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6-to-5: Women Become Majority On San Antonio City Council

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Joey Palacios
/
Texas Public Radio
Six members of the San Antonio City Council pose for a photo before a ceremonial inaguration inside council chambers. From left to right: Shirley Gonzales (D5); Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4); Rebecca Viagran (D3); Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2); Ana Sandoval (D7)

Three women took their seats on the San Antonio City Council this week. The moment was historic: It was only the second time in the city's history that women outnumbered men on the council.

Mariachis and soul music welcomed new and old members of the council that will represent the city of San Antonio from now through mid-2021. The June 8th runoff elections added Jada Andrews-Sullivan in District 2; Adriana Rocha Garcia in District 4; and Melissa Cabello Havrda in District 6. Women now hold six of the council’s eleven seats.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, one of the longest serving members of the council, was thrilled.

“This is the kind of thing you dream of. Working hand in hand with incredible colleagues. Women, women for the first time elected to work together for a common cause and hopefully the things that really matter to a city like San Antonio,” she said.

Rebecca Viagran, the District 3 councilwoman, said the Alamo City was setting an example to the rest of the world.

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Credit Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Left to right: John Courage (D9); Roberto Trevino (D1); Mayor Ron Nirenberg; Clayton Perry (D10); Manny Pelaez (D8)

“We in San Antonio are national leaders, declaring from coast to coast that the way to go is female elected leaders – specifically these women of color who will push harder and stronger to ensure that get things done.”

Men have dominated the city council since the city began installing council members, or aldermen in 1837, one year after the Battle of the Alamo.

Only twice have women been in the majority. The first time was in 2008 when Jennifer Ramos was appointed to represent District 3. 2019 is the second time, but this was the first time the female majority resulted from an election.

Viagran, Gonzalez and District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval have championed women’s issues on the city council. The council passed a resolution on promoting equity for women last November.

The council also recently highlighted a report showing the dangers women in San Antonio face.

Before Wednesday’s inauguration, Viagran said a female majority may help give greater attention to issues affecting women.

“The earnings gap -- we have not enough women in the workforce. We also have the most amount of rapes in our largest four cities in the state of Texas. I mean, those are gender disparities, and highlighting the issues and what are we going to do to rectify that and eliminate that tool,” she said.

Christine Drennon, a professor and director of the urban studies program at Trinity University, said the new council will bring different perspectives.

“People have different life experiences and then they’re going to think about and prioritize different issues so race ethnicity, age gender -- all of these are going to be important,” Drennon said.

The majority-female council is also made up mostly of people of color and has been for many years. All of the women are Latina or African American. San Antonio’s population is 51 percent female and 64 percent Hispanic.

Drennon also pointed out the female council members represent some of the lower income districts in San Antonio.

“The childcare issue, the paid sick leave issues, hopefully the affordable housing issue also now will be thought out and considered from a very different perspective,” Drennon said.

Andrews-Sullivan is new to the city council and new to politics. She was a finalist considered for an interim position for the District 2 seat when former councilman William Cruz Shaw resigned this year. She said she and her female colleagues can bring in stories about strength, honor and dignity.

“We bring about a spirit of nurturing, about a spirit of maturing and actually bringing forth things that many will not see because we visualize things a little differently,” she said, “and we look at the full picture, and we look at exactly how we can become humanitarians and not just city council members.”

Havrda, the newly elected councilwoman for District 6 said aside from the female majority she looked forward to the council’s varying viewpoints.

“We all bring a unique set of qualities – a majority of us anyway are women,” she said, “but even so we all come from different walks of life, different educational backgrounds. That’s what I’m even more excited about -- the fact that we come from different areas of our town.”

San Antonio isn’t the only major Texas city to have elected a majority female council.

Since 2015, women have made up the council majority in Austin on seven of eleven seats.

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