Two of the nine candidates for San Antonio mayor met for their first debate Friday morning. Incumbent mayor Ron Nirenberg faced off against challenger District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse.
Nirenberg is seeking a second term as mayor. Out of the eight opponents, one potential frontrunner is Brockhouse, who is also in his first term. Brockhouse is challenging Nirenberg’s record. It’s the second election cycle in a row where a sitting councilmember is hoping to take the seat from a new mayor. Nirenberg won the seat from Mayor Ivy Taylor in 2017 while he was also a council member and Taylor was in her own first term.
The Friday morning debate at the radio station KTSA took place before an audience of about 50 people, and it painted sharp differences between Nirenberg and Brockhouse over city policy.
Nirenberg explained why he ran for mayor the first time against Taylor.
“Two years ago our momentum -- it stalled -- and so I ran for mayor to create, to build with you the city we all deserve. And after two years we are delivering,” Nirenberg said. “In fact, we're booming as an economy. More people in San Antonio are employed than ever before.”
Brockhouse criticized Nirenberg’s first term in his opening statement.
“We need to do the things that matter most to the residents in the city. And I'm here today honestly to talk about Ron's failed leadership the last two years,” Brockhouse said. “He talked about being stalled two years ago. We are still stalled today.”
That set the tone for the rest of the hour. The two members of the San Antonio city council share an aggressive political relationship. They’re often on opposite sides of controversial issues.
VIDEO: Mayor @Ron_Nirenberg and Councilman @GregBrockhouse talk about homelessness in the first mayoral debate between the two candidates. The debate was held at @ktsanews. @TPRNews pic.twitter.com/qPrO8aMa7X
— Joey Palacios (@Joeycules) March 22, 2019
For example, the city plans to vote on the pending climate action plan in the coming months. Nirenberg says it’s a plan to work with businesses on having clean water and air and positive growth in the economy.
“It's not a set of dictates. It's not a mandate. It has no statutory power but we have to make sure that we have a roadmap for the future,” Nirenberg said. “What it is is an examination of where we see the world.”
Brockhouse says the costs of the climate action plan are unknown.
“We all agree we need a better planet, safer air, cleaner water -- all those things matter. But I don't know what you just described, right. Well, there's no mandates. There's no edicts. There's no dictates. There's nothing. Well, what then — what is it?” Brockhouse asked. “I'll tell you what it is — in truth it's a multibillion-dollar potential spending program that you, the taxpayer, are going to foot.”
The debate topics ranged from property taxes, homelessness, contract negotiations with the fire union, and the recently passed charter amendment propositions.
Last fall, voters approved Proposition C, giving binding arbitration power to the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association in contract negotiations. After it passed, a credit rating agency slightly downgraded the city’s bond rating over financial uncertainty.
During the debate, Nirenberg blamed Brockhouse for that drop because Brockhouse was a vocal supporter of the propositions.
“He's the only one in this room that has single-handedly dropped the city's fiscal health by the work that he's been doing in concert with the fire union,” Nirenberg said. “That is not good for taxpayers. That's not good for our city's future. And he wants to counter it as success. I think the city of San Antonio deserves better.”
“Give me a break,” he said.
“You have a history of …” Nirenberg began to say.
“What happened, sir, is the rating agency dropped it,” Brockhouse said. “And, by the way, Proposition C is arbitration. We'd go into arbitration because they don't have a contract. Get the contract, there is no arbitration.”
“You can take responsibility for that as well,” Nirenberg said.
“I take responsibility for listening to the citizens and being on the right side of the win. You're always on the wrong side of a loss, buddy.” Brockhouse said.
“You’re on the wrong side of the win every time,” Nirenberg replied.
Brockhouse was asked by moderator Trey Ware about a story published by the San Antonio Express-News on Thursday.
It alleged Brockhouse committed domestic violence against his current wife and an ex-wife. Brockhouse said the story was inaccurate, and he disputed the claims made in the article.
“I just dispute it. I can't say any more about it than that. My wife's going to make a statement soon about just the article in general,” he said.
Nirenberg said the story raised serious questions about Brockhouse’s fitness for office.
Brockhouse spoke to reporters after the debate.
“Ron just thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, and if you challenge him he begins to get upset and he starts name-calling and a bunch of other things, so I knew it was going to happen the minute anybody questions him,” he said.
Brockhouse followed up his comments calling Nirenberg a good father, good man, and a good husband.
“I actually have no animosity towards Ron, and I’m sad that it gets that bad for him,” he added.
Nirenberg said there is a clear contrast between the two of them.
“It’s clear that he is simply after what might be a good talking point or sound bite but there’s nothing behind it, there’s no plan, there’s no record, and he’s ashamed of our success as a community,” Nirenberg said. “That’s not befitting of a mayor.”
It’s still about 40 days until the May 4t election. There about 10 other scheduled debates and forums.
Sparks between candidates in debates are not uncommon, but with the already-adversarial relationship between Brockhouse and Nirenberg, the two can probably be expected to continue trading punches until election day.