFP included CFA bc they knew it generated more revenue in 6 days than others generated in 7.) Nirenberg should have acted like the mayor and understood the gravity of allowing that change instead of going along with it. That is not leadership and it hurt the city.

  10. Absolutely pathetic voter turn out. That Brockhouse even got this close – “a first-termer with no real record of achievement, one who was accused of domestic violence, who has had children with four different women, has been taken to court and ordered to make child support payments, and who has a dismal personal credit record” – is stunning. Brockhouse is a proven hot-button divider.
    His way or the highway. We don’t need another fanatic who’s greatest claim is that he fought mightily for some artery clogging fast food chain with a proven record of supporting discrimination. You don’t have to think of Mayor Nirenberg as the greatest Mayor in our city’s history, but Brockhouse will definitely be among the worst.

  11. I’m grasping at straws. Do I vote for someone who has exhibited minimal leadership skills as mayor or someone who is in the back pocket of unions that control a majority of the city council budget (and who, by their very nature, want more). And I’m not sure Brockhouse will make a great leader—his specialty is saying “no.” Sure don’t like Mrs. Mayor’s “long con” comments—it smacks of desperation. Lots to think about between now and Election Day.

  12. Thank goodness I live in Fair Oaks Ranch. For the 10 years we have been in the area I’ve only seen one competent public servant in San Antonio and that was Sculley and the present police chief and you ran Sculley off. Otherwise a city that has been run by amateurs from top to bottom.

  13. I have not decided on my vote for mayor.

    What lurks in my mind is that in a previous election, the majority of San Antonio voters reduced the salary of the City Manager, an indication that the public was not happy with the job performance of the City Manager.

    I want a mayor, and City Council member, who will properly engage and listen to the public.

    I want to hear discussions on establishing a process for public input on the job performance of the City Manager.

  14. Brockhouse has a mean-spirited attitude–always looking at the negative side of things and pushing for that result. That’s not what a city needs for its mayor. I hope the results of this election will awaken the younger voters who probably weren’t paying attention and didn’t show up at the poles. It’s time for downtowners to come alive in this city to make sure that Nirenberg gets re-elected. Our mayor doesn’t have to be Nirenberg, but it should NOT be Brockhouse.

  15. I worked a polling site yesterday in the inner city. Based on anecdotal evidence, voters blame Nirenberg for skyrocketing property tax bills, residential displacement, and development that fails to benefit existing residents.

  16. ” . . . more than half the city’s voters said they did not want Nirenberg re-elected.” Wondering if you characterized the SAISD District 6 race similarly. More than 62% of the voters in D6 said they did not want Christina Martinez re-elected, but she was anyways due to there being no runoffs in SAISD elections. Just thinking there should be consistency in your commentaries.

  17. I’m interested to know what people mean by Ron Nirenberg being “ineffective”. San Antonio is not set up to have a strong and “highly effective” mayor. We have (or had) a strong city manager system in which the mayor is a figure head who doesn’t have much power.

    What are you expectations for “effectiveness” from a mayor who has very little power and faces reelection every two years?

    • I voted for Ron because Brockhouse is awful. Ron’s problem is that he spent two years telling San Antonio why a highly educated black woman wasn’t fit to lead the city (a person he shares 90% of the same opinions with and belongs to the same party as) and how he was the man to “build the city we deserve”. When you blame former leadership for problems and then completely fail to accomplish anything of note in your first term, struggle to control council, lose an important charter election, and barely campaign because you assume you are going to win then this is what happens.

      San Antonio “deserves” something better than better than the two options we were presented with.

  18. I don’t know why Mr. Rivard thought it necessary to be so aggressive in his opinion piece. Calling Mayor Nirenberg “a loser” was a biased observation – since Mayor Nirenberg won the election but just not with enough votes to prevent a run-off. Mr. Rivard also states in the last sentence of his opinion piece: “we citizens are the real losers.”

    He also attacked Councilperson Brockhouse for having “children with four different women.” Why did Mr. Rivard feel compelled to focus on this? Hopefully, people would not use this type of way-too-personal information to decide how to vote.

    However, the most hurtful and slanted statement in Mr. Rivard’s opinion piece was: “more than half the city’s voters said they did not want Nirenberg re-elected.” There are 962,482 registered voters in San Antonio – only 52,258 of those voted for the other mayoral candidates, not 481,241 as suggested by Mr. Rivard.

    When Mayor Nirenberg ran for mayor in 2017, he was only supported by 36,887 voters to qualify for the run-off with former Mayor Taylor – on Saturday, 49,539 people voted for him. There is no doubt that having both the firefighters and police unions campaigning for and funding Mr. Brockhouse helped the challenger significantly – but Mayor Nirenberg was still able to garner 34% more votes than he did during the 2017 election.

    May the best man for San Antonio win during the run-off vote scheduled for 8 June – just about one month from today.

    • Agreed. My friends and I found all of this invective unbecoming of a supposed media outlet. For an opinion piece, it is extreme. Why the mention of the credit score? Why the mention of someone being a big loser? If Bob Rivard was for another candidate besides these two, he should have come out for that person before this editorial.

    • To you, Dawn and others of similar views: there is a growing body of voters who have decided that character, personal comportment, and values no longer should be considered in who we elect to public office, that whatever their moral failings might be, a candidate’s conduct should not be a factor in measuring his or her eligibility for an elected leadership position. These voters feel free to dismiss or simply ignore credible allegations of domestic violence, irresponsible personal finances, whatever.

      I am not a member of that group. I believe the way an individual behaves in everyday life should be taken into account by voters. Candidates should be held accountable. None of us are without failings, of course, but acknowledging them and learning from them rather than denying them is important. In my view, the responses by Councilman Brockhouse to his past conduct have been inadequate at best. –RR

      • Well said RR, his ex wife said she is afraid to return to SA, and calling for open government when he had his record expunged (allegedly wiping his social media as well) is questionable at best.

  19. I can’t speak for the others, Adam, but I feel that Nirenberg is not good at setting a programmatic vision for the city. Someone will be along shortly to say that he has project X or initiative Y, but CAAP seems stalled, a lot of people are feeling the effects of the equity push, and the prop vote showed that he had lost control of any narrative he may have had. That is what some might expect as effectiveness for a mayor in the system we have.

  20. I need to know where you got the information for your article. You claimed over half of San Antonio voters did not want for Ron Nirenberg to be reelected. That is not a fact. I have to admit I thought your reports used truths and not lies. Are you also being paid by the FF for your work like the blockwalkers, poll greeters etc. I would read your articles quite often, but you have lost a supporter. I sure pray you haven’t lost other supporters because of your incompetent journalism.

    • Celinda:

      We got our information from the Bexar County Elections Department: http://home.bexar.org/el45a.htm

      51.34 percent of voters did not vote for Nirenberg, they voted for Brockhouse or other candidates. Registered voters that did not vote, do not count.

      The Rivard Report does not receive any financial support nor advertising revenue from the firefighters union.

  21. Ok, so I am here to list the reasons why Brockhouse did so well and Nirenberg so poorly:

    >>> Property Taxes <<<

    • Taxes….and misuse of these taxes! No more voting for bonds, either…or additional sales taxes to support programs.

      Tired of being a tax ‘donor’ when basic services aren’t being provided.

  22. I CONTINUE TO CHALLENGE SAN ANTONIO RESIDENTS THAT ARE PRO GROWTH, BRINGING IN BIG BUSINESSES, AND MORE ACCOMIDATIONS FOR TOURISTS… LOCATE THE SAHA PROPERTY IN YOUR DISTRICT WITH THE HIGHEST CRIME RATE AND HAS BEEN ALLOWED TO BE IN SHAMBLES FOR DECADES. I DARE YOU TO WALK TO THE BACK OF THAT PROPERTY THE LEAST VISIBLE TO THE PUBLIC’S EYES…AT MIDNIGHT…ON A FRIDAY NIGHT. TWICE NOW I HAVE STOOD BEFORE THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL PLEADING WITH THEM TO…FIRST AND FOREMOST…JUSTIFY WHY THOSE ENDANGERING SLUMS ARE NOT A PRIORITY. IF THIS CITY’S LEADERS HAVE CONSISTENTLY FAILED TO PROTECT AND PROVIDE FOR THE AGED, DISABLED, LOW INCOME AND OUR VETS BY WAREHOUSING THEM IN SAHA SLUMS…TO THE TUNE OF A ROTTING CORPSE BEING LEFT FOR 3 MONTHS ON THE 13TH FLOOR OF A…NEVER AIR CONDITIONED 13 STORY SAHA BUILDING LOCATED DOWNTOWN…AND THOSE FACTS DON’T CONCERN YOU AT ALL…THEN VOTE FOR MORE OF THE SAME FROM RON AND HIS GANG!
    THANKS RIVARD FOR A LESS BIASED REPORT BUT EQUAL COVERAGE SHOULD ALSO BE EXTENDED TO US VOTERS! WE ARE NOT APATHETIC OR LAZY NOR DO WE TAKE FOR GRANTED THE SACRIFICES MADE SO WE HAVE THE FREEDOM TO VOTE. I SUGGEST TO YOU THAT THOSE OF US WHO HAD THE GOOD SENSE TO CHOOSE NOT TO VOTE FOR EITHER CLINTON OR TRUMP HAVE A CLEAR CONSCIOUS THAT WE DIDN’T EMPOWER EITHER ONE.
    I HAVE LIVED IN THIS CITY 30 YEARS AND THE ABOVE MENTIONED ISSUES REMAIN DISGUSTINGLY IGNORED!!

  23. Yes… 1 + 10 = Future of City of San Antonio. How an individual behaves, acts past, current is a solid indicator of future; important to this Voter. Thankful that We determine who will “lead” ( every 2 years). Anyway, I voted for Ivy- this cycle voting against the WORST choice!

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