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For Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), the general election campaign often was conducted by forum. Night after night, public meetings politely documented the two candidates’ differences, often with former Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina joining them on stage to deliver his own populist message.
Taylor and Nirenberg are now in a runoff sprint, with early voting starting May 30 and the runoff election on June 10. Less than five percentage points separated the two in the first-round voting. Both are projecting confidence and a sense of certain victory.
Taylor and Nirenberg didn’t plan it this way, but both met Tuesday evening at an impromptu mayoral forum at the Lavaca Neighborhood Association meeting at Freetail Brewery in Southtown.
Afterwards, Taylor was able to catch a moment’s rest, and enjoy pizza and a Spurs game with more than a dozen supporters at her campaign headquarters near North Star Mall as the Spurs escaped their own close call.
Both candidates now seek to energize their voters and win the 15% Medina vote and the 5% who voted for one of the other 11 candidates. Incumbent Taylor received 42% of the vote while challenger Nirenberg finished with 37%. Medina trailed badly with 15%.
Registered voters who skipped the general election can vote in the runoff and those who aren’t registered have until May 11 to do so. The ballot includes contentious runoff races for City Council seats in districts 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, and 10.
Taylor has brought on longtime Democratic consultant Colin Strother to be her campaign’s general consultant less than two days after the vote. It’s a move that her opponent calls one of “desperation,” but she described it as strategic.
“It’s a new campaign – a runoff is turning the page, there’s different dynamics and so we thought that we could enhance the team that we have,” Taylor told the Rivard Report. “The core message [still] is who I am and what I’ve delivered for the citizens of San Antonio.”
Strother will take the helm of the runoff campaign, he said, and Christian Anderson will remain campaign manager.
“[Anderson] didn’t have enough help the first round and we’re going to fix that in the second round,” Strother told the Rivard Report. “We didn’t do a good enough job to turn out the voters. We’re not going to make that mistake again.”
“Round One was a multiple choice question with 14 answers. Now it’s a binary choice,” he said, adding that he’ll be able to bring his “perspective as an outsider” to the new campaign.
Still, it now seems like a campaign with two managers.
Strother has been publicly critical of Taylor’s performance before, often commenting on social media. He says now that he’s also seen her respond and perform well under pressure, specifically concerning the police union contract negotiations. He admits he still doesn’t agree with her on everything, but “that’s not my job.”
“And this actually gives me more credibility in this situation,” he said. “I looked at the field and there was only one mayor running.”
Strother is also working on District 2 Councilman Alan Warrick’s runoff campaign against local attorney William “Cruz” Shaw, and he worked on Councilman Cris Medina’s unsuccessful campaign to keep the District 7 seat. Other people and firms working on Taylor’s campaign are working for Shaw’s campaign.
That’s the nature of political consultancy, Strother said. “You compartmentalize things, you don’t bring one campaign into another.”
Strother’s addition to Taylor’s staff is a sign that the “campaign is clearly a ship taking in water,” Nirenberg said as he walked into the meeting room of his downtown campaign headquarters on Broadway Street carrying a dixie cup full of coffee. He’ll be drinking a lot of that over the next month.
The councilman said he’s not doing anything differently leadership-wise when it comes to his campaign. His tactic of “talking to everyone who will listen” will remain the same, and reaching out to “every voter and knocking on every door” is still how Nirenberg wants to continue building support for his campaign.
Amid water bottles and fliers in Nirenberg’s campaign headquarters, scribbled on a large whiteboard in his office is the hashtag #ItsaRonOff, a pun written by campaign staff as a motivator for the days ahead. Colorful paper with campaign goals and lists of phone numbers for phone banks were scattered around the councilman’s meeting room.
“We had the Democratic Party Chairman and the incumbent mayor with the status quo support, so people had written us off just like they did when I ran in District 8,” Nirenberg said. “But as we did then and as we have done as a council office and as we have done in our campaign, we have focused on listening to our neighbors, representing them, and delivering a message of a better San Antonio by including everyone.”
Nirenberg has advocated for a voter-approved transportation plan, including light rail, and more disincentives for sprawl.
Taylor has sought to divide and identify certain constituencies on the Northside and group them together, Nirenberg said, but only “until it was politically expedient for her to do so in the election.” He believes part of his success thus far is due to “operating inclusively” and focusing on representing all of San Antonio instead of just certain pockets in the city.
“Taylor’s campaign is clearly in desperation mode [and] we can see that by some of the moves that she’s made,” Nirenberg added.
Strother and Taylor wholeheartedly reject that claim, of course.
“My experience and leadership, the willingness to make the tough decisions and stick by them,” Taylor said, make her the obvious choice for mayor. “[Nirenberg] has changed his position on a variety of very important issues or been reluctant to really make a strong stand.”
She cited his recent comments about the 2014 Council decision on a zoning case that led to the relocation of Mission Trails Mobile Home Park residents and pending luxury apartment construction.
Nirenberg, who voted for the rezoning, said during a recent event at the project site that “knowing what we know now,” he would have voted “no.”
Taylor was out of town for the vote, but made a point of letting Council know she would have voted for the zoning change.
Nirenberg’s criticism of contract changes and transparency issues involved in the Vista Ridge water pipeline, even though he voted in favor of the project, Taylor said, is also cause for concern.
“That’s not what we need in leadership in the mayor’s office,” she said, “especially when we’re going to have five brand-new council members coming on board who are going to be trying to figure out how the system works and looking to the mayor to set the tone and provide a lead.”
(Another difference between the two, for the record: Taylor prefers tea over coffee.)