San Antonio voters re-elected Mayor Ron Nirenberg Saturday night. He narrowly beat back a challenge from Greg Brockhouse, District 6 councilman and a long-time opponent of the mayor's stances and initiatives.
After a clear day scorched by the summer's first onslaught of heat and humidity, the Bexar County Elections Department released early voting numbers at 7 p.m., showing the mayor in the lead. Cautious optimism filled the air at Nirenberg's watch party.
Cheers greeted Nirenberg and his wife, Erika Prosper, as they joined the party.
"Feels good to be coming to the end while in the driver's seat," he said.
— Paul Flahive (@paulflahive) June 9, 2019
Two years ago, a mayor ran against an upstart council opponent, who opposed her at most turns. In a crowded race, it was Nirenberg who pushed incumbent mayor Ivy Taylor to a runoff. He won that race with the promise of change.
Change was the same promise that fueled the success of last year’s charter amendments, which upturned the power dynamic of City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who resigned soon after. Nirenberg opposed them, and he soon faced his own opponent, Brockhouse, who also promised change.
But on Saturday night, Nirenberg prevailed.
He compared himself to a prize fighter who would act on big issues sketched out over the past two years.
Nirenberg was asked if he had the mandate for pursuing those issues, given the close race.
“A mandate in a democracy is just winning the election," he said. "So we’re gonna push forward on the progress we’ve started out on in 2017.”
However, Nirenberg said he felt the general election was a wake-up call for him to work harder to connect with people over what his tenure had accomplished. He said the last 30 days were a blessing.
He also said he was ready to tackle the city’s fire union contract. The city and fire union have operated without a contract since 2014.
“Members of the fire union want this impasse to be over," he said. "And they're going to resolve it with me as mayor.”
The union has proved to be an influential player in San Antonio politics, helping derail the trolley car project, pass two charter amendments limiting the power of the city manager’s office and aggressively backing Brockhouse.
Brockhouse forced Nirenberg into a runoff in May.
The District 6 councilman also exuded confidence and optimism Saturday evening, despite Nirenberg's slight lead in early votes.
— Joey Palacios (@Joeycules) June 9, 2019
"We're blessed no matter what," Brockhouse told cheering crowds at his own watch party. "We did exactly what we thought we needed to do... We're going to go home tonight blessed and happy."
Brockhouse's tone remained hopeful throughout the evening, even as the vote count gradually indicated a narrow defeat to Nirenberg.
He said he would be happy – win or lose – once the campaign was over. In the end, he finished with about 49% of the vote.
Brockhouse said the closeness of the race should be a message to the mayor.
“It’s a mandate that people don’t like the direction," he said. "Half this city feels like we could be doing better, and at that point I think that revolves around one of the biggest things -- our police officers and firefighters. So I hope we get in and we solve those problems and we put that animosity aside so this city can move forward and get great things done.”
The police and fire unions heavily backed Brockhouse and put out attack ads against Nirenberg.
He was philosophical about what the close election signified about the city.
“Nobody thought we were going to be in this position," he said. "Of course, I wanted to be mayor. But more than anything, I just wanted to be a husband and get back home and be a father again, and I think that gift is given, and we immediately forgive. It will be tough. It’s a bitter pill to be that close. It’s a message sent. I think it’s clear: We’ve got a tough, divided city. I think we’ve got to better. I think the media has to do better.”
Brockhouse’s campaign was marred by allegations of domestic violence first published by the San Antonio Express-News in March.
He called the newspaper a rag on Saturday. He said this was the most media-biased election he’s seen in the history of San Antonio politics.
“But that’s the Express-News. Take it for what it’s worth. Everybody knew they were going to be in the bag for Nirenberg. I just didn’t think it was going to be to that extent.”
This defeat ended his two years on the city council. He did not say what his future plans would be. He said he did not plan to seek another political office.