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New And Younger San Antonio City Council Sworn Into Office Comes With A Revived List Of Priorities

San Antonio's City Council for the 2021-2023 term
Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
San Antonio's City Council for the 2021-2023 term

Four new council members joined the San Antonio City Council Tuesday after an official swearing-in ceremony and canvassing of the June 5 election results.

The newest city council members will represent the inner and southside council districts of San Antonio. The transition includes the filling of two termed-out open seats and unseating of two incumbents — all who left the council Tuesday. The new members all come with ideals they hope to institute under a budget crunch induced by the pandemic.

The freshman councilmembers are Mario Bravo for District 1 which includes downtown and the near North Side, Jalen McKee-Rodriguez in District 2 on the East Side, Phyllis Viagran for District 3 on the South Side and Teri Castillo in District 5 in the heart of the city’s West Side.

District 9 Councilman John Courage (left) who was re-elected in the runoff joins the four new council members Mario Bravo, Phyllis Viagran, Teri Castillo, and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez in taking the oath of office
Roberto Martinez / Texas Public Radio
District 9 Councilman John Courage (left) who was re-elected in the runoff joins the four new council members Mario Bravo, Phyllis Viagran, Teri Castillo, and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez in taking the oath of office

Shortly before taking the oath of office, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg welcomed them into their new roles.

“The greatest compliment a public servant can be given on the eve of them taking office is to know with confidence that you’re going to do the work, that you’re going to put in the time and effort on behalf of the community,” Nirenberg said. “I’ve watched you over the last several months or years… and I have no doubt in my mind that you’re going to put in the work and make your communities proud.”

The victories of District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo and District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez came with the unseating of two incumbents.

In District 2, former Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan was unseated by her former communications staffer McKee-Rodriguez. Although there appeared to be some tense history, Andrews-Sullivan said McKee-Rodriguez made history being the first openly gay man elected to the city council during the swearing-in ceremony.

Roberto Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Former District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews Sullivan

“You stepped out there and you did something that a lot of people were afraid of and you took it and you ran with it and you are the reason why we are still here today, you are our future,” she said. “You’re young, you’re vibrant, you have more life ahead of you than you could ever even imagine.”

McKee-Rodriguez returned those sentiments to Andrews-Sullivan

“I saw a woman who had overcome so much, who came from the East Side, who represented East Side values, who was a survivor of domestic violence, who was a veteran who was a single mother and was doing amazing things and wanted better for her community,” he said.

McKee-Rodriguez thanked grassroots groups like the Texas Organizing Project and Democratic Socialists of America who helped campaign for him as well as the voters in the district.

“I also have to thank District 2 because District 2 is the one that put me here. District 2 is a district of working class regular ass people,” he said.

He added one of his priorities will be to help create an office of civil rights for the City of San Antonio that would investigate civil rights grievances against city departments.

Former District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño served six years on the council and was not present during Tuesday’s special meeting but instead put out a statement on Twitter.

“We have helped keep people in their homes. We have saved the integrity and history of your neighborhoods, we have worked together to keep your community safe by adding safer sidewalks, streets and public spaces,” Treviño said in a video.

Bravo has his own list of priorities including addressing homelessness within downtown and the surrounding areas as well as oversight for the city’s utilities. An environmentalist by trade, Bravo said he’s awaiting a report from the city’s committee on emergency preparedness on how CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System handled the winter storm and future resilience.

“We own them. They’re public utilities. How can we make sure that they are serving our community? How can we adjust their rate structures so that, one, they’re more equitable rate structures but also so that they promote conservation and how can we make our utilities more sustainable?”

Bravo also says he wants to see how the city can enact property tax relief for the most vulnerable residents in the city.

Former District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran served on the council for the maximum of eight years and was one of the six members that made the council majority female during the previous term that began in 2019. The council districts are now split as five men and five women. Before exiting the council, she asked the new women taking their places to not be afraid to stand up for themselves.

Roberto Martinez / Texas Public radio
Former District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran

“To the women who are joining this council, and to the women who will remain, I only hope I worked hard enough and fought battles that you don’t have to fight them again,” Viagran said. “Call out the mansplaining, take the credit you deserve, remind them of your title, you are a councilwoman or a council member. You earned that.”

Now the seat is going to her older sister, Phyllis Viagran, who said her priorities include alleviating domestic violence in the city and getting the South Side up to speed on digital inclusion.

“I’m ready to get started and to work especially on this digital divide and getting broadband infrastructure and digital literacy and digital access to the southside and I know together we can get it done,” she said.

Also completing eight years in office, is former District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales.

“Politics is really just about relationships building them and also growing them; it takes time. There’s no shortcut to building relationships, you have to take the time little by little everyday to really build them,” she said.

She now hands the torch to District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo who has made waves in recent years as a prominent advocate for housing in San Antonio. District 5 has faced decades of disinvestment — the inverse of which Castillo said she wants to focus on during her time in office. Such as when the city begins to look at projects for the 2022 bond, she wants the necessities that District 5 has gone without to be included.

“The house I live at now -—I have photos of me as a child in front of it — there’s no sidewalk in the background. I still have no sidewalk there. So, we’re still waiting on basic needs like side walks so it’s ensuring that we’re prioritizing streets, drainage and sidewalks for our residents,” she said.

She also wants homeowners — especially on the West Side — to not be at risk of losing their homes over predatory real estate practices and would introduce ordinances for protection.

The first order of business for the new council will be the upcoming 2022 city budget which they’ll begin tackling Wednesday afternoon during their first regular meeting inside City Hall.

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