Forum fatigue may be setting in as the campaign between the last two mayoral candidates still standing nears the start of early voting on Monday and enters the final two weeks before the Saturday, June 13 election.
The anticipated full house of 300 at the UTSA Downtown Campus' Buena Vista Theater was closer to half that number, leaving the auditorium nearly half empty for one of the five forums that interim Mayor Ivy Taylor and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte have scheduled during the second round campaign.
Both announced their candidacy late in the mayoral race and both claim to be the best choice for San Antonio, and both have been part of 50 or more community forums. After a tight election in a crowded field that drew a low 12% voter turnout, the candidates now are energizing their base of supporters and aiming at getting people back to the polls a second time.
There is no reliable polling data publicly available, but the conventional wisdom among local political-watchers is that Taylor and Van de Putte are locked in a tight race that will come down to which candidate turns out their supporters and wins votes from supporters of former state Rep. Mike Villareal and former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson. Villarreal has not endorsed either candidate, while Adkisson has endorsed Taylor.
The televised forum was sponsored by UTSA, the San Antonio Express-News and Time Warner Cable News San Antonio. The three panelists included Francine Romero, the associate dean of the College of Public Policy at UTSA, Express-News Columnist Gilbert Garcia and Annette Garcia, a reporter for TWC San Antonio.
Van de Putte noted early in the debate that only 6% of the first round voters were under 35, proof that the city needs a strong leader to inspire and engage young professionals.
“When they see Google Fiber cutting us off the list, the inability to pay attention to the growing technologies sector, cloud computing and the bio sciences and cybersecurity, I think our young people are disappointed,” Van de Putte said in a critique of Taylor’s time in office.
Van de Putte reminded the audience of Taylor’s promise to not run for mayor when the City Council elected her as Interim Mayor last year. “She would have never been mayor had she not given the assurances that she would not continue to run.”
Van de Putte also pledged not to enter the mayor's race when she was seeking the lieutenant governor's office, but also changed her mind. Based on the first round results, voters were not particularly bothered by the candidates' change of mind and decision to enter the race.
Taylor argued that younger voters were disengaged because they were tired of “politics as usual,” and that Sen. Van de Putte’s attacks were just obstacles to moving forward.
“Her style is the old-school style and the statement she just gave was full of misinformation. Google Fiber is still coming, we’ve never said ‘no’ to Uber,” Taylor said. “The fact that I did not intend to run for mayor is not the sole reason my colleagues selected me.”
Taylor said was chosen to serve out former Mayor Julían Castro's unexpired third term because of her strong leadership and her stance on the police and fire contract negotiations with the city.
Tensions erupted between the candidates when they questioned each other during the debate. Van de Putte persisted in asking Taylor why she and her husband Rodney did not file a complaint after a gang-style drive-by shooting involving his bail bond business in 2014, an incident that left two teen passersby wounded by stray gunfire.
“As the highest elected official in the city, how can the citizens of San Antonio expect you to stand up for the safety of our families when you don’t stand up for the safety of your own family?” Van de Putte asked.
Taylor, visibly upset by the question, insisted that her husband’s actions were not relevant to the race, and that public safety remained her number one priority as mayor.
The partisan audience erupted in both direction, one side shouting “answer the question!” while the other side applauded supportively when Taylor called the question “inappropriate.”
Van de Putte persisted, prompting Taylor to ask the panelists to intervene with a new line of questioning, and from there, the debate turned to the stalled collective bargaining talks between the City and the police union and the failure of the firefighters union to even come to the table after more than one year of efforts by the City to start talks.
Both candidates agreed that the unions' evergreen clause, which allows the union to walk away from negotiations for a decade while preserving all existing benefits, must be addressed. The City is challenging the constitutionality of the clause in state district court, and neither candidate presented an alternative proposal. Most clauses have 30-90 day durations, but past city officials gave the unions a number of contractual perks and benefits not found in other collective bargaining agreements in Texas cities.
Van de Putte cited her 24 years of experience working both sides of the aisle in the Texas Legislature as preparation for serving as a unifying force at City Hall.
“I know that this mayor’s race and the decisions made by the mayor in the next few years will determine whether San Antonio is just going to be a big city or great American city,” Van de Putte said.
Taylor cited her daughter Morgan as her inspiration for creating a bright city where young people want to work and live in the future.
“I believe that it's time for us to turn the page,” Taylor said. “I have been a strong mayor who hasn’t shied away from making those big decisions. I stopped the unpopular streetcar project, I brought the police back to the negotiating table.
“I created a planning process that will allow us to come together as a community to think about how we grow between now and 2040, and that we are working together as one San Antonio,” Taylor added.
Van de Putte and Taylor will meet again, even as early voting starts Monday, June 1, and runs through Tuesday, June 9.
Upcoming Mayoral Forums/Interviews:
Monday, June 1: Texas Public Radio forum will be broadcast live at 3 p.m.
Monday, June 1: The Clean Air, Clean Water, Healthy City forum at Trinity University's Chapman Center Auditorium. Back-to-back discussions: Leticia Van de Putte at 6 p.m., Mayor Ivy Taylor at 7 p.m. RSVP here.
Wednesday, June 3: The candidates will be meeting at WOAI News Radio (1200 AM) for a forum at 9 a.m., but the Rivard Report has been unable to confirm if it will be broadcast live.
CORRECTION: There has been no conclusion that Rodney Taylor's business was targeted during the shooting. The incident happened in close proximity, but the details surrounding the shooting have not been revealed.
*Featured/top image: Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Mayor Ivy Taylor prepare for the forum on Thursday night. Photo by Lea Thompson.