Members of the Bexar County Democratic Party assemble on the front steps of the Bexar County Courthouse.
Members of the Bexar County Democratic Party assemble on the front steps of the Bexar County Courthouse on May 15. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In the simmering feud within the local Democratic Party, both sides are claiming victory this week as members of a faction loyal to the party’s former chair remain withdrawn from their positions in light of a judge’s ruling Monday.

Some, however, remain after being reinstated amid a lawsuit claiming party Chairwoman Monica Alcántara violated state law in removing them from their party seats.

At a press conference Wednesday, loyalists to former party chair Manuel Medina – dubbed the Manuelistas – accused Alcántara of sowing division. The chairwoman has charged that the Medina loyalists are mounting a mutinous campaign against her.

“We’re all Democrats,” said Robert “Woody” Wilson, who represented the plaintiffs. “We are not divided. We should be together.”

Party officers and precinct chairs claimed they were wrongfully removed from their positions. The 10 plaintiffs were part of a recent purge of dozens of precinct chairs. Four were found to not reside in the precinct they had chaired and have vacated their seats.

Three precinct chairs – Juan Raul Hernandez, Sergio Contreras, and Adrian Flores Jr. – will be reinstated. Allen Flores also has been reinstated but will chair a different precinct, as a clerical error during the previous administration placed him in the wrong precinct, said Alcántara, who was sued by the plaintiffs in her capacity as the Bexar County Democratic Party chairwoman.

District Court Judge Cathy Stryker “reversed” the purge of the four precinct chairs in her Monday decision, according to a press release prepared by Wilson. The release charges Alcántara violated state law, but the judge’s order was still being filed and had not been signed as of the publishing of this article. Alcántara said she disagreed with the plaintiffs’ representation of the judge’s decision.

“They are not looking into violations that occurred,” Alcántara said. “At this point, I’m looking to just move this party forward and not focusing on either of the claims.”

Since Alcántara’s election last March, the county party has been beset with infighting. She won more than two-thirds of the vote as she unseated Medina, who served as chair for six years but had just come off a failed mayoral campaign the previous spring. However, Medina maintained the support of a minority of the party’s leadership, who Alcántara has said undermine her administration because of their loyalty to her predecessor.

Most notably, the Manuelistas asserted their influence during an August executive committee meeting in which a majority of the committee’s 263 precinct chairs were absent. During the meeting, the committee endorsed a controversial set of municipal propositions – measures the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association petitioned to be placed on the November ballot.

The rogue faction also sent mailers to local residents touting the Democratic party’s endorsement of the charter amendments, two of which passed in November. The items capped the city manager’s salary and gave the firefighters, who have been seeking a new contract for years, unilateral authority to declare an impasse in negotiations.

In April, District Court Judge Sid Harle ruled in favor of the plaintiffs’ who sought a temporary restraining order to pause all business of the party’s County Executive Committee, which votes on matters such as confirming precinct chairs and officers.

Former Secretary Garrett Mormando and former Treasurer Stephanie Carrillo, who joined the lawsuit against Alcántara to seek reinstatement to their executive committee positions, were removed from their respective posts during a March executive committee meeting. In a March email to precinct chairs, Alcántara wrote that Mormando had been removed for “intercepting mail, abandoning his position during meetings, making a major expenditure without proper authorization, refusal to add standing committee meetings to the party calendar, failure to fulfil [sic] open records requests, and representing the [executive committee] to the press without authorization.” Carrillo, Alcántara claimed, left the party’s finances in “disarray” and forged checks, among other disciplinary issues, the email stated.

Mormando said he plans to attend the local party’s next executive committee meeting in June in hopes of recapturing his seat through a vote. Per Robert’s Rules of Order, a vote can be triggered if a motion is made and seconded by a member of the committee.

A pair of dueling Facebook pages – one featuring a photo of Alcántara and the other a Democrat donkey avatar – have been posting competing statements about the ongoing legal matters. The page featuring Alcántara’s portrait appears to be the account run by the incumbent administration while the other account has been posting affirmations about the insurgent faction’s claimed victories in the courts. Neither account is marked with Facebook’s blue checkmark for verified pages. The former page has about 700 likes while the latter page has more than 4,500 likes.

But Alcántara said Wednesday that feuding among party leadership has “dissipated over the last several months.”

“I feel that it has,” she said. “The pressure amongst us has dwindled a bit.”

Wilson, joined by 19 people holding up signs supporting Democrats, accused Alcántara of divisive behavior.

“Who actually won Monday are the precinct chairs that were reinstated,” he said to applause from the people gathered behind him on the steps of the Bexar County courthouse. “Not the party itself. The party is losing because of the division that she’s creating.”

As for the chairwoman, she said her focus has turned to the elections in 2020. While the party has struggled with internal discord, she said the executive committee has added 117 precinct chairs.

“There’s still many more we have to have sworn in at the next [meeting],” she said. “The party is growing.”

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.