Composite / Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Although first-term Councilman Greg Brockhouse is giving up his hard-fought seat representing District 6 on San Antonio’s City Council to make a run for the mayor’s office, he won’t be endorsing any of the four candidates on the ballot to replace him.
Attorney Melissa Cabello Havrda, 44, who forced Brockhouse into a runoff in 2017, has more name recognition this time around and looks like the front-runner in terms of campaign funds raised. Former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Department of Housing and Development Secretary Julián Castro endorsed Havrda two years ago and she lost in the runoff by fewer than 500 votes.
Two other names familiar to the District 6 office are Robert “Bobby” Herrera, a controversial figure who served as the District 6 representative more than two decades ago, and Andy Greene, who worked as a staff advisor for Brockhouse and his predecessor, Councilman Ray Lopez. Mario Adame, an after-school specialist, is a political newcomer with a passion for youth success.
Havrda hasn’t heard from Castro, who is running for president. “I think he’s really busy,” she said with a laugh.
This year she has endorsements from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, State Rep. Ina Minjarez, and State Sen. José Menéndez, Havrda said, “but it’s the endorsement of the voter that I’m looking for.”
The best way to get that, she said, is old-fashioned block-walking – that was her strategy two years ago, too. “I’m working just as hard this time, leaving no stone unturned” to reach District 6 residents.
Affordable and quality housing, public safety, better streets, and traffic are among her top priorities, she said, and as she has been speaking with residents, property taxes have become a greater concern across the district compared to two years ago, she said. That’s a citywide trend during this election as property appraisals have risen significantly for most residents.
Havrda said she’s open to the discussion of property tax rate decreases and a local homestead exemption, but those tools would have “a minimal impact to the homeowner and a huge decrease to our City [budget], so I’m not sure it’s worth it.”
Many people she’s spoken with would rather have the City keep that nominal amount and spend it on public safety, she said, adding that what concerns her more is that homeowners have to challenge their property appraisal values.
“I don’t think it’s fair that it’s incumbent upon the taxpayer to do the legwork,” she said, noting some simply don’t have the time to go through the process. She’s supportive of the study recently approved by City Council to study the Bexar Appraisal District.
What’s important, she said, is “making sure that the culture and identity of these neighborhoods are intact” as the district and the city grows.
But when Havrda, who specializes in Social Security disability law, knocks on doors these days, all anyone can talk about is the controversial ousting of Chick-fil-A from the airport concessions contract, she said.
She says City Council – and City staff – should have stuck to following what was in the request for proposal (RFP) before removing the fast food chain, she said. “The whole thing could have been avoided.”
The RFP indicated a preference for restaurants open every day during normal operating hours, but there was no requirement to have a good reputation with the LGBTQIA community – which Chick-fil-A does not as its founder and charity arm have given money to groups opposed to gay marriage. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays.
“I’m a staunch [LGBTQIA] supporter,” she said. “I’m not taking this as a stance against that community at all … but those were the rules, [Council] made the rules, and [it] didn’t follow the rules.”
At first, she said, her reaction to City Council’s decision to remove the fast food chain was “well, OK,” she said, but then she found out about how little information and discussion was given to Council members about the company and the process ahead of the vote. The amendment to remove Chick-fil-A was presented on the dais on the day of the vote by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) without much warning.
Council should have been given the opportunity to “take a step back” and consider the decision more fully, she said.
Greene left his part-time work, which he did for almost 10 years, at the District 6 Office to run for the Council seat.
Greene, a 58-year-old certified public accountant who owns a small firm, said the Council’s decision to oust Chick-fil-A from the airport concessionaires was hypocritical for a local government that preaches inclusivity. He called the move “closed-minded.”
“I would have handled [the issue] exactly like the five Council members that voted to give [the Chick-fil-A contract] another look,” he said. “Chick-fil-A was and should continue to be a great partner to the City of San Antonio.”
Removing Chick-fil-A from its airport contract was done purely for political gain, said Adame, 32. The discourse around the issue has cast San Antonio in a negative light, he said. “It doesn’t show who we are [as a City],” Adame added.
The combination of increasing property appraisals and rising property tax rates have become onerous for District 6 residents, Greene said.
“Our residents are saying property taxes are too high,” he said. “I’ve gotten complaints at almost any community meeting we’ve been at.”
Adame has heard similar things from District 6 residents while block-walking during his campaign.
“They’re very concerned,” he said. “They feel the City budget is getting way too high. They don’t understand exactly why it’s going so high.”
Herrera, 63, figured in various scandals during his stint on the Council in the mid-1990s. Since last fall, he has been assisting Seguin residents at an office for U.S. Rep. Vicente González (D-McAllen). The U.S. Navy veteran is retired from the federal civil service. Herrera could not be reached for comment by publication time.