As City Council members prepared on Tuesday to officially accept the results of the June 5 runoff election, they took the time to thank outgoing representatives and impart advice to the incoming ones.

“My only advice to you is listen,” Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said to them. “Listen to all the input you get on any item or policy. At the end of the day, we have these machines up here, this little TV screen. When you push that button — yes, no, or abstain — you’re telling the world how you stand on a particular issue.”

Councilmen Manny Pelaez (D8) and John Courage (D9) echoed Perry’s words. Courage urged new members to consider their positions as representatives of not only their district but San Antonio as a whole.

“I always say you need to be the neighbor for everybody in your community, the kind of person who listens, who shares thoughts, and shares ideas,” he said. “But also you need to remember that a councilman for one district is a councilman for the whole city, because the decisions we make up here on this dais every day, one way or another, affect the lives of everybody in this community. And so we need to work together when it comes to making those decisions.”

Their words might have sounded like a preemptive plea to City Council’s new and more progressive members. But neither Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) nor Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) took them as a warning.

“That’s what we’re here for,” Castillo said later. “And I like how many of my colleagues highlighted [that] we represent more than just our district — it’s the city as a whole. So I definitely believe that it’s all about collaborative efforts, making sure we’re meeting with our community stakeholders, and I look forward to continuing to do that.”

Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) raises her fist after receiving her certificate of election. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Though McKee-Rodriguez said the advice was valuable, he acknowledged the trepidation that more established council members might have when anticipating their new colleagues.

“We saw that coming a little bit. … People think I’m coming on here and going to be a rebel,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “Maybe I will be, maybe I won’t be. But I’ll meet with everyone. When you’re a council member, the onus is on you to build relationships.”

The newly formed City Council body has a photograph taken after the swearing-in. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Runoff winners Mario Bravo (D1), McKee-Rodriguez, Phyllis Viagran (D3), Castillo, and Courage took the oath of office Tuesday morning. But before the official handoff to the new and reelected City Council members, those departing thanked their staffs and supporters and reminisced about their time on council. Only outgoing Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) was not present, though some of his colleagues recognized his work.

Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) said she was proud of the work she and her office had done during her single term and ticked off city accomplishments in the past two years: being the second majority-female City Council (and the first time all were elected to office), getting racism declared a public health crisis, and eliminating no-knock warrants and chokeholds.

Andrews-Sullivan also praised her successor and former staffer for winning the runoff. 

“Jalen, you made history, baby,” she said. “What I want you to know is I’m so proud of you. … You are the reason why we are still here today. You are our future.”

While McKee-Rodriguez acknowledged his place as the first openly gay man elected to the San Antonio City Council, he gave voters the credit for making it happen.

“District 2 is the one that put me here,” he said. “This is a district of working-class, regular-ass people. … And it wasn’t me who made history. It was the district.”

Jalen McKee-Rodriguez makes his first address as councilman for District 2. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Term-limited Councilwomen Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Shirley Gonzales (D5) said they were grateful to have served with their colleagues over the last eight years. Viagran added that she, too, was proud to have been on the first elected majority-female council.

“To women who are joining this council and to the women who will remain, I only hope I worked hard enough and fought the battles so you don’t have to fight them again,” Rebecca Viagran said. “Call out the ‘mansplaining,’ take the credit you deserve, remind them of your title — you are a councilwoman or a council member, you earned that — and build one another up, because we have enough people tearing us down.”

Councilmembers John Courage (D9), Mario Bravo (D1), Phyllis Viagran (D3), Teri Castillo (D5), and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) are sworn in after victorious runoff elections. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Gonzales said she was thankful to have been supported as a City Council member while navigating motherhood, as she had all three of her children while in office. She also praised the city’s response to the pandemic and how the council supported housing relief, small businesses, and more when they needed it most.

“When my brother passed away in 2009 … I had to search for meaning in my life. And I remember thinking that, if it had been me and not him, I wouldn’t have done anything meaningful,” she said. “Now I can say with great pride that I have led a meaningful life as your District 5 representative. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity. And I look forward to working with you all in the future.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.