SAN ANTONIO (CN) — San Antonio voters on Saturday ousted Ivy Taylor, city’s first black female mayor, and elected Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who overcame a last-minute direct-mail hit piece from a nonexistent group to unseat the incumbent by 9,000 votes.
Nirenberg, 40, took 54 percent of the votes in the runoff: 54,010. Taylor, who served one elected term, came in with 45 percent, 44,919 votes.
Though the election was nonpartisan, Taylor’s campaign portrayed Nirenberg as “Liberal Ron” and called Taylor the conservative choice for the country’s seventh-largest city.
The heated campaign took a turn toward nasty last week when a mailer against Nirenberg claimed to be from a group that does not exist, operating out of a P.O. Box near the San Antonio airport.
Nirenberg throughout the campaign attacked Taylor’s leadership and ethics, calling her a pay-to-play politician.
“The voters had a clear choice tonight in the election and I’m nothing but excited about the choice that they’ve made because of the values and the message that we’ve brought into the campaign,” Nirenberg said Saturday evening.
He credited his win to his “vision of inclusiveness, of diversity and respecting every part of our city, and everyone who’s in it.”
Taylor, 46, was appointed mayor by her City Council colleagues when President Barack Obama tapped Mayor Julián Castro to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development three years ago.
She promised she would not run for a full term when her interim term expired in 2015, but she did run, and defeated the well-regarded former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte by a slim margin in a runoff.
Taylor was seen as a steady mayor, smoothing out tense contract negotiations between the city and the police union, overseeing passage of the city’s first master plan in decades, and helping to pass an $850 million bond.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to go the way we anticipated this evening,” Taylor told her supporters. “But you know what? I am so grateful to God.”
Her campaign in the largely Democratic city may have been damaged by her opposition to lawsuits against the state over a law that bars sanctuary cities and threatens law enforcement officials who refuse to comply with federal immigration holds with jail time and removal from office. Nirenberg supported cities’ lawsuits against Texas over Senate Bill 4.
Nirenberg also hit the incumbent mayor hard on public safety issues, saying at one of the campaign’s last debates that the city’s violent crime rate jump by 22 percent under her tenure, and the murder rate spiked by 107 percent.
Taylor was never able to live down her September 2013 vote as a council member against a nondiscrimination ordinance the City Council adopted while Castro was mayor, which irked the city’s LGBT community. The law expanded the city’s nondiscrimination policy to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Nirenberg voted for it. He was endorsed in the runoff by the Human Rights Campaign and former Mayor Castro, a Democrat, whom Taylor tried to negatively connect to Nirenberg.
“Their clunky attempts to attack Ron by calling him a liberal and linking him to Joaquin and me failed miserably,” Castro told the San Antonio-Express News, referring to his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro. “People can see through those smokescreens.”
Nirenberg takes office June 22 and will preside over a refreshed 10-member City Council, with six new members. City offices in the Alamo City carry two-year terms.
Nirenberg is of Filipino and Jewish heritage and his wife is Hispanic, as are 64 percent of San Antonio’s 1.4 million residents. He has a son and worked as a program director on municipal policy and civic engagement research at the Annenberg Public Policy Center for almost a decade.
Nirenberg, a two-term councilman, said he was proud to have run a “high-road campaign.”
He said he planned to focus on creating a modern transportation plan, inclusive housing and ethics reform.
“This is a responsibility they’ve entrusted me with,” he said. “Now I have to stand and deliver for them.”