Candidate Forum: Courage Defends District 9 Council Seat From Von Dohlen In June 5 Runoff
City Council incumbent John Courage faces his most successful primary challenger, Patrick Von Dohlen, in the June 5 runoff election for District 9, which encompasses the city’s northside from the San Antonio International Airport to far north Stone Oak neighborhoods.
Courage received 47% of the primary vote — just a few points shy of winning outright — while Von Dohlen earned 36% of voter support.
Courage was first elected to San Antonio City Council in 2017, and is currently seeking a third term. He is a veteran, enjoyed a 27-year teaching career in San Antonio and has the rare distinction of being a Democrat elected multiple times to represent a GOP-friendly district.
If he wins another term, Courage told TPR in a candidate survey he wants to create a council consideration request (CCR) — a method used when seeking to establish a new municipal ordinance or policy — to establish a citywide speed limit of 25 miles per hour for residential streets.
Von Dohlen, a financial planner, is a repeat challenger in District 9 and has run an aggressive campaign against Courage in 2021.
In his candidate survey, Von Dohlen said his CCR would be to amend the referendum initiative that would allow citizens 90 days, instead of the current 40, to gather the necessary signatures to have an issue placed on a ballot, "if city council makes a bad or an unpopular vote."
Though City Council elections are officially nonpartisan, Von Dohlen has called his opponent a Socialist and Marxist, and alleged that he is endorsed by prominent Democrats. Courage said "no such appeals or endorsements have been made, nor would they be accepted."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are your plans to ensure that this city recovers post-pandemic, and that we recover better than when we were 18 months ago?
John Courage: We've obviously faced a terrible situation for over a year now. But I feel like the city has taken very positive steps and done as much as we possibly could to continue to support the well being of citizens and businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic. Fortunately, we've received federal support, that has really helped us fill a lot of the gaps. You know, we've spent about $130 million trying to assist people to stay in their home so that they don't become homeless during this pandemic, because a lot of people are out of work. I agree that we should be abiding by a lot of the recommendations from medical and health experts. We followed the guidelines that the governor laid out for us when it came to closing businesses or keeping gathering small. But I think now's the time to move forward. And to go ahead and move beyond that and get back to business as usual in San Antonio.
Patrick Von Dohlen: Well, we certainly need to be moving forward safely and with prudence. As a business owner myself, that's obviously a concern of mine, as well, in serving our clients from our firm, but as well as any of the public that comes in. I believe that business owners have the right to determine whether or not they're open, and I believe they have the right to say, as many restaurants do, “no shoes, no shirts, no service,” If they want to add masks to that, that's up to them. While I oppose the government's mask mandate, and oppose some of the things that the City of San Antonio does, including keeping businesses shut down, I believe in free will, and freedom and business owners ability to determine what's best for their business — not for the government to come in and tell you how to do it.
What's your position on allowing the San Antonio Water System to install sewer mains through lands that the city holds?
John Courage: I am a very, very strong supporter of our conservation program and protecting the Edwards Aquifer. Right now, I do not agree with extending a larger water mains. Underneath any of the easements, conservation easements that we've acquired over the years, I am concerned about growth over the aquifer. And there are plenty of areas away from those sensitive zones where development could take place. So I'm really not supportive of that. I have to say that we haven't had a presentation before the council that kind of shows us all of the details, but from what I hear, I wouldn't be supportive of that.
Patrick Von Dohlen: Protecting the aquifer is primary, because that's our primary source of water. And that's why I opposed the proposition back in November to change the Edwards Aquifer tax and move it over to workforce training. I believe we made a grave mistake in putting that out there to where it was not protected. So we need to protect the Edwards Aquifer. We also may have a situation where SAWS a consent decree with the EPA, right now — that we have major issues in the City San Antonio, because of old piping, that where we have sanitary sewer overflows. So while we're trying to fix that, it would seem imprudent to put another situation where we put away a sewage line that could contaminate the Edwards Aquifer. So I think we need to go back and reexamine that and make sure that we are obliged to get out as fast as possible from this consent decree with the EPA.
Do you believe the 2020 presidential election was in any way fraudulent or stolen?
John Courage: I have to say, I can only judge by what I've seen here, and San Antonio, and what I've seen around Texas, and I think all of us pay attention to our local media. And what I saw are a lot of people turning out to vote in November, some people I knew had never voted before, including family members. And so I've seen and heard that in Bexar County, we had a very fair, open, honest election. Everybody got an equal opportunity to vote. And that's what I would expect to see. I can't testify to what may happen in other parts of the country. But I think I've heard, and many of the rest of us have, that a lot of courts and judges and experts and people who are hired by states to run elections, secretaries of state have all said that they have not found any kind of il actions that have taken place in any of the campaigns around the country. So I feel very confident that we had a good, clean, fair election.
Patrick Von Dohlen: Certainly there's alleged voter fraud here in Bexar County, and so from a national standpoint, while I have voted for President Trump and happily to say so because of many reasons. Based on watching the evidence that is out there and that's been proven when you have more voters voting than there are who registered to vote, there's evidence of voter fraud. And so as far as the election being stolen or not, the election is the way it is. We have the 46th President of the United States of America that's been inaugurated and sworn in, and that's what we're dealing with, but there is evidence of voter fraud throughout the nation.
What do you propose to do about the criminalization of homelessness in the state of Texas, and also about the growing homelessness issue in San Antonio?
John Courage: I don't think homelessness should be criminalized, but I recognize that it's a real problem, not only for the homeless, but for the community. Now, let's address the needs of the homeless people. We have one of the best facilities in the state, maybe one of the best in the country, with Haven for Hope. But it has a limited capacity. The number of homeless in San Antonio is around 3,000 — about half of them get daily services and help over the long term to get back on their feet through Haven for Hope. Many of the rest who are on the street and aren't getting that assistance, or getting help through some other neighborhood and citywide nonprofits. One of the big problems is that still many of the homeless have problems that are mental health, that are drug addiction, that are alcohol addiction. We need to be able to provide more support to get these people away from those addictions, to help them deal with those mental illness issues and get back on their feet and become productive members of our society.
Patrick Von Dohlen: The problem with homelessness is that the government continues to solve the problem. This is a huge difference between our candidacies. There's a good program through the San Antonio Police Department, in which they're helping homeless people get licenses and have that identification that they need to be able to function in society. So I want to applaud them. And thanks for that. And we need to continue and possibly expand that program to help the homeless. But one of the best things and most important things we can do is get our faith-based communities, nonprofit organizations, in the light to get reengaged with the City of San Antonio to help the homeless. They are better suited to help them on an individual basis. They just need support from the city. They don't need the city in the way; they need support from the city to help them.
What do you think should be done about police accountability?
John Courage: I think there is (an issue of police accountability). And I think the police themselves recognize that. I think a lot of police officers many times feel hurt by some of the actions that are taken by some of the other members of their force. And they themselves would like to see better policing of the police, so to speak. And that's what I understand that issue was, which was developed by the public. You know, I think anytime there's a ballot initiative, and the public makes a decision, I believe it's almost always going to be the right decision, because it's being made by people who care about the issue, who educate themselves and go out and vote on those issues. I firmly believe that we can continue to negotiate with police that they have a right to represent themselves, negotiate, to join together in a union and collective bargaining.
Patrick Von Dohlen: I think the San Antonio Police Officers Association did a good job of getting the word out (for Proposition B). They certainly manned all the poll sites, they came out to support the Officers Association to do that. But I think there's a lot of confusion because this didn't have anything to do with accountability. This had everything to do with defunding the police through disbanding their collective bargaining. Police have a right to free will associations, they have a right to come to have professional representation to collectively bargain against the City of San Antonio. And that's what we need to make sure we sit and do that. And the city has an obligation to the citizens to do the same for it on behalf of them in negotiations with police.
What role do you think the City of San Antonio should have in dealing with climate change?
John Courage: I really believe that's a critical issue over the long term. I think most people understand that things are changing. The storm that we had was horrendous, something that hadn't ever occurred in San Antonio the way it did. So I think it's important for us to understand we need to be ready. Now, we've passed a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. It’s looking at what ways are there of addressing potential issues coming down the road? How can we be better prepared? How can we go ahead and ensure that we're addressing the future? For example, we hear that the automotive industry is turning to all electric cars, how can we be prepared to work with them? And to help people make that kind of transition? We look at solar energy. A lot of people want to put more and more solar energy in their homes? How can we enhance the opportunity for people to buy homes in the future that are going to be ready for solar energy? But at the same time, I respect the current energy sources we have today.
Patrick Von Dohlen: I think our current energy sources fell dramatically and drastically and it was a cataclysmic event in the City of San Antonio because we weren't prepared anymore. And we had solar panels that were covered with snow, we had wind turbines that were frozen, and you need petroleum liquid to help unfreeze them. So I think we have to have a balanced approach, we have to seek out all forms of reliable sources of energy. And relying strictly on “green energy” is proven to be unreliable, and people suffered as a result. We have to make sure that we're willing to do what's good at the sake against political correctness. The city failed to deliver it services in the City of San Antonio in February, and not only do people have to be held accountable, we have to go back and re examine the Paris Climate Accord and the Climate Action Adaptation Plan, the local New Green Deal, because it calls for future things like not being able to drive gas-powered vehicles downtown.
Do you think racism is a public health crisis?
John Courage: Yes, I believe that when we look from our own perspectives, the problems and in health and safety, that the minority communities in this city face, it's very obvious to us that they have been, to me, very underserved in health care. They've been underserved, and in many other ways, and many of these communities are close to our power plants that create more emissions that are close to our, our trash and garbage disposal plants or facilities that again, create more health hazards in the overall part of the city. And so I think that a lot of that is because people didn't care about the people who lived in those communities who were predominantly Hispanic or African American. I think that's pretty symbolic of the neglect of our minority communities. It's symbolic to me that it's a form of racism when it comes to health care.
Patrick Von Dohlen: I do not. I believe that each and every person should have access to good health care, and we do in the United States of America. And we, as the City of San Antonio, are a melting pot ourselves. We are a great example. Talking about a light on top of a mountain. We're a light to the nation about the melting pot of our society. San Antonians love other San Antonians . Yes, there are issues that people have, and we have to help them in and understand better that we want what's truly best for each and every individual. But we continue to bring in these national ideological issues, the current council does, that divide our city.
- John Courage, incumbent candidate for District 9 on San Antonio City Council
- Patrick Von Dohlen, challenger in the race to represent Council District 9
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*This forum was recorded on Monday, May 17.