Proposition A and development were among the topics discussed by San Antonio City Council candidates in runoffs for Districts 1 and 7 in wide-ranging, back-to-back debates Wednesday night.
The night started off relatively calm, with candidates for the runoff in District 1 discussing marginally different visions for the future of San Antonio, but ended in a fracas between the candidates for District 7, who clashed over campaign finance and qualifications.
In the debate for the open District 7 seat, former computer scientist Dan Rossiter came out swinging against the current council and his opponent, tech executive Marina Alderete Gavito.
“We have $5 billion in deficits in physical infrastructure across the city and a council that seems very distracted by issues that are not directly relevant to their residents and what they need to be doing,” Rossiter said at the debate hosted by the San Antonio Report at San Antonio College’s McAllister Auditorium.
Gavito and Rossiter also locked horns over campaign contributions and employment history, while finding common ground on the importance of neighborhood groups and opposition to elements of Proposition A.
Rossiter lambasted Gavito for continuing to work while campaigning, while he said he quit his job at the Southwest Research Institute, and suggested what she was doing might be illegal.
But Gavito pushed back, highlighting the properties owned by Rossiter, and committing to resign in the event she is elected.
“I … think it’s a little misleading for you to say that you quit your jobs simply to focus on residents because that’s not true,” she said.
Gavito led the field during the May election with nearly 42.6% of the vote while Rossiter trailed with 21.1%.
The District 7 seat on the West Side was held by Ana Sandoval from 2017 until January when she stepped down to accept a higher-paying job. Civil rights leader Rosie Castro was temporarily appointed to the seat and will serve until either Gavito or Rossiter is elected in June.
When asked about how they would balance the needs of residents and city staff when it comes to zoning changes, Gavito stressed the importance of community involvement and involving neighborhood associations in the process at the very beginning.
Rossiter emphasized the need for data-driven investment, pointing to his success in securing council adoption of his proposal to change the algorithm for how the city invests $100 million every bond cycle on F-rated streets.
Candidates found common ground against elements of Proposition A, a controversial measure rejected in the May municipal election.
Both said they supported the components legalizing abortion protections, but decried the language that would have required the justice director to not have any law enforcement experience. Rossiter also pointed out that the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over abortion or marijuana laws.
Both candidates expressed support for increasing City Council member, city manager and mayoral salaries.
The District 1 debate, which opened the night, was more tame in comparison. First-term District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo leaned on his incumbency, highlighting his work securing funding for businesses impacted by construction in the last year and clashed with his opponent, education consultant Sukh Kaur over how to address the growing district’s competing interests.
The runoff comes after Bravo came in second place in the May election, with 26% of the vote in a seven-person race for his seat. Kaur, a former teacher and administrator who owns an education consulting company, finished first with 34% of the vote, taking 1,220 more votes than Bravo.
Candidates discussed how they would serve the diverse and sometimes competing suburban and urban interests of constituents in District 1, which encompasses most of downtown and extends north. Businesses located there fought hard to keep the central business district from being divided up in last year’s redistricting process.
“San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and we need to grow with it,” Bravo said. “The key is … bringing the people together [and] finding the right fit for each neighborhood.”
One area where businesses and homeowners have clashed is over construction projects and improvements that were delayed due to the pandemic, and have reportedly had a negative impact on business operations.
Bravo, who has in the past had a congenial relationship with neighborhood groups, said that he “inherited some really messy projects that were poorly managed” and had fought for funds to offset losses to no avail.
“City staff told me no, they told me no over and over and over again,” he said. “But I didn’t give up on this, I kept fighting and we delivered $5 million in … grants for the small businesses.”
He also touted a “responsible bidder’s ordinance,” that was passed, to ensure that bidders that have poor performances in the last three years are ineligible for getting a city contract. A related policy fined construction bidders that were behind on projects and gave bonuses to those that were ahead of schedule.
Kaur said there is a way to balance both needs.
“How do we keep these businesses in business whilst at the same time not impacting the quality of life of the residents that live there?,” she said.
But Kaur said projects have to be strategically planned, so that, for example “Broadway and Avenue B,” are not under construction at the same time.
While Bravo touted his work addressing the unhoused population, Kaur pointed to recent data showing an increase in that population.
“I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made on this issue in my first term, and I want you to know that you’re going to start to see the results of that progress,” Bravo said. “So what we are doing right now is we’re supporting the model of permanent supportive housing.”
“There was a 5% increase in the rate of homelessness that was captured,” Kaur said. “So I would argue that may not be the progress that we’re looking for.”
Kaur said she recently had an unhoused person approach her home, an example of how the problem can impact individuals.
“We have to figure out a solution for this and that includes first and foremost having additional mental health support,” she said.
Bravo also addressed the controversy surrounding a contentious budget debate last year that reportedly ended in Sandoval being reduced to tears, for which he received a vote of no confidence and temporary restriction from committee assignments.
“That was a bad day for me,” he said. “I apologized to my council colleagues, I apologized to council member Sandoval, and I apologized to all my constituents.”
The seven-day early voting period for the June 10 runoff begins May 30 — with polls closed on June 4 — and ends on June 6.