Members of the business community say they’re taking a cautious but optimistic approach with San Antonio’s two new progressive City Council members who pledged to beat back what they see as the outsized influence of developers.
Four new representatives will be sworn on to the San Antonio City Council Tuesday. Two of them — Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) and Teri Castillo (D5) — campaigned on progressive platforms and were endorsed by some of the same organizations, including the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, and the San Antonio chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
The new City Council members have the potential to “really tip the balance” in favor of more progressive policies, said Henry Flores, professor emeritus with the St. Mary’s University department of political science.
“I think San Antonio has turned a page in history and we’re going to see a whole different outlook now on where the City’s going — different visions for the city are going to emerge,” he said.
While the McKee-Rodriguez and Castillo campaigns drew the attention of the business community, for now, leaders of multiple chambers of commerce said their corporate members are waiting to see how the new council members approach their jobs.
“Everybody’s just kind of curious to see what these new members are going to be like,” said Cristina Aldrete, the president and CEO of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
And while most chamber leaders struck an optimistic tone, San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Marina Gonzales acknowledged that the new council members’ stance on developers caused some concern.
“Anytime you have any candidate running in opposition to a particular platform or stating their opposition to working with a particular industry or group, I think it’s cause for concern just as a leader in general,” Gonzales said.
Aldrete was more succinct.
“Oh, they noticed,” she said of the developers among her chamber membership.
“We just know that we’re going to have to really work that much harder to make sure that we keep an open communication, both ways,” Aldrete added.
Castillo told the San Antonio Report that to her, being business-friendly means providing support to the many small businesses in her community that need services, such as grant application advice. Only a small percentage of the businesses with fewer than 10 employees applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from the federal government, she added.
She spoke at a Wednesday evening reception for new council members at the Red Berry Estate hosted by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. McKee-Rodriguez and Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) did not attend.
“There’s a disconnect, so what it looks like is strengthening that partnership and making sure that we do have services for our legacy businesses,” Castillo said.
“I’m proud to say that every business within District 5 that had one of our campaign signs, they reached out to us for it,” she added. “So we do have strong support from the District 5 business community.”’
At the meet-and-greet, the crowd applauded loudly when each council member was introduced. Attendees flocked to the new representatives to say hello and distribute their business cards, eager to get a few minutes of face time.
In a year where San Antonio is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and thinking about recovery, the business community and elected officials must align, said Phyllis Viagran, who will replace her sister, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, in District 3.
“[Businesses] and residents alike are facing a rate hike from CPS [Energy],” she said. “Businesses and residents alike are facing infrastructure issues. So I think that we need to take that into perspective as we move forward.”
Chamber leaders have said economic relief for businesses is at the top of their priority lists, along with how the city spends federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Richard Perez, CEO and president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said that no matter what, he hopes council members will keep a line of dialogue going between them and the business community.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re looking for people that are committed to serving, committed to making a difference and committed to having an open mind to work with all the constituencies in this community, because in addition to representing their district, they also represent our city,” Perez said.
And while council members may have ambitious goals starting out, they also have to work within the system, Flores said, meaning change is likely to be more incremental.
“It’s not going to be like overnight,” he said. “And so there’s gonna be a lot of negotiation going in. … If you’re going to be very, very progressive, you have to negotiate with the business leaders to reach some sort of compromise.”