Jade Esteban Estrada
When Trish DeBerry pops up on my screen, she’s waving to me from the drive-through at Chick-fil-A restaurant. As she waits for the cashier to come to the window, she explains that her last meeting ran late and that her teenage daughter asked her to stop and pick up dinner.
“That’s the story of my life, Jade,” she says with a light-hearted smile. “I’m constantly multitasking.”
As a businesswoman, mother of two and a Republican candidate for Precinct 3 Bexar County commissioner, DeBerry could easily author a book on multitasking, a skill she feels women naturally possess.
“We juggle things every single day," she says. "We manage households, run businesses.” DeBerry, 55, believes that there is enough momentum to see a female president one day. “And not necessarily being feminist, but [I am] saying, ‘Hey, we deserve a seat at the table.’”
As if she didn't have enough on her plate, DeBerry is also one of 18 local candidates in the crosshairs of a growing vote-by-mail firestorm, which will affect the July 14 runoff election. DeBerry is locked in runoff with Tom Rickhoff for the seat currently occupied by Kevin Wolff, a three-term commissioner who announced last August that he would not seek reelection.
In the March primary, Rickhoff won 33.8% of the vote, while DeBerry garnered 28.6%. If she wins, she will challenge Christine Hortick, the Democratic nominee, in November. DeBerry hopes to be the first female in a quarter century to join the Commissioners Court, which is responsible for budgetary, tax and revenue decisions.
DeBerry’s biggest challenge will be Rickhoff’s name recognition. His brother, Gerry Rickhoff, won the Republican nomination for Bexar County Sheriff without having a law enforcement background or even any campaign contributions, according to financial filings.
DeBerry, however, has never been one to shy away from a challenge — or a change.
Her blonde hair, recently cut by dint of gubernatorial intervention, is slicked back and much shorter than usual. When I compliment her nail polish, she gives me a closer view of its “Tiffany blue” cast in the camera.
The COVID-19 crisis has inspired DeBerry, ever the fashionista, to “shake things up and do things different.”
As a child, one neighbor pegged DeBerry as “Miss Precocious,” based on a wisdom and vocabulary she demonstrated that was beyond her years.
“I was also a spelling bee champion, or whatever, so I loved words,” she says.
“You must be a great proofreader,” I surmise.
“Yes, I am,” she replies with a laugh. She then explains that her staffers don’t like her to look at campaign materials because she’s guaranteed to zero in on an error.
“Writing concisely and managing messages is what I do for a living now,” she says. “I always knew I was going to be in writing someway, somehow.”
DeBerry’s father called education a “great equalizer” and encouraged her to focus on her studies. After graduating from Churchill High School, she received a scholarship to attend Trinity University. In her junior year, she earned an internship at KENS-TV, where she was eventually hired as a journalist. By the time she was 30, she founded GDC, a public relations firm.
In 2009, while married to architect Carlos Mejia, the father of her children, DeBerry’s political ambitions shifted into high gear and she ran against Julián Castro for mayor of San Antonio. Castro ultimately won, using the position as a steppingstone onto the national stage, while DeBerry — then DeBerry-Mejia — came in a distant second with 29% of the vote. Nonetheless, her increased name recognition helped her prevail in a complex game of municipal influence where she’s demonstrated plenty of staying power.
As the owner of The DeBerry Group, the public relations firm she opened in 2012, DeBerry has kept her finger on the city’s pulse through the business and her volunteerism at nonprofit organizations.
With the mayoral election in hindsight, one could say DeBerry won by losing.
Still, 11 years later, she’s playing to win in the race against Rickhoff, which may be decided by a tiny number of ballots due to voters’ concern about potential COVID-19 infection at the polls.
Though DeBerry wears a mask in public out of courtesy to others, she maintains that it’s her constitutional right to decide whether to don one.
“From a Republican philosophical standpoint, it’s government overreach to mandate [the wearing of masks],” she says.
Even so, she draws a red line when it comes to Bexar County GOP head Cynthia Brehm’s recent controversial claim that the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax.
“I think it was an insensitive comment,” DeBerry says, carefully turning her steering wheel. “There have been 100,000 people in the United States of America who have died of COVID. It is not a hoax. It is a real virus.”
DeBerry adds that getting small businesses up and running and returning people to work should be the primary focus until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available. She feels her background as a business owner will offer needed perspective on purse-string decisions at Commissioners Court.
When we discuss DeBerry’s political philosophy, she expounds on the concept of “failing forward.”
“Win, lose or draw, they’re either going to like you for who you are, or they’re going to hate you for who you are,” she says. On the video, I can see she’s now entered her home. “You’re diminishing yourself and you’re not being true to who you are if you're trying to behave like someone that you’re not.”
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.