Editor's Note: Jade Esteban Estrada is the writer of Glitter Political, a series of articles detailing San Antonio's elections.
While calling his time at City Hall “glorified temp work,” City Councilman Greg Brockhouse also describes it as a crash course in the complexities of group dynamics and a taste of life in the municipal spotlight.
But in the here and now, it doesn’t seem to matter much to Brockhouse whether his time in office ends up being a single-term adventure or a career stepping stone. He acknowledges having a “perception issue,” but is clearly hungry to unseat Mayor Ron Nirenberg. With artful conviction, a few curious contradictions and limitless energy, Brockhouse, who has something to say about almost every issue, is challenging norms. He is continuing to make a name for himself as the smack-talking, self-proclaimed arbiter of “transparency” at City Hall, where he has far more enemies than friends.
At age 45, Brockhouse doesn’t have any grand expectations for his legacy as a District 6 councilman. Surrounded by patrons at Tink-A-Tako on the city’s Northwest Side, he presents the example of former President Barack Obama who, after eight years in the Oval Office, boarded a helicopter and flew off, leaving the keys to the White House to his florid archnemesis.
“I know I have this gift for a very short period of time,” says Brockhouse, wearing a black shirt with his German surname in white, embroidered font – a name that’s been readily on the lips of journalists and city officials alike. His spectacles and schoolboy haircut charmingly offset his combative, sometimes eloquent, style on the dais where he’s engaged in tempestuous debates with his council colleagues and Nirenberg on a weekly basis for the past year. Perhaps one of the most impassioned council member in years, Brockhouse is unique and unpredictable and says he’s out to “change the system.” He leans over my plate of tacos and reiterates, “Like I’m out to upend the whole system.”
When he asks for “tortillas de maíz,” I take the opportunity to ask if he’s Hispanic, trying my best not to sound like one of Rachel Dolezal’s early inquisitors. When he confirms that he’s “51-percent Hispanic” on his mother’s side, he adds that he takes extra care to explain or remind others of his dual heritage.
His brows raise just a smidge when he asks, “[You think] you have the market corner on Hispanic ’cause your last name’s Estrada and mine’s Brockhouse?”
And just like that, my dad’s surname teleports me into the arena.
But anyone who’s observed Brockhouse in public knows his personality, combined with his strong beliefs, can make even the mildest interaction a pay-per-view event. Brockhouse says that not only does he feel he’s fighting for his constituents and the issues important to them, he also believes he’s in a conflict for the right to be himself on a governing stage that doesn’t seem to welcome personal authenticity. “I can’t be me,” he says. “That’s lost at City Hall.”
He goes down a list of moving, admirable tidbits about nearly every council member, including Nirenberg, whom he calls a great husband and father. Brockhouse says he concentrates on this list of positive attributes when he feels he’s being personally maligned during council meetings. “The most disappointing thing I struggle with is that they don’t offer that to me,” he says, adding that almost any disagreement with council members receives “a visceral response.” His cadence slows. “And that sucks,” he says pointedly.
He was most likely referring to the council meeting on March 8 when council members debated several appointments to SAWS’s board of trustees. After Brockhouse questioned the credentials of Amy Hardberger, associate dean of St Mary’s University School of Law and daughter of former Mayor Phil Hardberger, D5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales accused him of sexism, prefacing her comments with an Oscar-worthy microphone grasp. It seems that while most men are learning to walk on eggshells when it comes to gender issues, Brockhouse’s unfiltered nature bursts through the screen like the deleted scenes of a Ford Ranger commercial.
Brockhouse says that sometimes when he’s on the dais, he says the rosary in this head. “I’ll say the ‘Hail, Mary’ and pray, ‘Dear God, help me say the right thing at this moment and help me to forgive.’” He energetically greets someone behind me with a quick wave, then looks at me directly. “Forgiveness isn’t for the person forgiving. Forgiveness is for yourself, man.” Brockhouse, who feels that a regimented style of faith suits him, converted to Catholicism in 2007.
As a proponent of increasing transparency, he is ruffling the feathers not just of his senior council members but of City Manager Sheryl Sculley and her staff. “City Hall is not the type of environment that likes to go on the record,” says Brockhouse, who in 2011 dipped his big toe in the political waters of City Hall when he became chief of staff to then-incoming Councilman Rey Saldaña.
“I don’t care if I lose the vote,” Brockhouse says. “I care how that vote was taken.”
Brockhouse finds the practice of conducting city business behind closed doors unsettling. “The public’s right to know overrides the government’s right to withhold information.” He takes the city opting last month to pass on the 2020 Republican National Convention as an example of behind-the-scenes, politically-driven decision-making.
“[Some] people don’t want Donald Trump here. Fine,” he says with a dismissive blink of this eyes. “But have the nerve to have the conversations on the record in public so at least it’s fair.”
After winning or losing a vote, Brockhouse says he cuts the cord and moves on to the next issue. This ability to keep going could insure his political survival if he spins the wheel in the next election. “If I’m not with you on this issue, I’ll be with you on the next one,” he says with a light-hearted shrug.
When asked about his ultimate goal – the objective that fuels his every move – he replies, after an uncharacteristically thoughtful pause, that he wants his children to know that, although he may falter from time to time, he’s not the sort to give up. His eyes begin to tear up. “I’m choked up because I’m so fucking happy to be here,” he says. He tells me about the time his father, a Lutheran pastor, gave the opening prayer at one of the council meetings. It was a moment he says he will remember long after his political life is over.
“If I lose in May , these people don’t get that I’ve already won. They’ll never take [that] away from me,” he says. He adds that he still hopes his naysayers will one day give him the opportunity to be himself. “If they could just see who I am,” he says with a soft squint. “But they don’t.”
But that’s politics.
“Yes, and that’s the shitty part about it,” he says. “And that really hurts – but I did ask for this job. I can’t go around complaining, ‘Hey, you’re hurting
After our interview, we take a few outdoor photos. When I ask him to look out into the distance, he says, “This is how cynical the world is – they’ll think that this interview is all bullshit.”
Maybe. But some people may feel that it’s not.
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