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Accusations Fly In Race For San Antonio Council District 8

District 8 City Councilman Reed Williams
Ryan Loyd
District 8 City Councilman Reed Williams

Known for his voice of reason and scrutiny of topics that come across the dais on city council days, District 8 Councilman Reed Williams will not be seeking his third term. This has thrown the door wide open to a list of people ready to fill the seat.

Rolando Briones, an engineer, Ron Nirenberg, associate general manager of Trinity’s jazz station KRTU, and Michael Kueber, a retired attorney, are all ready to be the next city councilman.

This week the Mockingbird Hill Neighborhood Association -- on the city’s northwest side -- invited them to a town hall-style debate to answer questions and help voters get acquainted with them both as people and candidates.

"Why would you run for such an office?" asked Robert Manns, homeowner, host and president of the neighborhood association. "It doesn't pay, it's thankless, so there's got to be a reason and maybe it's altruistic, but maybe it's because it's a stepping stone to someplace else."

The council could be the next stepping stone for Briones, a self-professed public servant.

His website lists a litany of past offices like the San Antonio Zoning Commission and a home owner's association vice president.

Andrea Sandifer moderated the debate and spoke as the voice of the neighbors. She didn't shy away from asking about an issue dear to Mockingbird Hill: how the source of water to the pond at Denman Estate Park was capped.

"Consequently, the heritage trees and the aesthetics of the park are in danger," she said as she finished the question.

While Nirenberg had ideas to fix the problem, Briones grinned slightly when Kueber had this rare political response:

"I don't have any background in these issues, so I really would be basically doing what Ron is suggesting and would have to study the issue and work it through and talk to the appropriate parties," said Kueber.

No one else reacted, but another question sparked plenty of reaction from the candidates.

Pre-K 4 SA still controversial

Sandifer asked how they voted on the issue of Pre-K 4 SA, the mayor's early education measure. Nirenberg is the only one who voted for it.

"Do we all understand that government has a role? Yes," Briones said. "But it should be small and efficient. I didn't see this program as small or efficient. As a matter of fact, it wasn't even planned out."

The mood was clearly combative.

The Pre-K question put Kueber on the offense, telling Nirenberg that his vote for the issue was out of touch with how voters on the Northside felt about it overall.

Kueber, directing his response toward Nirenberg, said, "As far as agreeing philosophically with your district, your inclination is to be social liberal. You went for Pre-K 4 SA because that's your belief. The value system of the people in District 8, most people oppose it."

Nirenberg responded. "With all due respect, Mike, I vote as a private citizen every day there's an election. I will vote as a private citizen, but as a member of this council that's a different conversation, and Pre-K is here. What are you going to do about it on council?"

Questions remain over Briones

Later Sandifer pointed to what she called the elephant in the room, referring to the media's scrutiny over Briones' past.

Among the publicity, Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff highlighted a discrepancy with how Briones was let go from the San Antonio Water System.

Briones claimed he was fired for refusing to eat a raw egg at a team-building meeting, but Chasnoff confirmed that he was really fired over violating company policy and lack of leadership.

Briones told the neighborhood association he doesn't mind the review of his past.

"All the scrutiny is worth it just for the opportunity to continue serving you," said Briones to the room of about 25 people.

Not his first race

Kueber said he's the underdog, but that's nothing new since he ran previously against former Republican Congressman Francisco Canseco in 2010 during the Republican primaries, and for a spot on the Minot, North Dakota City Council in the 1980s.

Still, he said he thinks he has a fair shot at the seat, even though Briones and Nirenberg are well-funded and more visible.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.