Last Wednesday, former District 2 councilwoman candidate Denise Gutierrez-Homer (DGH) and current San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg (RN) visited UTSA’s Campaign and Election Law class. The UTSA Mayoral Forum was hosted by Judge Stephanie Boyd, along with her Co-Sponsor, the President of the San Antonio Black Lawyers Association Tiffany Miller. Both mayoral candidates answered a series of questions posed by the UTSA student participants. It should be noted that all mayoral candidates were invited to attend the event.
Q: Regarding the mishandling of the Texas winter storm, how are you going to ensure we do better?
RN: We’ve been experiencing crises on top of crises here in the state of Texas and really across the country where we are today with regard to the storm I’ve launched an independent investigation that’s underway to look at the preparation, communication and response during the winter event at the local level, CPS Energy, San Antonio water system, as well as, our overall emergency response. They are going through crowdsourcing questions as well as feeding those requests for facts and discovery to the different agencies.
I will tell you right now that one of the findings that I expect and recommendations will be coordination among agencies, particularly coordinated communication among agencies that needs to improve. Obviously, during the winter event we saw massive power outages that were ordered and triggered from the mismanagement of the energy grid at the state level, which we only almost got another dose of that yesterday. But in terms of how that trickles down to the local level, we have to plan for additional contingencies and do better coordination among the agencies in terms of communicating out to the public.
On the flip side, we’re also dealing with the crisis in terms of making sure that our energy system in Texas is better and more prepared for the future. As you might know, there was a winter event in 2011 that precipitated a lot of the same conversations. By and large, the promises that were made in 2011 were not fulfilled. We are expecting the Public Utility Commission and Electric Reliability Council of Texas to mandate those reforms and also ensure that ultimately the bill for preparation and recovery of this disaster from an energy standpoint is not on the backs of the people in our state who have been suffering from it.
Q: How important is it to you that Proposition B passes? If the proposition does not pass, then what is your plan to hold law enforcement accountable when there is an unlawful killing of a person?
RN: Currently, the police association enjoys collective bargaining rights and we are trying to achieve those reforms at the table in good faith negotiations. That’s my job as mayor to ensure that good faith negotiation. On the other hand, my job is also to achieve the goals set forth by the council that are articulated from the public—that’s my focus. The transparency with the disciplinary process in terms of records that are viewable by that process, as well as, being able to have the chief of police make the ultimate personnel decisions for the department. I’m not getting involved in the proposition-B campaign, which would undercut that good faith negotiation.
Q: I’ve seen a lot of signs around the city claiming that Proposition B would “defund the police.” What do you think of that claim and the explicit propagation of it to the public?
RN: I would say on both sides of the Proposition B effort for and against, there’s been hyperbole. So in terms of defunding the police Proposition B, I don’t believe in my mind does that, nor will the city do it anyways. It has not been on the table and we’re not going to defund the police. But Proposition B wouldn’t effectuate defunding the police either. On the other hand, I have also seen that passing on Proposition B would achieve all the reforms in terms of discipline and transparency that we’re after. That is also not true. So ultimately, we’re going to have a job to do as elected leaders to achieve the reforms in terms of discipline and transparency, regardless of whether or not the public approves or rejects Proposition B.
Q: As we return to our public schools for the fall semester, will vaccines be mandatory for all faculty and staff? And what about the children?
RN: That jurisdiction is with the Texas Education Agency and the state of Texas, so I can’t answer that personally.
Q: When jury trials start up again, whose decision will it be you (Mayor Nirenberg) or Judge Rangel?
RN: So I am going to defer to the judge because he has jurisdiction over his court. If there is going to be an argument against that, it would be with the county judge, not with me.
So, Judge, what are you going to do?
RR: Well, there is no argument because unfortunately, the Supreme Court made that decision fall completely on me. So I wrote a letter to the judges yesterday explaining why I thought June 1, 2020. That’s about six to seven weeks from now is the time that we’re going to start in-person jury trials in Bear County. We’re only going to pick one felony jury trial per day, but each court is going to rotate every day to pick a jury and then those jury trials will be ongoing in the individual courts. Students you’re all welcome to come down to the courthouse and observe. We would love to have you and answer all your questions.
Q: What were the main focuses you had on your agenda for the city pre-pandemic that you have not gotten to accomplish yet?
RN: Yes, transportation reform. I’m very happy that we didn’t totally have to put it aside. We did put job recovery in front of it with regard to the sales tax initiative. But now that Prop- D passed in November it gave us the ticket that we have been needing for 40 years to go to the federal government and start pulling down our fair share of infrastructure dollars to help build our transit system of the future, so that is front burner now.
Q: Traffic and road conditions seem worse than I’ve ever experienced. According to SA2020 data, distance traveled by drivers is up, traffic times are up, and traffic fatalities and injuries are up. What can you, as mayor, do to alleviate these traffic issues and increase access to alternative transportation modes?
RN: I think the focus on this is absolutely appropriate on all those measures that you just mentioned. All those need to be addressed for climatological reasons and for quality of life and economic development reasons as well. So the first thing we have to do is stop building our transportation system as a car centric culture, as we’ve been doing for the last 60 years. I’m excited to say that work is now underway and I mentioned some of it just a minute ago. We also have to ensure that we’re building multimodal capacity here in our communities. So in the 2022 bond, you’re going to see, along with the infrastructure plan that we expect with our federal government, you’re going to start to see our bicycle master plan, which has been on the books for years but never built in any meaningful way, start to be built. And then, of course, we’ve got to work on combating sprawl that is contributing to these long wait times and increased traffic and areas. We’ve got to build our city in a more sustainable manner. And that is the primary purpose of SA Tomorrow, which I chaired back in 2015, which is underway as our comprehensive plan is implemented.
Q: What’s been your experience in relationship with working with the state government versus your city role?
RN: Hot and cold. You know, we have had great success in collaboration at times, and then we’ve been completely uncoordinated and on different pages in terms of response to pandemic. I mean, I’ll give you a great example. We had wonderful coordination once the testing regimen was underway, working with the Texas Department of Emergency Management to make sure that we had the testing protocols established and now we are leading and we have been in terms of metros and the testing capacity for the pandemic. An area where it was completely off was the re-opening strategy of the state of Texas, which, as I’ve said many times, reopened too fast, too soon. They dropped the simple things that could have saved lives like the mask mandates early on, so it has been hit and miss. I mean, I would expect it to not always be 100% coordinated, but, in light of how incoherent the federal response was initially to the pandemic, the state’s actions were at times very contrary to the health guidance we were getting at the local level as well.
Q: What do you see as our biggest asset in San Antonio and how do you plan to capitalize on that in terms of economic development?
RN: I think the biggest asset here in San Antonio that has gotten us through this pandemic and ultimately is why people are always so impressed with our city when they visit or when they invest is teamwork. We collaborate better across jurisdictions, across sectors, across the city, neighborhood to neighborhood than any city in the country. And we get that comment all the time. It’s an economic development asset and it’s also a policy and just quality of life assets. So I think that that to me is top of the heap.
Q: Texas is currently suing the building administration over the Remain in Mexico program, citing issues with the temporary housing in Texas. Are there any issues that you are aware of at the Freeman Coliseum?
RN: I took a tour of that facility early on, albeit when the intake had just begun and we observed great preparation. Again, this is a federal operation, but they had meals, three squares and two snacks setup for the kids. They had all the safety protocols in terms of chaperoning and making sure that children were not left alone with a single chaperon. They had shower facilities, recreational facilities, sleeping facilities, and they had COVIDd protocols set up. So in my observation and in the conversations I’ve had with my counterparts, the judges, the commissioners and others that have been there. There was no observation of any issues of any magnitude that would require a press conference from the governor. So I have not gotten any contrary information. I think there’s already been press about the fact that some of the accusations were not substantiated so I’m still waiting for the information and waiting for, you know, some facts to come out.
Q: Why are you the best candidate for mayor of San Antonio?
DGH: Well, it’s time for a change here in San Antonio. As an example of being a part of the community, when I chose to come to UTSA, I never thought I would be doing this today. But I think we’re dealing with so many different changes happening in San Antonio. The pandemic completely changed what we’re dealing with not just in San Antonio, but in the world and in Texas. I really want to make a change here in San Antonio in the respect family and the economy.
I am a businesswoman here in San Antonio. I have several degrees, but I also have a different experience level regarding where I was working in relation to San Antonio. I used to be a teacher, then I became a subcontractor, and now I’m a very active advocate here in the east side of San Antonio where I live. So those issues and concerns that we’re dealing with right now in San Antonio created that intense desire for me to make some changes. With that, I thought I might as well go ahead and be a part of this campaign and hopefully bring some light to solutions to San Antonio right now.
Q: How would you address homelessness and crime within the city if elected mayor?
DGH: We have to understand that we have different facets of the homeless community. And we as a city, we can address this responsibly and make sure we get them the attention and the help, the medical awareness and the subsidies of having some sort of organizations that can can be a part of the solution. So there’s just so many things right now. I just can’t deal with one situation, but it’s an entire group of individuals that we have to address right now.
Q: What are your thoughts on Governor Abbott’s efforts to limit and restrict voting access in the state?
DGH: I don’t think it’s really limiting. Right now, we’re having to make sure that we actually have the people that need to be accessible to voting because we need to make sure as a Latina, we have to have everybody have a voice when it comes to voting. I think we have to have more facilities, more locations for us to vote. We also need more time to vote because right now, dealing with the pandemic, we might actually have to extend hours to provide services to individuals who need to make sure they can have access to voting. I don’t feel it’s necessary right now to continue with the efforts that the county has led with have a drive through voting. I think that’s something that can be a little bit more of an issue in the future because we have to make sure that we actually have registered voters. I.D. is important for me as well. I know that right now we have a community that’s dealing with a lot of issues, but I think the vote of every American citizen is important. And that’s what I’m talking about. The vote for every American citizen is in question.
Q: I often hear candidates refer to common sense leadership. What does that mean to you?
DGH: I guess you can also say it’s back to basics. I think we’re talking about politics right now. It becomes more of an issue of not really listening to the voter.
I think that we have to all be at that table right now. We have too many concerns dealing with our economy, our families, our elders, our seniors that are in need of a lot of assistance. We have to understand that right now we can’t be expanding certain services when we haven’t finished doing the first job in the first place. We can’t get to the next level, you know, pass a couple of steps and just jump a couple of steps before we’ve completed the first task. I’m very task oriented and I think that we have to look at that as a commonsense issue. It’s getting the task done and completed. As a subcontractor I couldn’t go from one extreme to another and have the house completed without starting with the foundation. We know we have issues in San Antonio. We have to start with the foundation of those issues that we’re dealing with in the community.
So that’s the common sense right now that I’m thinking about dealing with and standing up.
Q: What is your stance on the migrant children being held in the Freeman Coliseum? Do you believe they should be moved to a different location?
DGH: I don’t know how many of the students are aware that this is actually an organization that’s working with the Fremont Coliseum are Catholic Charities. It’s under the URM program that the federal government created, and that is the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors is not referring to migrants. It’s referring to minors. I came from the border, I was born on the border, and I know the issues that we’re dealing with regarding the situation with mostly older teenagers at the refugee location. So we have to understand that right now we have too many issues right now dealing with these with these young minors in the Freman Coliseum and it’s not just the welfare that we’re talking about it’s the emotional welfare, the physical welfare that we have to deal with right now.
Q: What would be your top priorities if elected?
DGH: Getting our economy back, we know we’re dealing right now with the vaccination logistics that are being rolled out, most of us are getting vaccinated with your personal choice. And once we’re dealing with that, we know that we need to get back to our economy. We have too many students probably right now listening to this broadcast that are concerned about their future and about their education. In order to have a healthy economy, we have to have a healthy community here in San Antonio and that relates to something I’m very passionate about which is Internet connectivity. Because the fact is, right now I’m on my cell phone zooming with you if we want to have jobs. We need to have good Internet if we want to have healthy families in San Antonio. They need to be able to get onto the Internet and have Tellamedicine visits with their doctors.
The internet is going to be a major factor for San Antonio, not just in our economy, but our welfare and our safety in San Antonio depends on having connectivity for education and our parents.
Q: What are your thoughts on face coverings, and do you think they should be required?
DGH: It’s personal freedom so one thing that we have to understand is that personal freedoms apply to everybody. And the restrictions have actually been compromising to a lot of people out there. We also have health issues regarding COPD or risk. Is that a mask? The government didn’t ask individuals before the mandate, is there a reason why you can’t wear a mask?
Q: The law says you must wear a seatbelt. What if somebody does not want to wear a seat? If you’re driving and you don’t have a seat belt on, you’re gonna get a ticket. Why is that not impinging on their own personal freedoms but a mask mandate would?
DGH: Well, because that’s the law right now, the mask mandate is not a law.
Early voting began April 19 and will run until April 27 and Election Day is May 1. For more information on early voting, check out this article.