San Antonio Mayoral Runoff Turns Toward Nasty

SAN ANTONIO (CN) – In a runoff election Saturday, voters in San Antonio — the largest city in the county with a black female mayor — will decide whether to re-elect Ivy Taylor, or two-term City Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who has said, “I don’t subscribe to either party.”

A crowded field of 14 candidates was winnowed down to two on May 6.

Taylor, a Yale-educated urban planner and former member of the City Council, and mayor since 2014, led the field with 42 percent of votes cast in May. Nirenberg took 37 percent.

City offices in San Antonio, the country’s seventh-largest city, carry two-year terms.

Though the mayoral election is nonpartisan, it has grown increasingly heated in the race to the wire. It took a turn toward nasty this week when a direct-mail hit piece against Nirenberg purported to be from a group that apparently does not exist, operating out of a P.O. box near the San Antonio airport.

The supposed source of the mailer, Strong Texas Values, is not registered with the City Clerk’s Office or the Texas Ethics Commission, according to local news reports. Falsifying the origin of an injurious political mailer is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Nirenberg’s campaign manager Kelton Morgan told the San Antonio Express-News the mailer was a “dirty trick … third-rate shenanigans” from a campaign “in an ever-increasing spiral of desperation.”

Taylor’s campaign spokesman Greg Jefferson responded: “Ron Nirenberg’s campaign is losing, and they’re lying.”

Taylor, 46, became mayor of Texas’ second largest city when City Council colleagues appointed her after President Barack Obama tapped Mayor Julián Castro to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development three years ago.

Taylor initially promised she would not run for mayor when her interim term expired in 2015, but she did run, and defeated the well-regarded former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in a razor-thin runoff. Van de Putte has endorsed Taylor in this race, telling political donors that “voters got it right” in 2015, according to the Texas Tribune.

Taylor has helped steer tense contract negotiations between the city and the police union, oversaw the passage of SA Tomorrow, touted as the city’s first master plan in decades, and supported the re-emergence of Uber and Lyft in the Alamo City.

“We feel good heading into Election Day, though we’re taking nothing for granted,” Taylor told Courthouse News on Tuesday.

“Unlike my opponent, I have a lengthy track record of success, including securing our city’s water security, making our neighborhoods safer and focusing our investment on streets and other basic services. I am also a consensus-builder with the knowhow to lead the City Council and move our city forward,” she said.

Nirenberg’s campaign did not respond to a request to participate in this story.

But on Monday, Nirenberg, 40, said at a debate that voters deserve a change and a clear vision for the city “to lead it into the 21st century.” He frequently attacks Taylor on issues of leadership and ethics, calling her a pay-to-play politician.

“I know what I believe and I am unafraid to risk my personal political capital to do the right thing,” Nirenberg said at one of the final debates Monday on Texas Public Radio. “I have a vision for this city, to lead this city into the future, and most importantly I stand on a firm foundation of ethics and integrity that is unimpeachable.”

With degrees from Trinity University and the University of Pennsylvania, Nirenberg worked as a program director on municipal policy and civic engagement research at the Annenberg Public Policy Center from 2001-2009. He is of Filipino and Jewish heritage and his wife is Latina, as are 64 percent of San Antonio’s 1.4 million residents.

Both candidates are well-funded and well-known in the city. Nirenberg presents himself as a Julián Castro-style, inclusive politician with vision. He has endorsements from former Mayors Castro and Phil Hardberger.

Taylor is seen as a steady mayor who has been good for the tech community and business. Hulu announced in April that it would open a customer support center here with more than 500 employees, and Taylor helped bring Google Fiber and AT&T Giga Power to San Antonio.

She has endorsements from numerous elected local officials from both parties, including three departing City Council members and the San Antonio Police Officers Association.

Taylor took heat from the city’s LGBT community however, for her vote as a council member against a nondiscrimination ordinance the City Council adopted while Castro was mayor. The law expanded the city’s nondiscrimination policy to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

That vote, however, has seemed to hurt her in this campaign in the largely Democratic city.

Nirenberg used the Monday debate to attack Taylor on public safety issues and for intervening in police union negotiations, a hot topic throughout the campaign.

“The results are clear: Under her tenure our murder rate is up 107 percent. Under her tenure our violent crime rate is up 22 percent. Under her tenure we have 196 vacancies. Under her tenure we have one of the lowest officers by capita,” Nirenberg said.

Taylor said her opponent was “twisting up the facts.”

“I did intervene,” she said. “I felt that we could sit down with our officers and achieve a resolution and we did that.”

The election is expected to be close.

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