Candidate Forum: Phyllis Viagran, Tomás Uresti Compete To Represent District 3 On San Antonio City Council
There was a large field of candidates vying to represent San Antonio's largest City Council district, which spans 84 square miles spread out on the South and Southeast sides of the San Antonio.
Twelve people ran for the District 3 seat and two will now go head-to-head in the June runoff — Phyllis Viagran and Tomás Uresti.
The district's current representative Rebecca Viagran is not among them, as she has reached the four-term maximum on City Council and cannot run again. But her sister Phyllis received about 22% of the May primary vote, and Uresti followed with nearly 15%.
Viagran has worked as a community outreach coordinator and trainer for Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) since being furloughed from Visit San Antonio in June 2020. She has served on the boards of both Brooks Gives Back and The Rape Crisis Center in San Antonio.
Uresti is a former Texas state representative (2017-2019) and Harlandale ISD school board president. He is the brother of Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti and former state Senator Carlos Uresti, who is currently serving 12 years for investment fraud.
Candidates have expressed concern about the area’s food deserts, aging housing stock, infrastructure that has fallen into disrepair, public safety and the “digital divide,” including lack of Wi-Fi access for many people who live there.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you respond to allegations that you’re only getting votes because of your last name?
Phyllis Viagran: It's a question I've gotten before. And the thing I say is the Viagran family is known in the South Side. My dad came from a family of 11. So I have plenty of aunts and uncles. It's not just my sister that people know; it's my uncles, my aunts, my cousins that share the same last name. We are a family that gives back and that serves the community and I'm very proud of that. And I'm very proud that I knock on doors. And people tell me they know my uncle or they knew my dad or my grandfather. So you know Rebecca (Viagran) did help a lot because she was on City Council and that name recognition was there, but when she ran eight years ago, she had name recognition because of the family. We've been here, we've been involved. My uncle was a football star at Burbank. My aunt cheered at Harlandale Independent School District then for St. Philip of Jesus. So, this is who we are; we serve.
Tomas Uresti: I would agree that there are a lot of people, of course, who are voting because of the last name, for more than one reason, but mainly because they know me, they know me as Tomas Uresti.They know that I was elected the first time in the year 2000. And again in the year 2002. The people of the district re-elected me as their school board member. They liked electing me as your state representative. The entities within Bexar County elected me on the board of directors for the appraisal district. So people know me because of what I have done. It's not because of a family name. Yes, I have had brothers that have also served, but they know that the family has always given back to the community, they know Tomas Uresti already as a public servant, helping the community and being the representative.
What is one recent City Council vote that you’ve agreed with and one that you’ve disagreed with?
Tomas Uresti: What I disagree with is what we have done with Brooks City Base. Too much emphasis has gone to that area and only that area, we have 83 square miles in District 3. And unfortunately, Brooks City Base... I am glad that it is there. I do shop there, but what happened on Brooks City Base was that the wagon was put before the horse. So we did the development there…. It's great because some jobs have been created and we have some places and better places to shop.
Phyllis Viagran: I like the changes that they did make to the exception of the vouchers with the housing. I think we were headed in one direction that was very harmful and they made changes and the San Antonio Apartment Association came on board with the changes. And I agree with that decision that they made. I think I also agree with the decisions they've made in the Brooks area, and I'll fully disclose I'm part of Brooks Gives Back. I think that that area has just begun to develop, but I disagree with some of the moratoriums they've had regarding renting.
If you could give the current council person a grade A-F, what would it be and why?
Phyllis Viagran: I’d give her an A. She took us to a point of growth that we hadn't seen in many years. We were definitely on the path of that. But she really kind of got a lot of things over the goal line. I think about the YMCA by Mission Library and the Mission Marquee. I think she has helped tremendously with the growth at Brooks not only to be an economic generator, but also a job creator. And then the spay and neuter clinic. Also what she's done for our strays has been amazing also, so I definitely give her an A. I feel like she's done a really good job. I think next time I want you to say A+, because I would like people to say that when I become city council woman that I did an A+ job.
Tomas Uresti: I believe that Rebecca started off as an A but as of right now, I will give her a C. And it's nothing personal. It's just the fact that it's the return phone calls that have not been received from the District 3 office. That is one of the one of the number one concerns I've received from constituents. And I just sent out 11,000 plus mailers to people with my personal cell phone number, because that's how much contact I want to have with the community. ... The community has been ignored, and especially the last two years. So I'm sorry, the last few years I'm sorry, but it has not been an A that's for sure.
- Phyllis Viagran, candidate for San Antonio City Council's District 3
- Tomas Uresti, candidate for San Antonio City Council's District 3
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*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, May 26.