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Video: Villarreal Says He's A Proud Policy Wonk Who'll Dig Into The Details

Shelley Kofler
Texas Public Radio
Candidate Mike Villarreal with children Bella and Marcos.

Friends have described him as driven.  He describes himself as a wonk who doesn’t like to delegate. Texas Public Radio continues our look at qualities the leading candidates for San Antonio Mayor would bring to the job, by making an early morning stop at the home of Mike Villarreal.  (Watch video produced with NowCastSA below.)

“All right Marcos let’s go.  Marcos.  Let’s go.”

It’s 7:30 in the morning. Mike Villarreal’s young children Bella and Marcos are finishing up their breakfast cereal in the front room as their dad tries to do what parents across the city are trying to do- get his kids to school on time.

“Come on, Bella.  Put your backpack on.”

Villarreal likes the ritual of walking his children to the nearby Bonham Academy, a public charter in the San Antonio Independent School District.  Today they’re running a little late and have to drive.

Still, just being able to walk through the neighborhood is important to Villarreal. It’s part of the reason he and his wife are renovating a

1915-era Southtown house that was vacant, part of the reason he says he’s running for mayor.

“We have an appreciation for the history of old San Antonio,” says Villarreal.  “We love our walkable neighborhood, being able to pop in on friends, walk our kids to school, walk to our favorite restaurants.  That is something that enhances our quality of life and it’s something I want for all families.”

Walk-able, Bike-able City

The 43-year old, former state representative and financial analyst is a long-distance runner who talks a lot about making San Antonio more walk-able and bike-able, so residents become healthier.

He wants to attack traffic gridlock with better mass transit and by encouraging people to leave their cars at home.

“I absolutely believe that we have to change the game of how we get around. If we’re going to double in population we can’t simply double the number of cars and trucks.” 

In a conversation with Villarreal a couple of qualities stand out:  he’s very serious; precise; a guy who can talk in granular detail about public policy. He’s proud of that.

Credit Shelley Kofler / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Villarreal and his family are renovating a house where they have walkable stree.ts

Policy Wonk From Central Catholic

“I’ve always been a policy wonk.  We’re going to need a mayor who rolls up his sleeves and gets into the nitty-gritty of public policy.  I don’t delegate out. I’m a hands on type of person.”

Villarreal lives by a code that begins with an appreciation for his hardworking parents who each labored at two jobs to send him to San Antonio’s Central Catholic High School.  It’s an all-boys school that stresses leadership and public service.

“They did a really effective job of integrating, in many of my classmates, this ethic of public service.  So, when I graduated from high school, the lure of one day returning home to serve my community in politics and in public policy was present.”

Villarreal’s path took him to Texas A&M where he majored in economics, and to Harvard where he earned a Master in Public Policy. He worked as an analyst and consultant specializing in public finance. During his 15 years in the Texas House of Representatives he put that training to work as he became an expert on school finance. He cites a bill that increased funding for low income scholarships known as the Texas Grants, as one of his greatest accomplishments.

And he traces it all back to his parents.

Education-Focused Mayor

“They believed education was the key to more opportunities. That is really at the heart of my public service, whether it’s in the legislature or hopefully in the mayor’s office,” he says.

If elected mayor Villarreal says he’d connect educators and businesses to create apprenticeships and internships that would provide students with a future, and employers with a better-trained workforce.

In a field of 14 candidates, he thinks his finance background makes him the smart choice as the city wrangles with police over their contract, and public safety costs that consume 67 percent of the city budget.

Villarreal On Rival Candidates

Villarreal blames current mayor Ivy Taylor, an opponent, for the contract not being settled.  He claims her approach is the reason ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft left town.

“She took a very regulatory, heavy-handed approach.  I would have taken a more market-based approach, creating a framework where competition could exist,” says Villarreal.

Villarreal also slams frontrunner and former state senator Leticia Van de Putte for moving almost $300,000 from her state campaign accounts to her mayoral account, then moving the money back when Villarreal called foul. 

“I am somebody who tries to do what’s right from the beginning, not getting caught, then forced to do what’s right,” he says.

Van de Putte says she didn’t do anything wrong.  But with his serious, laser-like focus, Villarreal, the wonk, reminds voters of the issue at forum after forum.     

Tomorrow we talk with mayoral candidate Tommy Adkisson.

Shelley Kofler is Texas Public Radio’s news director. She joined the San Antonio station in December 2014 and leads a growing staff that produces two weekly programs; a daily talk show, news features, reports and online content. Prior to TPR, Shelley served as the managing editor and news director at KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.