Muni Madness

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With Friday's filing deadline behind us, our ballot for the May 11 Municipal Election is now etched in stone. Some of these races are painfully predictable (re: Mayor Julián Castro, North Side Council members Elisa Chan and Carlton Soules). Downtown Councilman Diego Bernal enjoys the one seat that didn't even draw out a challenger, meaning District 1 is his for another two years.

Watch Districts 3, 5, and 8 for fireworks as Election Day draws near. Here's a CliffNotes rundown of some of the fights ahead. Watch for more coverage of those hotly-contested races in the coming weeks.

District 1: Nobody filed to challenge Diego Bernal, perhaps sign that no one really believes the downtown district is gonna line up against someone who picked a fight against predatory lenders and won during his first term in office.

District 2: Three candidates have filed to challenge Ivy Taylor, who's running for her third term. There's Norris Tyrone Darden, a former Sam Houston High School teacher, and Hector Medina, an apparent Tea Party- and Libertarian-minded candidate. Antonio Diaz, founder of the Texas Indigenous Council who ran as the Green Party candidate for Joaquín Castro's Congressional seat, has also filed to challenge Taylor.

District 3: There's no true incumbent in D3, although Leticia Ozuna currently holds the office. When outgoing D3 Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos left the post for her unsuccessful Commissioners Court run last year, Council picked Ozuna, a cyber security specialist, out of a swath of candidates vying to fill the remainder of Ramos' term.

Since her appointment, Ozuna has done much to make a name for herself – some of it unmistakably positive, some of it controversial. Soon after she joined Council, Ozuna got caught in the middle of a down-zoning dustup at Pecan Valley Golf Course that pitted developers against residents in the nearby neighborhood (Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson tried to make political hay out of the ordeal, inflaming tensions at community hearings he attended, according to some).

On the flip side, just in time for campaign season Ozuna launched her San Antonio Area Broadband Network, a no-brainer expansion of the local public communications network. Smartly marketed by Ozuna as way to help bridge the digital divide in San Antonio (see her local TED talk on the subject), SAABN essentially leverages unlit fiber-optic cable that has sat unused beneath us for a decade. School districts, hospitals, libraries and universities can all access it if they invest in the necessary equipment costs (vastly cheaper than, say, installing new cable themselves). 

Meanwhile South Side native Rebecca Viagran, who also sought appointment to the D3 seat last year, has filed to challenge Ozuna, as has South Side activist Gabriel Velasquez, who has essentially been running ever since Council picked Ozuna over him as Ramos' replacement.

District 4: I figure Rey Saldaña's sitting pretty for re-election to the D4 seat, absent some serious complaint, ethical lapse, or high-profile spat on his watch I'm unaware of (that being said, let me know if I'm wrong). Saldaña's one challenger is Joseph “JoeJo” Savage (do we have to take candidates seriously if they actually file with their “nicknames” in quotes?), who fought his way onto the South San ISD board just four months ago, riding a wave of discontent caused by the near-endless controversy there.

District 5: Apparently David Medina's still electable, even after the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year he's had leading up to his re-election fight. That's according to E-N columnist Gilbert Garcia's latest piece on Medina, which says the local police union is supporting the councilman, determining he's likely to retain his seat despite embarrassing behavior during and after his father's arrest last November.

The story goes something like this: Officers pulled over Medina's sister, she refused to present a driver's license, and Medina's father got called to the scene. David Medina Sr. (the councilman's father) got so angry that a fight broke out, during which he wielded an infant as a “human shield.” Cops ultimately tasered and arrested Medina's father. (Read the police report here 

it truly is some crazy shit).

According to Garcia's unnamed sources, when Medina Jr., the councilman, got to the scene he “eyeballed every cop in sight, and called one of the male officers a 'little bitch.'” Things got even more heated when Medina followed his father to Downtown Baptist Hospital, where the elder Medina was brought for injuries sustained during the roadside scuffle. Medina refused to stay out of the hospital room, and at one point officers had to physically remove him, Garcia's sources say.

Classy.

With that backdrop, the field of candidates hoping to beat Medina boomed. One of the main challengers appears to be West Side native Ricardo Briones, an activist-minded attorney who represented several of the Dream Activists who got arrested when they barricaded themselves in Kay Bailey Hutchison's office in late 2010.

Briones' supporters point to his leadership of San Anto Cultural Arts, the venerated West Side nonprofit, as one of his major selling points. Detractors – most notably, former D5 Councilwoman Patti Radle (who says she's not endorsing a candidate) – call Briones' tenure at San Anto a liability. Radle blames Briones for mishandling the theft of some $14,000 by a staffer in 2010. Wanting to keep the incident quiet at a shaky time in the nonprofit's history (San Anto co-founder Manuel Castillo had recently died of cancer), Briones called on the Law Office of McKnight and Bravenec, his employer, which opted to handle the theft as a civil matter to avoid police and any bad press. First, Briones shouldn't have used his own law firm, Radle says; “Part of my disagreement with Ricardo is I don't know if he understands conflict of interest,” she told me last month. Second, she argues, San Anto's over $80,000 in funding from the city that year required transparency, no matter how embarrassing. “San Anto was getting public money,” Radle said. “That demands transparency.”

Shirley Gonzales, who runs the family business Bill's Pawn and Jewelery on Zarzamora, is also running to challenge Medina. With former Bexar County Democratic Party chair Choco Meza running Gonzales' campaign, she's likely to gain some steam.

Richard Cardenas, a small businessman, John Carlos Garcia, an independent insurance agent, and Frank Ramirez, a self-described “wine retailer”, have also filed for D5. There's currently a candidate forum scheduled for 3 pm March 16 at the Guadalupe Theater.

District 6: A couple elements could make Ray Lopez's re-election effort somewhat less than boring. First, Greg Brockhouse, former chief of staff for D4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, is challening Lopez, who's seeking his third Council term. Then there's Steve Shamblen, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' (NORML) San Antonio chapter. Shamblen, who's known to walk around with a large, ornately-carved wooden staff (a botched surgery left him disabled over a decade ago) looks more wizard than politician. In the past, Shamblen has told us he wants policies requiring solar and rainwater catchment systems on City buildings. Oh, and of course, marijuana reform.

District 7: By all accounts, Cris Medina has been a bore of a councilman, and Gloria Rodriguez must have been listening when D7 was predicted to be an equally boring race. Rodriguez, founder of AVANCE early learning academy, nearly forced Medina into a run-off in 2011. She filed a couple weeks before the deadline to challenge Medina. Mexico-born architect Carlos Zaldivar and Michael Gonzales are also running. 

District 8: This seat went up for grabs when Councilman Reed Williams announced last year he'd retire from Council. Ron Nirenberg, associate general manager of Trinity's KRTU radio station, filed and has already got some solid endorsements – former mayor Howard Peak, former D8 rep Bonnie Conner and former SBOE rep (and Trinity prof) Michael Soto. The vocal Mike Kuebner, who ran for Congress in 2010, has also filed.

So far, though, the real comedy in this race has come from watching E-N columnist Brian Chasnoff relentlessly hound Rolando Briones, a former member of the city's Planning and Zoning commissions who runs his own civil engineering firm. Thanks to Chasnoff, here's what we know about Briones, whose campaign is being run by local consultant Christian Anderson:

  • After SAWS fired Briones, determining he'd violated company policy by accepting gifts from SAWS contractors, Briones turned around and sued the utility in federal court, arguing SAWS had no such rules or limits on gifts from contractors. Then, if you believe Chasnoff, Briones lied in an interview with San Antonio Man Magazine (which recently ran a fawning profile on the candidate), claiming SAWS fired him because he refused to eat a raw egg during a team-building exercise

  • Briones' firm got slapped for operating without a license in Louisiana.
  • Briones (and this is the kicker) skimped on overtime pay at his firm (flagrantly so, if you believe one of the unnamed complainants). Chasnoff writes that a U.S. Department of Labor investigation of Briones' firm turned up eight employees due $4,270.50 in unpaid overtime between 2005 and 2007.

Districts 9 and 10: Both Elisa Chan (D9) and Carlton Soules (D10) have pretty much behaved the way their conservative North-Side bases want, pushing back against Castro's Pre-K 4 SA, voting against SAWS' rate increase, and criticizing the incentives package (they would call it a subsidy) Council passed for the Nexolon manufacturing plant at Brooks City Base. Neither appear to have a serious challenger. (See the other candidates in the races herehere and here). 

Mayor: Seriously, who's gonna successfully challenge the Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician? Among those filed to run against Castro are Rhett Smith and Michael “Commander” Indrogo, both perennial fringe candidates. 

– Michael Barajas

 

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