San Antonio mayoral candidates faced off for the first time Tuesday night, addressing some of San Antonio residents’ greatest frustrations during a town-hall style forum hosted and moderated by local news outlet Rivard Report.
Issues raised by residents and civic groups included the 2017 bond, civil rights, transportation, public education and affordable housing.
San Antonio mayoral hopefuls District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenburg, incumbent Mayor Ivy Taylor and and Bexar County Democratic Chair Manuel Medina joined the fray.
Voters will choose their mayor on May 6.
Members of the community asked questions and commented via social media by using the hashtag #SAtownhall2017. Moderator Robert Rivard gave candidates two minutes to address each question.
Campaigning for a second term, Taylor said she’s brought ridesharing to the city and resolved disputes between the police and fire department contracts and the City Manager. Sbe’s held office since 2015, after defeating Senator Van de Putte.
“Always at the heart of everything that I do has been my desire to connect more San Antonians an opportunity for prosperity. I truly believe that we can’t have a city where certain parts grow and certain people thrive,” Taylor said. “We have to have a city where all neighborhoods are created safe places to raise families and where every single part of San Antonio can provide the opportunities for people to live out their dreams.”
Mayoral candidate Ron Nirenberg was first elected to San Antonio’s City council to represent District 8 in 2013 and re-elected again in 2015. During his tenure, he said he served as tri-chair to SA Tomorrow. He said he’s focused on improving housing, transportation and economic development of San Antonio.
“I believe very strongly that the city you deserve is one that is going to take care of its resources, its services and infrastructure, and its citizens today, but also planning actively for tomorrow,” Nirenberg said.
Newcomer Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina is selling himself as the outsider in the campaign. He refers to himself as “financially and politically independent.”
He openly criticized the other candidates, a style the audience responded to with surprise.
“Together we represent independent leadership. Together, we represent transparent leadership. Together, we represent a new era of city government that’s accountable to you, the taxpayer,” Medina said. “As your mayor, I will focus on today. There’s a legitimate concern in the community that Ivy is out of touch. That all she talks about are the million people coming to San Antonio coming into San Antonio in the next 25 years.
“What about the 1.5 million already here? How about making progress on progress that have plagued us for too long?” Medina questioned. “As your mayor I will stand up for San Antonio.”
Rivard began the debate by asking how the candidates will work with or against the Trump administration and Mexico’s relations, and their plans to protect San Antonio workers against those measures.
All three candidates agreed that international relations are vital. Taylor said she would work with representatives from Washington and locally. Nirenburg mentioned sister cities and said the city will continue to thrive as a local community without threats from the Federal Government. Medina said he’d already be in Washington, telling the President how his orders are affecting the city.
City council unanimously voted on a $850 million Municipal Bond, one of 170 projects. If approved by voters, it would help neighborhoods across the city with upgraded infrastructure, sidewalks, parks, and preserving World Heritage sites. There are six bond propositions, which will each require a separate vote.
Nirenburg supported in all six propositions, explaining that it is “the strongest bond the city has ever put together,” saying “70 percent of the bond is roads, sidewalks, infrastructure, that invest the future. It’s making sure we invest in San Antonio’s future. It deserves all of our support.”
Medina said the bond was too much money and questioned the price tag.
“This bond should not be more than $550, $650 million. Why the big increase?” he questioned.
Medina said the funds should be cut and put back to vote in November, and accused Taylor of “maxing out the cities credit card.”
Taylor said she enthusiastically supported the bond because it will create “incredible investments in every single part of San Antonio.”
“As to why it was $850 million?,” she added. “Because our city has grown so much and we have so many needs.”
Mayor Taylor continued to stand up for her vision for tomorrow, backing up SA Tomorrow, a comprehensive planning effort to sustain the million people expected to arrive by 2040. Nirenburg agreed with the plan, but believes it needs more action. The plan was formulated in 2014, but was officially launched April 2015.
Medina openly attacked SA Tomorrow, saying Taylor was forgetting about today’s residents and focusing too much on tomorrow.
Taylor countered, responding to a question about Downtown: “One San Antonio: a concept that we are one city united together, even though we all live in different parts of town. I will continue that message so we can understand the fact that our city as a whole cannot thrive if there are certain parts of town that have been left behind. From my perspective, I’ve focused on the neighborhoods near downtown, I can share what the the concerns are in relation to the inner city and how important downtown is to our San Antonio community.”
With the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary by Senate Feb. 8, A major concern of residents was education. Locals asked what candidates would do to support innovation in districts and if they supported continued funding for PreK4SA.
Nirenberg said education was extremely important and said he would continue to support PREK4SA as long as voters in San Antonio did. Another thing we need to do is insure all public school superintendents are present at the table when plans are discussed.
“One of the government’s popular whipping posts is public schools,” Nirenberg said.
Medina explained that education was “too partisan of an issue.” He shared his support of PREK4SA, saying he campaigned for it in its grassroots. Medina shared his disapproval of charter schools, saying he would “support all schools as long as they are private and don’t drain from the public schools.”
Taylor said education was the “great equalizer,” and wants to collaborate with school districts, as they have no jurisdiction on what they do. She wants to collaborate on everything from infrastructure, to investments, describing it as a “neighborhood focus approach” that go hand in hand. She supported PREK4SA, but asked about statistics as far as success and wanted to touch on what to do for more four-year-olds.
The most heated part of the debate came close to the conclusion, when civil leaders brought up human rights. By this point in the debate, people in the audience began to cheer, jeer and heckle the candidates.
A member of the community brought up the State Senate’s proposed “bathroom bill” (SB 6), which would make it illegal for transgenders to use a restroom regardless of their gender identity.
Taylor said San Antonio is a diverse and welcoming city, she is opposed to legislation, and it was ‘needless, ’saying she knew nothing of any statistical data on the books regarding it.
Taylor voted against the NDO act, saying it was ‘needless’ and ‘difficult to implement.’
Medina criticized Nirenburg, saying it took “twisting his arm and having to break it off” before Nirenburg agreed to the bill.
A man in the crowd began to heckle Medina, calling him out on ‘alternative facts’ a phrase coined by the senate Jan. 23.
Nirenburg has supported the LGBQT community. “There is a solution in search of a problem,” Nirenberg said. “The last thing San Antonio needs is another unenforceable dictate coming down from the city of Austin.”
Other issues raised included transportation, lack of light rail, flight choices, trails, and lack of pedestrian and cycling options.
Candidates say they remain non-partisan in the election, but opinions will be heard in future debates.
Other mayoral candidates include clinical psychologist John Velasquez, Roberto Viejo, a local gun shop employee, Antonio Diaz, Human Rights Activist and Green Party Bexar County Chair. More details will be released as they are learned. The Mesquite is planning a future mayoral debate in March.
Information on future debates will be posted as details emerge