John Courage for District 9 via Facebook
On Saturday, voters in District 9, a historically conservative pocket of San Antonio, elected the ultra-progressive John Courage to represent them on City Council.
With the district's right-leaning track record, many expected conservative candidate Marco Barros to easily glide into the seat of outgoing councilman John Krier, who endorsed Barros in the race. Barros himself even told the San Antonio Express-News
he expected a 70 to 72 percent win. But come election night, Courage took home more than 52 percent of the district vote.
Courage, an Air Force veteran and high school teacher, is often called a perennial candidate— he's run for council twice and challenged both state Sen. Donna Campbell and U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith. He's a staunch Democrat, but leaned on this particular campaign line during the race for the technically nonpartisan council seat: "Is there a Republican or a Democratic way of filling in a pothole?” He credited his success to the high voter turnout in his district — at 16,122, more ballots came into District 9 on June 10 than both District 2 and 6 combined.
But some people think Courage might have won for another reason: racism.
In a Monday editorial
columnist Brian Chasnoff suggested that Courage's unexpected name may have simply been due to his anglo last name. Given the choice between Courage and Barros, xenophobic voters who didn't do their research may have gravitated toward the less Latino-sounding name, he wrote. After listing Courage's progressive ties (including his campaign endorsement by a Sen. Bernie Sanders-founded organization), Chasnoff tosses out a couple questions: "Were the voters of District 9 aware of Courage’s pedigree? Or were they simply more aware of his last name — and, for that matter, Barros’?"
Greg Jefferson, a former communications staffer for Councilman Krier who helped run Mayor Ivy Taylor's recent re-election campaign, pushed the hypothesis even further in his personal blog
, calling the District 9 vote "racially polarized." Jefferson linked the district's anecdotal opposition to so-called "sanctuary city" policies to Barros' loss. He specifically mentioned the city's recent decision to sue Texas over Senate Bill 4, recently-signed law that would, among other things, force the San Antonio Police Department to rescind its policy of not asking about immigration status in routine police encounters.
"With everybody still sweaty from the S.B. 4 fight — coupled with District 9 voters having elected only one minority candidate in our city’s modern history (Elisa Chan, not Elise Sanchez) — Barros was running in part against his surname. And he lost," Jefferson writes.
It's unclear whether Barros or his campaign staffers personally credit his loss to "racially polarized voting." (Barros' former campaign manager Thomas Marks hadn't called us back for comment as of Wednesday morning). But to Courage backers, the race-based speculation now swirling around the election is not only wrong but "extremely offensive."
"If people who are upset at the outcome of the election say their guy lost because of his race, that's not only an insult to our campaign, but to all District 9 voters," Zack Lyke, Courage's campaign manager, told the Current.
Since there's no quantitative data to back up the claims, Lyke questioned why people decided it was worth bringing up in the first place. He said it belittles the hard work Courage and his campaign staff put into the race — work that the Barros campaign may have skimped on.
"Barros lost because he got outworked, he didn't think he'd have to work hard for the seat," Lyke said. "They can chalk it up to racism if it makes them feel better — but that's just not the case."