"Building the City You Deserve" is how San Antonio’s mayor set the foundation for his 2019 re-election campaign. But is it enough to be re-elected? Ron Nirenberg wants voters to look at the progress of projects started under his tenure and see him as a fellow resident who wants the best for San Antonio.
He considers himself a neighbor above all else.
“While we might live on the other side of the street or, in some cases, on the other side of the city, we’re all working together to move this great city forward. I am first and foremost a neighbor who wants my community to thrive,” Nirenberg said.
On a Sunday morning, he blockwalked the streets of the Hot Wells neighborhood on the southeast side.
“Yes, this is a campaign season. Yes, we’re asking for support and for votes but we also want to hear from people how we can improve their neighborhood,” he said.
He was in Monticello Court. It’s a street without sidewalks. There are fenced-in houses, many with small and large dogs eyeing whoever walked by. He stopped at the house of Jeremiah Henley, who was mowing his lawn. He didn’t notice Nirenberg, so the candidate waved at him.
Henley stopped the mower and walked over.
“How’re you doing?” Nirenberg asked. “I was just leaving you a note that your yard looks great.”
“Oh, thank you,” Henley said.
They spoke about road improvements in the area. It was a brief conversation.
Nirenberg then stopped at a dozen other houses in Hot Wells. Most didn’t answer. He left door hangers.
He moved on to Mission Concepcion. A mariachi Mass was underway inside the church. He felt it was a place that perfectly represented San Antonio.
“San Antonio, obviously, was founded through the missions, and the fact that today they are not only cared for as World Heritage Sites in one of the places that make San Antonio a unique city in the world -- they're also living, breathing vibrant centers of our faith community -- is a great statement about our city.”
Nirenberg is 42. He was born in Boston.
“I became a Texan when I was 3 and went to high school in Austin, Texas,” he said.
He attended Trinity University, where he fell in love with San Antonio. He met his wife Erika in graduate school in Pennsylvania. They have a son named Jonah.
They owned a market research company together. Nirenberg also owned a fitness consulting company. He’s worked for jazz radio station KRTU and taught classes at Trinity. Before that he worked at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, where his love for public service was sparked.
“It certainly gave me an itch that I wouldn't realize needed to be scratched until I actually got into local government,” he said.
Nirenberg entered politics in 2013 when he won the District 8 seat on the city council.
He challenged then-Mayor Ivy Taylor in 2017 and won.
“It was never a goal of mine to enter politics. And in some ways I try to stay away from the political side and just focus on the service of this job,” he said.
Nirenberg has inaugurated at least three major projects during his first term. ConnectSA, his transportation plan; the Housing Policy Task Force, which resulted in the city’s multimillion dollar long-term housing plan; and an equity budget, which distributes funds to council districts that have historically been underserved.
"I'm very proud of the fact that for the first time in a generation," he said, "forgotten parts of our community are finally getting the respect and the dignity that they deserve.”
Nirenberg’s first two years were not free of criticism. He campaigned against city charter amendments initiated by the fire union and promoted by his leading mayoral opponent, Greg Brockhouse. Two out of three passed.
He received the ire of the business and hospitality communities over decisions to forego bids on Amazon and the Republican National Convention.
Still, he said there were positive impacts under this council -- some that can be felt now and others that can be seen over the horizon.
“This administration, this council, has made serious important changes that are delivering quality of life, economic momentum and public safety to our community. And we've just gotten started. We're on the right track. Let's continue to build on the foundation,” he said.
Nirenberg said he’s nowhere close to being done improving the unique city he loves.