- Former District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal
We will post a periodic question-and-answer blog series with each of them, starting with Bernal, who has represented City Council District 1 for three years.
You were a social worker, civil rights lawyer and now elected official. How does your background inform your public service work?
My entire career is premised on helping other people. As a social worker, as a civil rights attorney, and as a councilperson, I’m always looking for opportunities to help people. I feel like I’ve done that, and I want to continue to do that. The Legislature is where we deal with very human issues—education, health care, personal finances. That’s where predatory lending comes in, the kinds of and quality of jobs that we attract or create in Texas. These are all things that I care very much about and how they affect people. That’s where the desire to run and the desire to serve comes from.
When you reflect back on your time on city council, what are your biggest takeaways? What policies and/or ordinances are you most proud of and why?
First, I approached City Council as another vehicle to help people. Even when you’re doing stuff like streets, sidewalks or parks, if you’re providing services or maintenance that people haven’t had for decades, there’s a real sense of justice there. I also approached it as I approached my civil rights work—here’s what’s right; here’s what’s wrong; here’s what’s helpful; here’s who’s working against our cause. I may have been blunt or curt early on. I don't apologize for the principles I have, but tact is important.
What’s really been spectacular about Council is you’re put in a position to see so much of what’s happening in this city, the kinds of people and the kinds of talent that the city has. That blew me away. Aside from the ability to represent the area that I grew up in, the chance to see the city in all its different sectors and all the people working together, it’s a beautiful thing to see. It makes me appreciate the city even more than I ever did. There was so much information coming my way every day and I was just astounded at how much real good there is happening here.
I would say, on the neighborhood side, we started to show neighborhoods that thought the city had given up on them, that there is an effort to correct that neglect. The work we’ve done in parks, we've done 14 park projects...(including)...the McCullough-Jackson Keller Walking Trail and the San Pedro Park Walking Trail. We've really reinvested in the district, reinvested in this part of town, there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from moving the needle and demonstrating that given the right person and right opportunity, all is not lost. Every neighborhood deserves nice things.
I’m really proud of the payday loan ordinance that we passed, I’m proud of the local (nondiscrimination ordinance), I’m especially proud of the local preference which gives local companies an advantage or leg up when competing for city contracts. There’s always this angst or disappointment when out-of-town companies get city contracts and this ordinance allows us to focus on and give more attention to local companies and give them the best opportunity to get those contracts. I’m really proud of the work that got us there. That was my baby.
...We kept in touch with people through email, Facebook and Twitter, but we also did over 70 Coffees with the Councilman. We went to different coffee shops and cafes around the district where people could ask me any question that they wanted and I would answer. I’m proud of that effort to be available and transparent.