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81 Candidates Are Running For San Antonio City Council And Mayor In The May Election

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
A pre-pandemic photo of the current San Antonio City Council in September 2019.

The entire San Antonio City Council is up for election this year, and voters will head to the polls next month when early voting begins.

Voters elect a full City Council, including the mayor, every other May. Election Day will be Saturday, May 1, and there are 81 candidates on the ballot. Fourteen of those candidates — including incumbent Ron Nirenberg — are running for mayor, and two of the ten council district seats will be represented by entirely new faces.

Incumbents will have to commend and defend the actions of the city taken over the year as it responded to COVID-19, protests against racial injustice, and the still-lingering impacts of the energy crisis and winter storm last month. Challengers will attempt to convince voters their visions may be a better fit for the city.

At the top of the ticket, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is running for his third term.

Both of his previous elections went into tight runoffs. The first against former Mayor Ivy Taylor in 2017. Nirenberg — a councilman at the time — defeated Taylor in the June runoff. Two years later Nirenberg was challenged by first-term Councilman Greg Brockhouse. Nirenberg and Brockhouse were within only a few percentage points of each other in that 2019 runoff.

Now, 2021 could be a rematch. Brockhouse is running again, along with 12 other candidates, to try to unseat Nirenberg.

All the council candidates will have to campaign amid the global pandemic, a unique challenge to the last couple of election cycles. Nirenberg’s campaign manager Gilberto Ocañas said they’ve found workarounds.

“We can’t have huge events for political rallies or huge events for fundraisers, and that’s what people have been expecting,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve all been in COVID for the last year, and so we’ve all learned to start just doing stuff by phone or virtually.”

Brockhouse’s political consultant Matt Mackowiak said something similar but added that active campaigning doesn’t stop due to the lack of traditional events.

“It’s obviously a different political environment than you normally see in campaigns. It’s not as difficult as it was maybe last year when people at least in the Democratic side weren’t willing to go door to door. It’s hard to do fundraising, it’s hard to do in-person events. It’s still hard. It’s not as hard, but it is hard,” he said.

Mackowiak said he believes there is broad dissatisfaction across the city, which is why there are 13 people running against Mayor Nirenberg. Before 2015, mayoral races would have fewer than 10 candidates but have grown more crowded in two of the last three elections.

“I think it’s a sign that this is an office not only worth seeking but that this is an office that can be won in this election cycle because the incumbent is very weak and has done a poor job and that there’s a wide recognition that the majority of the residents are willing to make a change,” Mackowiak said.

However, Ocañas contended that the public is in support for Nirenberg’s policies. Evidence may rest in the fact that voters overwhelmingly supported the city’s Ready to Work SA campaign, which reallocated a sales tax to be used for workforce training; a separate ballot initiative which voters approved will send those sales tax dollars to VIA Metropolitan Transit in 2026. Voters also renewed Pre-K 4 SA.

“I think that they have confidence on how it’s being handled,” Ocañas said. “They have confidence that the person that’s at the helm is going in the right direction. Without that confidence there’s no trust,” he said.

The dozen other candidates in the mayor’s race include frequent candidates who have taken multiple attempts at running for City Council positions.

Antonio Diaz — an outspoken activist for the rights of indigenous people — often has filed to run in every city election since 2013 as a contender in the mayor’s race or council seat. Denise Gutierrez Homer, another mayoral candidate, was previously a finalist for an appointment to the vacant city council seat for District 2.

Shirley Gonzales, the councilwoman for District 5, has reached her term limit. Her District 5 seat represents the city’s West Side and parts of the South Side and is one of the two vacant seats. That race has 11 candidates.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran is also termed out for her District 3 seat, which encompasses most of the city’s South Side. Twelve candidates are vying to fill that vacancy.

The District 2 race on San Antonio’s East Side has 12 candidates. Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan is a first-term incumbent who will have to defend the seat.

The remaining council districts have between two to six candidates, including their own incumbents.

Early voting for the May 1 election begins on Monday, April 19, and runs until Tuesday, April 27

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules