San Antonio’s outdated City Charter calls for City Council members to choose among themselves when a mayor leaves office before his or her term is expired. The charter dates back to the mid-20th century, but this will be the first time the situation has arisen.
Mayor Julián Castro intends to resign his office here on Tuesday, July 22 and then depart for Washington, D.C., where he will be sworn in as the next Secretary of Housing & Urban Development in the Obama administration.
(As an aside, why aren’t the people who signed a petition demanding a vote on streetcars instead demanding a change in the city charter to guarantee them a voice in selecting San Antonio’s mayor, should there ever be another mid-term resignation? Why are the firefighters concerned more about a mode of inner city public transportation than who serves in the city’s top elected office?)
The 10 members of City Council will select the interim mayor at a special meeting of City Council on July 22, with Mayor Julián Castro presiding but not voting. He said last week that he intends to resign as mayor at the same meeting once his successor is chosen.
Public access television is usually pretty low wattage, but this may be one you want to watch. The meeting is open to the public, and the voting is done in the open. That doesn’t necessarily mean the public will get to see the Council select the next mayor, however.
Politics suggest that is happening now behind the scenes. At least some of the five candidates expected to file letters of interest with the City Clerk and thus make themselves eligible for consideration, are seeking the support of the five candidates who do not intend to vie for the mayor’s office.
It takes six votes to win, a majority that will be harder to achieve if some of the announced candidates exercise their right to abstain. If all five abstain from voting for someone else, it will be impossible to gain the necessary majority. Such a stalemate would open up the process to all 10 council members, according to the rules of procedure outlined by City Attorney Robbie Greenblum at a recent council meeting.
If the interim mayor is, however, successfully elected on the first round of voting, you will know the real vote occurred behind closed doors and out of public view. I hope that doesn’t happen, and I don’t necessarily believe it will.
What is more likely is an inconclusive first round in which at least two of the candidates, District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg and District 7 Councilman Chris Medina, receive no votes and are eliminated from the next round. It’s also possible, of course, that both will reach this conclusion before July 22 and reverse their stated intentions to seek the mayor’s seat.
Either way, that would leave three candidates.
One is District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, the presumed frontrunner who has stated her willingness to serve out Castro’s one year unexpired term and then step down without seeking election as mayor next May. She would be San Antonio’s first African-American mayor and in a strong position to seek a seat in the state Legislature afterwards if state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) does not run again.
Taylor’s pledge not to run in next May’s city election makes her an appealing compromise candidate to council members who want to run in May themselves or who want to support a candidate not on the Council.
It also would leave San Antonio with a figurehead leader lacking the political power of an interim mayor perceived as a possible candidate for election to a full term in May.
The others two candidates are District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez, the senior member of Council, and District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, both of whom have expressed an interest in winning the interim seat and going on to run in May.
Two suburban Council members, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier and District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher, were said to be provisionally committed to Taylor, if you believe city hall chatter. That’s still four votes short, but it’s a start.
Lopez is experienced and believes he would be effective as mayor, but younger Council members seem more inclined to look at candidates from their generation. Gonzales has entered the contest, in part, because she and others feel it’s time for San Antonio to elect its first Latina mayor. She also believes she is just as qualified as anyone else pursuing the job. Gonzales had no mayoral aspirations before Castro’s Cabinet nomination, but circumstances have placed her and everyone else on the Council in a position none anticipated.
The unique nature of Council politics has thrust all of them into an uncomfortable position. The Council members who might have been the most likely to try and succeed Castro in 2017, had he sought and won a fourth term, aren’t the Council members with the strongest hand in the July 22 contest.
In a city of 1.4 million people, we are about to hold an election with only 10 eligible voters. It’s a lousy formula for selecting our city’s next leader, but it’s certainly not the fault of those holding office today. It’s the legacy of an outdated charter written and approved in an era when holding office was seen as part-time community service, when a coterie of wealthy, powerful, white businessmen decided who would hold office.
Those days are long gone, but we are stuck with the remnants of that time. Whatever you think of the process, Tuesday, July 22, will be a day of drama in San Antonio.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) is off and running as an announced candidate for the mayor’s race next May. He is the only credible candidate outside City Council to announce his candidacy. You can read more in this Rick Casey column in the Express-News.