Editor’s note: This story originally appeared at Local Community News in partnership with NOWCastSA.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and his chief opponent in the May 1 election former District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse, outlined their visions for the city’s future during a virtual candidate forum April 6.
AARP San Antonio sponsored the town hall, which was livestreamed by NOWCastSA. Although 14 people are running for mayor, event organizers narrowed participation to the two front-runners based on the latest polls and campaign-finance reports.
Nirenberg, the former District 8 representative, narrowly beat Brockhouse in a 2019 election runoff to claim a second term.
Viewers’ questions were posed separately to Nirenberg and Brockhouse in the forum. Nirenberg said if reelected, he would concentrate on post-COVID 19 pandemic relief and ensure residents’ health care and employment needs are met.
“We also have to make sure we have a healthy economy and where we can have businesses come back to life, and employers and employees come back to work safely by providing them the resources they need to do so,” Nirenberg added.
He also said all community members must have access to quality education and job opportunities.
Nirenberg acknowledged continuing challenges to expand the local availability of COVID vaccines, saying the city constantly stays in touch with state and federal leaders to secure more supplies.
“Despite those challenges, we’ve been setting aside a significant number of doses for people who don’t have access to the internet or who are homebound,” he added.
Nirenberg said the pandemic has further exposed social challenges, including homelessness. He said the San Antonio Police Department’s recent sweep of a downtown encampment is not part of the solution.
“I think it starts with the understanding that homelessness is not a problem in and of itself, but a symptom of underlying issues, including housing affordability,” the incumbent said.
Regarding transportation, Nirenberg said the Alamo City must implement plans to improve sidewalks and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, and offer more multimodal transit options for a growing population.
“We have a great bicycle master plan and we have to build it. It’s not enough to just paint a white stripe down the road and say you built a bike lane,” the mayor said.
Brockhouse said his current mayoral campaign reflects lessons he learned from his loss in 2019. He explained he wants especially to address residents who feel a sense of hopelessness related to jobs, road conditions and public safety.
As San Antonio grows, nobody should be left behind, including older persons, the challenger said.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as having a place for them to congregate, be together, interact and to move around. Let’s also remember life is outside of the home,” he added. “We have to cultivate that and grow it.”
Brockhouse suggested solutions such as providing seniors and other more vulnerable community members with transportation options to public facilities.
Encouraging job growth is a key issue for Brockhouse, who said as mayor he would back initiatives to help close the local digital gap and expand internet services for seniors and others lacking the digital resources to apply for jobs or work remotely.
“They can be mobile and work from their own home if we do it right,” he added.
Touching on housing affordability, Brockhouse said the city must tackle rising property taxes, appraisals and gentrification to help residents, specifically longtime homeowners, to age in place.
“I would immediately go to property-tax rate reductions and expanding homestead exemptions,” he added.
Where homelessness is concerned, Brockhouse called it neither a choice nor a crime, and added it should not be confused with panhandling, which he added poses a safety risk in neighborhoods. He agreed with Nirenberg that simply clearing encampments is not an answer.
In addition, Brockhouse called for a revamp of Haven for Hope, and for the city to increase partnerships with the local faith-based community and nonprofits to better serve homeless individuals.
“We have the resources to fund it, we just have to fund it and hold them accountable,” he added.
Other mayoral hopefuls include Gary Allen, Tim Atwood, Ray Basaldua, Antonio "Tony" Diaz, Joshua James Galvan, Denise Gutierrez-Homer, Michael "Commander" Idrogo, Justin Macaluso, Dan Martinez, Jacq'ue Laurel "J." Miller, Frank Adam Muniz and John Velasquez.
Upcoming editions of Local Community News will preview this and many other contested races in and around San Antonio ahead of the May 1 elections. Early voting is April 19-27.