Mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse received a standing ovation Sunday night at a church service that gathered about a dozen faith leaders and pastors throughout the city, and called on churchgoers to exercise their right to vote ahead of the June 8 runoff election.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg was invited to the service but had a scheduling conflict, a spokesman said. Nirenberg received about 3,000 more votes than Brockhouse on May 4 with both establishing substantial margins between themselves and their seven other opponents. But neither gained enough of the vote – more than 50 percent – to win the race outright.
The church leaders spoke in front of an audience of more than 100 at the Cornerstone Church on Stone Oak Parkway. They prayed for unity in the city and for a “revival” to come to San Antonio.
Cornerstone founder and Senior Pastor John Hagee said he has seen decades of disharmony and low voter turnout among San Antonio’s electorate since arriving in the city in 1962.
“We as a city, as a spiritual body, have been fragmented for most of those years,” he said. “This has been, if you will, a spiritual pep rally, but it amounts to nothing unless you go vote.”
When asked later about the ovation he received, Brockhouse deflected, calling it a courtesy that other candidates would have received.
“When you stand up and appear, the faith community is always open to everybody,” he said.
But Brockhouse, who practices Catholicism, was clearly on his home turf. The District 6 councilman carried the largely conservative North Side, winning a significant number of precincts in suburban San Antonio. Brockhouse also voted against a controversial Council decision in March to exclude Chick-fil-A from a new vendor agreement at the San Antonio International Airport.
The vote, a 6-4 decision, has become a lightning rod in this round of City elections – drawing national media attention and prompting proposed legislation in the Texas Legislature. The discussion, which was sparked by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), included a rebuke of the company’s financial support for anti-LGBTQIA groups. However, members of the faith community see Chick-fil-A’s ouster as an attack on religious liberties.
Mike Sharrow, president and CEO of the C12 Group, a Christian-based business leaders organization, told the congregation on Sunday that City Council’s decision discriminated against businesses that hold deep religious convictions. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays in observance of the Christian Sabbath.
“I think the City Council has done anti-faith things, and the Chick-fil-A decision is at the top of that list,” Brockhouse said. “The faith community feels under attack from City Council. That response you see is the response I get in almost any church.”
Nirenberg has stated that his vote rejecting Chick-fil-A’s contract at the airport was not because the organization or its founder holds certain religious beliefs, but because he believes airport food vendors should be open every day. He also favored giving a contract to a local company.
Although Brockhouse appears to have the support of many religious conservatives, allegations of domestic violence have dogged his mayoral bid. The claims against Brockhouse stem from incidents in 2006 and 2009, involving his ex-wife Christine Rivera and current wife Annalisa. Brockhouse and Annalisa have denied the allegations. But several groups have called for more attention to the issue, including a group called M?tú – Women of Diversity Defeating Violence, which is holding a press conference Monday to “shine a light on this issue and begin a loud and timely conversation about domestic abuse,” according to a press release.
At one point during the service, candidates for elected office who attended the service were acknowledged, including District 6 candidate Melissa Cabello Havrda, who faces Andy Greene in the June 8 runoff, and defeated District 2 candidate Denise Gutierrez-Homer, who did not make the runoff in her race.
Havrda said she block-walked during the day and then attended the service, which she saw as an opportunity to meet with area pastors and voters.
“They were sermonizing to the congregation that it is our responsibility and our duty to vote,” she said. “It was very just generally get-out-and-vote-your-conscience kind of thing.”
A spokesman said Nirenberg, who was spotted block-walking in District 2 during the day, was at a ceremony honoring Hanna Ross, the widow of former City Councilman Bob Ross, when the service began.
Hagee estimated his church constituted about 10,000 votes, and his congregants vote in high numbers, he said. Still, Hagee and other faith leaders on Sunday warned the crowd not to let apathy set in.
“This is a special election, and nothing is going to change until you make it change at the ballot box,” Hagee said.
Kyle Ringo contributed to this story.