The Travis Park Church sanctuary felt more like a soccer stadium than a house of worship Wednesday evening as 450 boisterous supporters of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilman Greg Brockhouse filled the pews for a mayoral candidate forum.
Associate Pastor Gavin Rogers addressed the crowd beforehand, urging respect, civility, and tolerance, and an awareness of where people were gathered. A house of worship is not an ice house.
The two candidates appeared separately, never sharing the stage.
Respect for such admonitions was short-lived as the program opened with Rogers and Rivard Report Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick tag-teaming Brockhouse in a conversation that started softly, but eventually turned into a thorough focus on two domestic abuse incidents described in police reports, one involving Brockhouse and his ex-wife and the other with his current wife.
Brockhouse grew loud and animated while answering. His supporters followed, shouting, standing, and erupting into screaming matches with Nirenberg supporters in the audience.
Brockhouse supporters will post their usual comments on this column, asserting he was never arrested and citing his current wife’s serial denials that the incident never occurred. Experts know that most women recant charges against abusive husbands or partners. Police often leave the scene of domestic assaults without making an arrest if the situation seems defused.
The clamor inside Travis Park Church was a picture of populist mayhem. While the moment, captured by local television cameras, erased any doubts about the Rivard Report‘s resolve to confront Brockhouse on the domestic abuse charges, I found myself wondering about the broader pattern of his relations with women in general.
Fathering children with four different women is indicative, in and of itself. I also was thinking about the many exchanges that have been reported in City Council chambers in which Brockhouse has targeted strong, smart women in leadership roles.
At the forum, Brockhouse was effusive in his praise of newly appointed City Manager Erik Walsh. A native San Antonian, veteran City employee, and protégé of longtime City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Walsh has been on the job less than three months. He has not overseen any significant policy initiatives or reversed any Sculley-era policies and practices, yet he somehow has earned Brockhouse’s seal of approval.
“Erik Walsh has a done a fantastic job transitioning from Sheryl Sculley to his leadership,” Brockhouse repeated in a Thursday interview with “The Source” host David Martin Davies on Texas Public Radio last week.
Walsh, of course, is a man. Sculley is a woman. Brockhouse vilified Sculley for two years, turning a city manager recognized nationally as best in class into a target. His allies in the police and fire unions oversaw the expenditure of untold sums to hound her out of City Hall.
Sculley wasn’t the only woman executive to find herself in Brockhouse’s crosshairs.
Pre-K4SA CEO Sarah Baray, a nationally-recognized educator, can tell her own tales about tongue-lashings delivered by Brockhouse in public meetings. She made the mistake of touting Pre-K teachers as the best and brightest in San Antonio, which infuriated Brockhouse, whose wife teaches in the Northside Independent School District. He somehow took Baray’s organizational pride as a hit on his wife.
With the preschool program funded by a 1/8-cent sales tax up in 2020 for voter approval for another eight years, Pre-K supporters are understandably worried that Brockhouse as mayor would work to undermine the program and divert the revenue elsewhere.
Brockhouse also zeroed in with a bizarre line of questioning of SAWS board nominee Amy Hardberger, a St. Mary’s law professor and noted water law expert, even as he gave a pass to the men nominated to the SAWS board at the same time. Two city council members, Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Ana Sandoval (D7), protested Brockhouse’s obvious bias against Hardberger, who nonetheless gained appointment to the board, as a woman.
Brockhouse has been equally hostile to Colleen Bridger, the director of Metro Health, who now serves as an interim assistant city manager.
Brockhouse has become increasingly agitated in his responses as the domestic abuse allegations have become a bigger campaign issue, even as he has failed to convince anyone that the 2009 police report unearthed by San Antonio Express-News investigative reporter Brain Chasnoff is not real. It appears quite real, written by a San Antonio police officer who is said to still be active on the force.
“That police report is chocked full of inaccuracies,” Brockhouse said of the report, detailing how he threw his wife to the ground, sat on her and appeared to be assaulting her when their children came into the room, perhaps saving their mother from a beating and allowing her to call the police.
Like so many before them, Brockhouse and his wife deny any such thing ever happened. If so, Davies asked, why did Brockhouse threaten to walk out of an earlier Rivard Report-sponsored mayoral debate if the subject of domestic abuse were raised?
Answer: He didn’t think “Bob Rivard could be fair.” Yet I was standing in the back of the room, a member of the audience. I was not on stage asking questions.
As Davies continued to press Brockhouse on the incident with his wife, the councilman told TPR listeners:
“That did not happen.”
Oddly, Brockhouse shows no interest in investigating what would then be a forged document, a serious crime, and true campaign dirty trick. Interestingly, he previously called on the District Attorney’s office to open a criminal investigation into what he said was an illegal executive council session attended by Sculley, Nirenberg, and other city council members to discuss the pros and cons of a competitive bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention. Brockhouse seems in no hurry now to investigate the perpetrators of damaging, supposedly phony allegations of domestic abuse.
The police report that is now missing from local databases, one local attorney told me, suggests former District Attorney Nico LaHood allowed the report to be expunged under his watch, not an unusual supposition given his cozy relationship with the public safety unions. It happens far more often than citizens realize in instances where there is no arrest or conviction, the attorney said. LaHood himself had a felony drug distribution and firearm charge expunged from his own record.
Brockhouse has a history and a problem. He needs to own that history and voters need to consider his problem with women, both at home and in the public arena.
For Brockhouse supporters critical of my continuing focus: Domestic violence is not some subject box we journalists check and then move on. This goes to the heart of Brockhouse’s unsuitability to serve in a major public leadership role in our city. It’s up to voters now to decide what kind of elected leader we want in San Antonio.