The Battle for Alamo City

The San Antonio mayoral race is crowded.
April 2015
San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor Flickr/ The Texas Tribune
By Alan Greenblatt  |  Staff Writer
Alan Greenblatt is a Governing staff writer.

San Antonio mayor is a much sought-after gig, for a couple of reasons. For one, the city, already the nation’s seventh largest, will likely rise to No. 5 in a few years, due in part to an aggressive annexation policy.

For another, it’s a launching pad for politicians: Even before Julian Castro became a national Democratic star thanks to his keynote address at the party’s 2012 convention, his path from the mayor’s office to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary had already been paved by Henry Cisneros back in the 1990s.

A dozen candidates are pursuing the office. Ivy Taylor, who took over the job when Castro left for Washington, became a late entrant to the race in mid-February. She joined a field for the May 9 election dominated by two state legislators who gave up their positions to run, Leticia Van de Putte and Mike Villarreal. “The more the merrier,” says candidate Tommy Adkisson, a former Bexar County commissioner.

The issues are what you’d expect in a municipal race -- growing the economy, improving transit and education. Neither Van de Putte nor Villarreal has come out with proposals that would draw sharp differences among the candidates. “On one level, they don’t want to go after each other,” says Henry Flores, a political scientist at St. Mary’s University. “On another, they have to. They need to separate themselves in the eyes of the voters.”

They also have to set an agenda for the city. San Antonio’s job growth has kept pace with its population gains, but there’s still a desire to increase both the quality of jobs and the workforce available to fill them. Like other boom cities, San Antonio is experiencing some issues with gentrification and income inequality. “What we’re looking for is, first of all, stability,” says Richard Perez, president and CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce. “We are a growing, thriving city, but we need to get a better vision of what we’re going to look like, not tomorrow but 20, 30 years from now.”

At present, it’s unclear who will be chosen to offer that vision. Although Taylor provides the prospect of continuity, she’s only been in the mayor’s office since last summer. And she got off to a late start -- initially she had pledged not to run -- which has left her underfunded and with limited chances of winning. Still, her presence on the ballot practically guarantees no candidate will receive a majority. The top two finishers will head to a runoff in June.

For all the political drama, it doesn’t appear that voters are particularly engaged by this race. “It will be a typical, low-turnout election,” says David Crockett, a political scientist at Trinity University. “In a situation when there is a low-turnout election, you can make the argument that by definition the public is not interested.”