Former Councilman Greg Brockhouse released a seven-part public safety plan this week as part of his campaign to unseat Mayor Ron Nirenberg in the May election.
Key pieces of the plan would establish a registry for residents to sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations and a permanent “mayoral advisory team” that would meet monthly with the mayor to discuss policing issues.
So far he has received positive feedback, Brockhouse said. “I sense … a very strong undercurrent of people saying, ‘Hold on a second here. There’s something different about Brockhouse this go-round.'”
Meanwhile, Nirenberg’s campaign has largely ignored Brockhouse’s attempts to engage on these topics.
“It doesn’t feel like a well-thought-out plan and I’m not sure if he’s run that this plan by other local community leaders or experts, and I’m not sure that he has any support for the plan,” said Gilberto Ocañas, Nirenberg’s chief political consultant. “It was not as coherent as [I would] want … probably because it’s a campaign document. It’s not really a public policy.”
Brockhouse has had at least two years to plan since he lost by slightly more than 2 percentage points (2,690 votes) in his first challenge of Nirenberg in 2019. Much of the headlines and conversations in that race were dominated by allegations of domestic abuse in Brockhouse’s past. He and his wife deny that any abuse occurred, and he has since acknowledged an incident that occurred involving the police at the couple’s home that he previously denied.
“One of the things I didn’t get to do in 2019 was talking about vision and ideas because it kind of turned into a dogfight,” Brockhouse said.
But Nirenberg refuses to agree to any debates with Brockhouse, who has called for at least five ahead of the election.
“I had anticipated he would probably try to hide, not engage or give me any credit,” Brockhouse said. “I think it’s disrespectful to the process.”
Ocañas said Nirenberg is beholden only to the needs of the community, not Brockhouse’s demands. “Our goal is to be responsive to the voters. We don’t need to be responsive to a competitor who is struggling to get traction in his campaign.”
Police reform beyond the contract
While defeating COVID-19 and rebuilding the economy will continue to be the top priority of any mayor elected in May, the winner might also have to deal with ongoing labor contract negotiations with the police union – unless at least one of two things happens: Proposition B is successful in stripping the union of collective bargaining rights, halting the talks, or the City finalizes a deal with the union before the election results are certified in mid-May. In that case, the police contract would be valid even if the proposition passes.
Brockhouse was closely associated with both the police and firefighters unions, having worked for them as a political consultant prior to becoming District 6’s council member in 2017. He is vehemently opposed to Proposition B.
“I do believe the ballot initiative will fail,” Brockhouse said.
But if it does, the issues that Fix SAPD – a policing reform group that gathered petition signatures to place Prop B on the ballot – has with the police disciplinary process “are still valid,” he said. “Just because it didn’t pass it a ballot box doesn’t mean Fix SAPD doesn’t have real concerns.”
But those concerns should be addressed at the bargaining table, he said, instead of politicizing the police reform issue on the ballot.
“It became this conversation of you’re either pro-police or you’re pro-Black Lives Matter,” he said. And that’s a “false choice.”
Brockhouse would establish a working group composed of police and community members that reviews crime statistics and other relevant information to improve the police department’s service. He would meet with this mayoral advisory team once a month.
“The problem with how the city handles it [now] is it gets ignored for three years, and then it gets ratcheted up and up two months before the contract [talks begin],” he said. “And then it’s done in the public, and then it becomes a war.”
This group and other newly formed committees would meet regularly to discuss and make policy recommendations to City Council, such as those aimed at reducing the local jail population. Brockhouse wants the City to come up with ways to improve programs that help formerly incarcerated people avoid ending up back in the system.
Nirenberg, under the recommendation of the city attorney’s office, has declined to take a position on Prop B.
“It’s not something that we need to take a position on right now,” Ocañas said. “We’ll let the citizens vote on it. … [Nirenberg] wants to work through the process that’s already established.”
The mayor supports a five-step process that City Manager Erik Walsh launched last summer to realign how the City views and funds public safety. The City will ultimately develop a report that outlines a new model to achieve public safety that goes beyond police and fire departments.
A ‘shock and awe’ approach to COVID-19
The City has “roundly failed” in its vaccine rollout process, Brockhouse said.
“It should have been an overwhelming city-going-to-the-citizen [approach] and instead it became this you-come-to-us in this narrow manner,” he said, noting that residents were told to sign up for appointments online or call 311.
Roughly one-third of San Antonians don’t have access to broadband internet, he said.
His plan outlines a “Shock and Awe” approach, modeled after the military term referring to the overwhelming use of power to paralyze an enemy. “I would have gone rolling to the streets” to get people over the age of 65, health care workers, and other vulnerable residents the vaccine first.
Unlike other major cities, San Antonio hasn’t set up a vaccine registry for people to sign up to get in a digital line for their doses. City officials say they didn’t want to replace one anxiety (trying to find a dose) with another (waiting to schedule an appointment).
“They say … the registry provides false hope,” Brockhouse said. “People are already as edgy as can possibly be. … What they’re doing is they’re saying we don’t want to be accountable. We don’t want anybody to be more mad at us. That’s the reason, frankly, for no vaccine registry.”
The City and its partners in the vaccine rollout – and general pandemic response – have been working around the clock to get the work done, Ocañas said.
“They’re busy trying to get things done for people and work together. And they’re not campaigning for attention,” he said. “So instead of attacking people for what they didn’t do, did you notice what they did?”
Brockhouse also takes issue with how the City and State of Texas have handled the reopening of businesses. Gov. Greg Abbott is lifting the statewide mask mandate and allowing all businesses to operate at full capacity, effective Wednesday.
What he should have done – and local leaders should have asked for months ago – was let businesses open “100 percent with mask usage,” Brockhouse said.
“I think a lot of us would have been like, “I’ll do that. I’ll do that to save movies. [To save] Mexican Manhattan, I’ll wear my mask,'” he said, referring to a longtime River Walk eatery that closed during the pandemic.
He personally will continue to wear his mask but believes people should be able to make the choice for themselves.
“The governor’s made his call,” Brockhouse said. “I’m wearing my mask. Let’s get after this. Let’s protect small businesses.”