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Mayoral Candidates Pushed On Hot-Button Topic In Opening Debate

The three highest profile candidates running for San Antonio mayor squared off in their first debate Saturday. It was sponsored by the Asian-American Alliance of San Antonio.  If elected in May, each candidate promised to resolve the contentious issue of the police and firefighters’ contracts.

The ongoing contract negotiations with the police and fire unions came up multiple times during the debate at Churchill High School. Texas State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, and former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, were asked to participate and answer this question: “If you were mayor today, how would you handle and resolve the police union contract situation?”

Adkisson responded first, and said that he believed City Manager Sheryl Scully had taken an adversarial approach from day one. “That was a major mistake,” said Adkisson. “These men and women in uniform are our friends, our families, and our neighbors, not our enemies.” He went on to add that police officers and firefighters were not civilian employees and could not be treated the same way as clerks and office workers. 

He emphasized that a strong, stay-at-home mayor was needed, so the city manager didn’t overstep her authority. Adkisson implied that former mayor, Julian Castro, had been spending too much time in Washington even prior to being named U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, and that led to Scully taking charge.

Villarreal, asked how he would resolve the dispute, said he would serve as the “chief explainer.” “And [I would] not only be a part of the negotiations and making sure both groups focus on a fundamental interest of public safety and financial sustainability, but also go around our city presenting to neighborhood groups, so we can build the public will to get this contract right,” he added.

Van de Putte said she hoped that the current mayor, Ivy Taylor, could resolve the dispute. She said she believed fixing trust was the top priority, “We don’t need an explainer, we need a leader. And the first thing you do is re-establish trust, you can’t invite people to the table where there has been hurt and there has been distrust, so much so that there is no respect.”

Nine people had filed to run for mayor, as of Friday afternoon. The Asian-American Alliance said it had limited the debate invitations to three candidates because of what they called “time constraints.” The three invited have all served in public office and are probably the best known of the group of mayoral hopefuls.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules