The race to become the interim mayor of San Antonio is officially on, with four City Council members filing for the position by Tuesday. No one else filed before the Wednesday 5 p.m. deadline.
District Seven Councilman Chris Medina, who had previously announced his intention to seek the interim mayor’s post did not file a letter of interest amid reports of a developing political problem for Medina sparked by a widely distributed and detailed anonymous email alleging misuse of officeholder funds and other ethical missteps by medina. Calls to his city office went unanswered.
A special meeting of City Council to elect an interim mayor will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 22, the first such instance a mayor has been replaced mid-term since the City Charter was enacted in 1952. The winner will serve out the one-year unexpired term of Mayor Julián Castro, who has been confirmed as the next Secretary of Housing & Urban Development in the Obama administration and is expected to be sworn in by July 28 in Washington D.C.
The mayor will preside at the special meeting, but will not cast a vote. If one of the candidates succeeds in winning a six-vote majority, Castro has said he will then resign and the interim mayor will take the oath. Winning six votes in open session might prove to be a challenge. Candidates cannot vote for themselves, but they are allowed to abstain from voting and thus avoid giving their vote to anyone else.
There is no shortage of candidates.
The City Council’s two senior members, District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor and District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez, are running. Two of the newest members, District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg and District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, also are running.
Six council members are not seeking the position. District 9 Councilman Joe Krier went so far as to issue a press release Tuesday confirming his non-candidacy for the interim term. Many council watchers assume Krier is exploring a run for mayor in next May’s city elections.
“Having just been elected on May 10, I have made a commitment to the residents of District 9 to serve out the remainder of former Councilwoman Elisa Chan’s term,” Krier stated in the release.
Taylor, the only candidate who has pledged not to run for office next May if she is chosen as interim mayor, is considered the frontrunner and widely believed to hold four probable votes. She said there is still time for council members to reach a consensus and arrive at the special meeting next Tuesday ready to elect an interim mayor on the first vote.
“According to the City Attorney, we have to keep voting until someone gets six votes,” Taylor said, “but I would hope that we can reach consensus and not face a public situation where we can’t seem to decide.”
That seems to be a widely shared view. Castro’s departure caught council members by surprise. Most expected the mayor to remain in office for four terms through 2017. The process to elect someone from their own ranks in open session has left everyone feeling uncomfortable and at times uncertain how to proceed. In a city of 1.4 million people, only 10 get a say in who becomes the next mayor. That’s why some Council members who are not running favor Taylor. She will be focused on the job, the thinking goes, not re-election.
“I believe I have the right skills, experience and temperament to lead City Council through this transitional period,” Taylor said in an interview. “Mayor Castro brought this city forward a long way, but there are still issues, including the budget and the police contract.”
I asked Taylor if her commitment not to run in 2015 would render her less effective.
“I am not interested in being a caretaker. I am committed to making the tough decisions without having to worry about my political future,” she said. “I also think I have the right temperament. I’m a person who has always been collaborative, even-tempered, and able to work with everyone.”
What would come next if she did serve as mayor for only one year?
“I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m not interested in raising the kind of money necessary to run a successful mayoral campaign while serving. I don’t want to cobble together a campaign in a short period of time.”
Her challenge now is to secure at least two more votes before next Tuesday.
“I haven’t committed to anyone officially,” said District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, “but the two most important criteria for me are seniority on the Council and a commitment not to run in May. I’d add that the feelings of the LGBT community are important to me, too. I’ve stood with them all along.”
Lopez and Taylor are both in their third terms, but only Taylor has made the commitment not to run for mayor if she wins the interim post. Taylor, however, disappointed members of the LGBTQ community when she voted against the non-discrimination ordinance last September, a measure Lopez supported.
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“A couple of months ago, none of us were even contemplating running for mayor,” Lopez said. “I talked about this with my wife about a year ago when people thought the mayor would be offered a Cabinet post, and after some soul-searching I felt I was ready. I think I’m even more ready, more committed to the long-term welfare of the city now. We’ve moved forward and I’m confident I can keep the city moving forward without missing a beat.
“All of us who are running believe we can do the job,” Lopez said. “The number of candidates underscores the fact that we’ve assembled a pretty good team. We don’t always agree on everything, but everyone is working in the best interests of the city. The process is awkward, but once the decision is made Tuesday we will move forward in a positive way.”
Nirenberg was the first member of the Council to express an interest in the job in mid-May when news first broke of Castro’s nomination. Nirenberg also was the first to file a letter of interest on Friday.
“I understand those who consider it brazen for a first-term council member to ask for consideration in succeeding Mayor Castro,” Nirenberg said Tuesday. “We all crave selfless civic leadership at every level and have little patience for the political pursuit of office.
“Yet we are in an extraordinary time in our city’s history, and following the legacies of Mayor Hardberger and Mayor Castro, San Antonio has critical challenges to address and significant opportunities to capture. The coming months are not an interim period by any measure, and as a public servant committed to San Antonio’s long term interests and success, I am obligated to do what I feel is right to reach that promising future.
“That is why I have submitted a letter of intent, and that is why, despite the odds, I am asking for my colleagues’ support,” Nirenberg said. “My letter outlines the vision and efforts I would bring to the office if I am selected mayor. If I am not, I will vigorously support the council’s selection by redoubling efforts for District 8 and our city.”
Gonzales said her motivation for running is to serve as a role model for other Latinas considering public service.
“We need more Latina women serving and excelling in public life,” Gonzales said. “If I don’t put my name in there, how can I ask other women to step up and serve?”
Gonzales said the unprecedented competition among council members to elect a peer “is an awkward process, but ultimately I think we will remain a united group and do what is best for the city.”
A candidate with the support of all six council members who are not running would achieve the necessary, but there is no indication of such a consensus. Candidates can abstain from voting or vote a candidate they know will not received six votes. A stalemate is possible, although all the candidates say they want to avert such scenario. A stalemate could lead to an eventual agreement to open the process to all council members, including those who did not file a letter of interest.
Krier, Gallagher, Viagran, and Saldaña are said to be likely votes for Taylor at the outset. Saldaña, however, said he thought Lopez had equal support in the weeks running up to the filing of letters of interest.
Next Tuesday’s special meeting will begin with City Council going into executive sessions to review the procedures for conducting the first round of voting and then continuing on to subsequent rounds if necessary.
*Featured/top image: San Antonio City Hall. Photo by Iris Dimmick.