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What Will Chan's Absence Mean For City Council? Not A Whole Lot

Ryan Loyd
TPR News

As soon as District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan officially files for the state Senate District 25 race, she will leave the San Antonio City Council.

In late September, Chan's campaign spokesperson Craig Murphy announced the councilwoman would be challenging tea party-backed state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels.

Chan ran for re-election nearly five months ago, sliding into an easy victory over opponent Jason Salinas. By that time, she'd already dealt with a minor controversy -- a conflict of interest on a council vote that would place a new branch library on property adjacent to her North Side business.

Months later, she faced a backlash when a former staffer secretly recorded a meeting where she was heard saying homosexuals are "disgusting" and that same-sex couples shouldn't be allowed to adopt. The meeting was about a then-proposed non-discrimination ordinance city leaders were in the midst of debating.

At a news conference held weeks later, in a room filled with supporters, she tried to clarify her position.

"I made that comment in reaction to pedophilia and bestiality, and quite frankly I still find those behaviors disgusting," she said. "I will, however, not change my own values  or beliefs for political gain or survival."

She received applause from backers at that event, as well as a standing ovation from people who disagreed with ordinance inside city council chambers during several citizens-to-be-heard meetings.

Rolling NDO opposition into a 2014 run

Credit Ryan Loyd / TPR News
TPR News
Supporters applaud Chan at a news conference where she defended her homophobic remarks that were recorded and later released to the Express-News.

Kelton Morgan, a political consultant who has worked mostly with Republicans during his 20-year career, said that may have given Chan the confidence she needed to take on Campbell and Mike Novak, a former Bexar County commissioner, during the March Republican primaries.

Morgan doesn't think her absence will affect the council negatively.

"I don't see any one person that holds so much sway over the council that any one person stepping down is going to adversely affect the 10 or nine other council members and the mayor," said Morgan.

Morgan thinks Chan's North Side district will ultimately elect someone who views the world like Chan does. First, though, the council will appoint an interim member.

A city charter change in 2012 now requires that a special election be held to fill a vacant seat with more than nine months left in the term. The next available date for a special election will be May 2014.

"District 9 being District 9 is going to ultimately elect someone who I expect will continually challenge the mayor and the majority of the council, fight hard for that part of town, for that district, and that often is at odds with the view of a majority on council who tend to be more downtown centric," said Morgan.

District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez was first elected the same year as Chan, in 2009, and said she brings a great deal of experience in economic development to the table. Although he may not see eye to eye with the conservative councilwoman, he will miss her expertise, he said.

Credit Office of the Governor
Chan will have a tough campaign to unseat Campbell, who has made a name for herself in her first term by being a leading voice on hot button issues like abortion.

"Politically, we don't always agree on things but that's the kind of way it is in this business," said Lopez. "But I do know we always agree that economic development is important from her perspective, certainly international focus is important, and she's done a great job and certainly will be missed, that focus and commitment."

Mayor Julián Castro, who also does not see eye to eye with Chan, offered gracious parting words.

"I appreciated serving with Councilwoman Chan. I wish her will in her election and I'm sure that whomever succeeds her will do a good job for District 9 and for San Antonio," he said.

Facing a tough race against first-time Campbell

A poll released by Campbell's campaign, conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen, asked voters, "If the Republican primaries were held today, for whom would you vote?"

The results, as released by Campbell's campaign, indicated 48 percent said Campbell, 10 percent Chan, and 7 percent Novak. However, according to the poll, 36 percent of the respondents said they were still undecided.