Bexar County’s Democratic Party Chair is facing criticism over his use of the party’s headquarters during his unsuccessful run for mayor. Critics are also questioning how Manuel Medina controls of the local party and if greater transparency is needed.
On Election night, May 6, Manuel Medina’s campaign headquarters was jamming. His supporters are cueing up for food and beer after spending the day getting out the vote.
The election watch party is at the headquarters, 3000 IH-10 West at Mulberry, located near downtown off Fredericksburg Road. On top of the building is a Medina for Mayor Billboard. This is normally the Bexar County Democratic Party headquarters.
But during the last four months the party took a backseat as Medina ran for mayor. According to Medina’s campaign expense reports his campaign paid the rent on the building and the utilities.
Election night as the early voting numbers were released Medina’s personal political career was given a jolt. He received only 15 percent of the vote. An hour later Medina was conceding the race.
“Well, we worked hard. We gave it our all and simply, we didn’t win today. But our issues won today,” he told his supporters.
Because Medina is the chair of the local Democratic Party he was given contender status in the race for mayor. Some assumed he’d draw a lot of the Democratic vote. But the results show that many local Democrats didn't support him. Progressive activist John Wiesen says he knows why.
“He seems to says what every he needs to say to whatever group to please them. To us he kind of resembles Donald Trump in that way. He has tried to get TEA Party votes for him yet he claims to be a progressive,” he said.
Also Wiesen said he wants to know why Medina was able to take over the party headquarters for his personal campaign. Rose Marie Dehoyos would like to know that too.
As a Democratic precinct chair Dehoyos is a member of the CEC – county executive committee. She asked about the building at their recent meeting held at a local Luby’s. This is Medina’s response:
“The question is, what are we doing with the building? The building is leased under my name or I’m leasing it until the end of June. In July if the CEC decides to – if the CEC approves it – then we will sign a lease. Questions? Sound Familiar?”
Dehoyos said it’s a problem that the party headquarter’s lease is in Medina’s name.
“We’ve never had the lease in our name and it’s in our bylaws. Who ever owns the building doesn’t matters – whoever’s paying the rent doesn’t matters – but it always has to be in our name,” she said.
Dehoyos has opposed Medina since he was first elected party chair in 2011. She said the local party should have been leading the local resistance to President Trump during his first 100 days.
“They were trying to help Medina become mayor. Our party was non-existent. We want our party back.”
Long time Bexar County Democrat Ciro Rodriguez doesn't see Medina leaving the chairmanship of the party any time soon. Wearing a Medina for Mayor T-shirt the former congressman said Medina has been good for the local party.
“There’s no doubt that the Democratic Party as it’s always been defined is like herding cats. So it’s very difficult. So the job that he does in itself even prior to running was like herding cats and so that’s a difficult job to take on and he’s been doing that really well,” he said.
But as Medina returns to his role as party chair some like Mary’s University professor of political science Henry Flores question Medina’s many overlapping and sometimes conflicting roles: The candidate, the county party chair, the independent political consultant and the individual donor. Flores said one example is the lease of the party headquarters in Medina’s own name. It gives him considerable power over the people who are supposed to be providing oversight. Flores said that is a conflict of interest.
“If the executive committee or the party membership decides they want a change in chair people – what he’s gone and done if he leaves he can boot them out of their home,” he said.
Flores said there should also be concern about donations to Medina’s campaign for mayor and donations to the Bexar County Democratic Party.
How can these monies be kept separate and true to the intent of the donor when on any given month one account or the other will be paying the rent?
“It doesn’t pass the smell test. if I were a democrat I would not give money to the party. I really wouldn’t,” Flores said.
Medina says his critics don’t take into account that he is a full time volunteer chairman. And under his leadership there are more local progressive Democrats in office. But also he said it’s important to note that he personally pumps money into the party to keep it running year round.
“They might not see my generosity,” Medina said.
“In the sense out of your own pocket you pay a lot of the bills?” asked TPR reporter David Martin Davies.
“Correct. I have in the past and that’s been something common since I’ve been chair and at the end of the day once we’re past cost saving mode and we enter into fund raising mode and that’s when the party takes off,” he said.
Flores said Medina’s political leadership is not the central question but how finances are handled and how the party’s checks and balances of power are maintained. He said a transparent and independent outside audit would benefit the party.