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Redistricting Forces Candidates Into New District Race

Arthur Thomas, 34, and Celeste Montez-Tidwell, 45, thought they’d be running in District 9 when they decided to make a run for the San Antonio City Council.

Montez-Tidwell has lived in the district for 15 years, but when she arrived at the city clerk’s office, she found out the city’s redistricting actually pushed her into District 10.

"So I took a big breath, I literally stood out in the hall and looked at myself and thought about myself, looked at my cousin, Casey, and said, 'What do we do?'" she said. "And I thought about it and I said I still believe in the same thing and I still want to do the same thing and this is my year."

Thomas said he found out several weeks before filing his paperwork at City Hall, but spared no feelings about how well redistricting information was distributed to people.

"There was no notification," he said. "I had to look at a map that Elisa Chan had brought to a meeting to see that I had been redistricted. They did a horrible job of informing people about redistricting."

Switching districts may be more of a mind game than anything. Each of the candidates, who are now facing District 10 incumbent Carlton Soules, said they'll make adjustments to their campaigns. Montez-Tidwell explained it as "spreading her wings" to reach more people.

As for Thomas, philosophical differences in political beliefs are at the heart of his concern.

"I think it makes it a little harder to convince people to vote for me maybe because Carlton Soules, who I'm running against, is seen as the most conservative member on the council, and a lot of the people in the district like him, I acknowledge that," Thomas said.

Soules, along with Districts 8 and 9 council members Reed Williams and Elisa Chan, are seen as the conservative bloc on the council.

District 10 residents don't seem ready to identify with one party or another.

Vickie Caceras, who attended a District 10 town hall meeting on Thursday, April 11, said there are people of all backgrounds there.

"We're a working class community, and working class means mixed," she said.

Walt Wilson, an assistant professor of political science at UTSA, said city elections don’t generally put partisan politics into play as much. Geography, he said, may be more of a factor than anything.

"Simply by where we see demographic groups residing in the city, more likely on the North Side that you're going to elect a conservative, Anglo candidate, and many other parts of the city you're more likely to elect a more liberal minority candidate," he said.

Montez-Tidwell, a Democrat, she said she knows the people well in District 9, but she feels welcomed in her new district; maybe even a little more at home with the people there.

"The demographic in 10 that I've been consorting with and dealing with are actually probably more in my alley, I believe, opposed to the District 9," Montez-Tidwell said. "There are a lot more wealthy people in District 9 and the class is different. The district 10 people are located on the Nacogdoches area."

Wilson said city elections often come without the convenient party labels of bigger elections. That, combined with fewer people going to the polls, make elections like this harder to predict.

Ultimately, it may not matter where a candidate runs – if people don't vote.