This weekend marks San Antonio’s biennial changing of the guard. For the first time since the city completed its SA2020 “visioning” process, we’ll get to see which city leaders will have the opportunity to set the first stages of the plan into motion. While it doesn’t take a crystal ball to foresee the outcome of many of the races (is it too early to offer our congratulations to Mayor Castro, who received no significant opposition?), some are still wide open as we inch toward Saturday’s election. Here are a few of the hottest races to watch. Also check below for excerpts from our 2011 Current Candidate Questionnaires in which candidates from across the city responded to our questions on transportation, the economy, energy, and education. Full versions of those interviews may be found in our 2011 City Council Election Guide.
D1: War of ideas
District 1 appeared to be anyone’s race from the outset, and after months of relentless campaigning and at least one painfully civil public forum, that’s still true. Four strong contenders have brought their own visions of how to make the call for the “decade of downtown” a reality — a vision tempered by the stark reality of a city budget shortfall estimated between $8.5 and $20 million in 2012. Some neighborhood associations have already scheduled post-Election Day candidate forums, anticipating what’s likely to be a run-off in the close race.
Candidate Chris Forbrich, a young local business owner, has said throughout the campaign he would apply the “Yellow Pages Test” to city services, except for public safety, saying privatization could help keep city costs down. At a forum last month, Forbrich insisted, “The biggest issue facing our city today is a deficit.”
Diego Bernal jumped into the race as an underdog but drew serious attention touting his advocacy work as a civil rights attorney and his role within the local arts scene — two things, he says, that deeply resonate inside D1. To tackle the city’s budget shortfall, Bernal says he’d take a “zero-tolerance” approach to city contractors that consistently deliver projects over budget and behind schedule.
Carolyn Kelley often cites her work with the Tobin Hill Community Association, saying she’s been key in pushing for much-needed neighborhood improvements and helped achieve historic designation for the neighborhood. Pointing to what she calls glaring code enforcement issues in the district, Kelley said she rides along with code enforcement officers in Tobin Hill every week, hitting a list of what she considers the most egregious problems — an approach she says she’d take with the entire district.
Forbrich, at a candidate forum last month, chided Kelley over the idea, saying, “That just sounds a little military state to me … like we’re going to arm meter maids.”
Forbrich has also taken a swipe at Ralph Medina after the candidate admitted to an Express-News editorial board that he was arrested in the ’80s on a minor marijuana charge. Though the charge against Medina was eventually dropped, Forbrich took the opportunity to question Medina’s character.
Medina, a career fireman, retired as a district chief with the San Antonio Fire Department in January before starting his campaign for Council. Medina says his goal would be to lobby for infrastructure improvements throughout the district in order to help draw in and keep more downtown residents.
D3: Mud wrestling
The race for District 3 has been ugly from the start. Attacks started in January, when candidate Liz Campos’ sister, Tina Cortez, launched an ethics complaint against incumbent Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos, claiming she massaged the interests of her employer at City Hall. Though Ramos was cleared of the most damaging charges last month, the spat set the tone for the bitter race ahead.
Cortez said she would have filed a complaint against Ramos even if her sister wasn’t pitted against the incumbent, though the timing of the ethics charges was lost on no one, especially Ramos, who at her hearing before the city’s Ethics Review Board called the charges a strategically timed attack by an “ambitious wannabe politician.”
Even the ethics hearing itself took a bizarre turn when Cortez stepped up and claimed former Councilwoman Helen Dutmer called her a “Mexican bitch” and demanded she be thrown out of the room. Ramos, throughout the campaign, has touted support from the former councilwoman.
After the hearing, Dutmer wryly remarked to her friends, “I didn’t call her a Mexican bitch, I called her a vindictive bitch.”
Naturally, Cortez filed an ethics complaint against Dutmer soon afterward (that was just as quickly thrown out since Dutmer is not an elected official), and has routinely claimed harassment by Ramos supporters, saying Campos’ signs have been torn down or “mutilated.” In forums, Ramos has chided Campos and her sister for fueling scandal instead of debating issues within the district.
Meanwhile, Ernest Zamora Jr., a young auto mechanic and anime enthusiast, was the only D3 candidate to return a Current questionnaire, and has largely stayed out of the D3 bickering.
Leticia Cantu, recently married to current District 4 Councilman Philip Cortez, seemed primed to take the seat once Cortez termed out this year (she even had the benefit of a practice session, briefly filling in for Cortez on his request last year after he volunteered for extra training with the Air Force Reserve).
But recent Stanford grad Rey Saldaña came out of the gate hard late last year, determined to give Cantu a run for her money. Though young, Saldaña boasts experience in both the offices of Cortez and state Representative Joaquin Castro, as well as a prestigious internship with the U.S. Treasury Department in college, claiming he has more than enough experience to help lead the district.
While acknowledging Saldaña’s young ambition, Cantu remarked at a candidate forum earlier this year, “An internship isn’t the same thing as having a job.” She says her brief experience on Council, particularly her role in pushing through a citywide texting and driving ban, makes her the most qualified candidate.
Retired civil service worker Kathy Luna is also running for the open seat. The race will go to a runoff election if none of the candidates take more than 50 percent of the vote.
D5: Grudge match
In a repeat of the past two election cycles, voters in District 5 will again see David Medina and Lourdes Galvan on the ballot. Galvan fought off a close challenge from Medina when she took the D5 seat in 2007. But then, in 2009, Medina ran again and narrowly beat Galvan — both elections went to a runoff between the two candidates, and it’s likely this year will be no different. Medina also faces challengers Andro Mendoza and Raymond Zavala.
Find out what district you live in, Q & A's with the candidates, information on the the other districts and more in our 2011 City Council Election Guide.