The way City Councilman Mike Gallagher sees it, the most fundamental City services are top-of-mind priorities for many of his constituents in Council District 10.
That means quality streets, sidewalks, and drainage; ensuring police, firefighters, and paramedics are well-equipped and able to respond quickly to emergencies; and making sure neighborhood organizations are communicating with their residents.
Infrastructure, public safety, and connectivity among neighborhoods were the primary topics discussed by the eight candidates who attended the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance’s (NNA) forum Monday night and spoke with an audience of more than 150 people. The topics of fiscal responsibility and transportation also figured prominently as voters choose from among 10 candidates running for the District 10 seat in the May 6 municipal election. A crowded field emerged after Gallagher decided not to seek re-election to a second full Council term.
Even with Gallagher stepping down, the candidates vying to succeed him reaffirmed the sprawling District 10’s emphasis on City services.
U.S. Army combat veteran Lon Jett IV, 43, called for increased police patrols, using retired police cars placed around town to deter criminal activity, and for better lighting on some streets to improve security.
“My big thing is safety,” Jett said.
Safety and infrastructure were the top issues for candidate Reinette King, 65, a professional health consultant and former Zoning Commission member.
“We also need to negotiate the fat out of the [City] budget,” King said.
Web developer Eric Morse, 40, spoke in favor of improved infrastructure, safety, and some city budget cuts, although he did not provide details about where he would trim spending.
Clayton Perry, a former U.S. Air Force engineer who was one of the first candidates to enter the race, said safety and infrastructure top his list of priorities as well.
“Those are items that can kill a city,” said Perry, 62. “It’s the streets and what’s beneath those streets.”
NNA President John Clamp, a former District 10 councilman, said after the forum that the candidates appear to be focusing on issues important to district voters.
“District 10 is all about basic services: public safety, streets, drainage, flooding, code compliance, zoning issues, and working with your neighborhoods,” Clamp said.
Rebecca Podowski, Gallagher’s policy advisor, said leading District 10 is a challenge given its geographic size, which is more than 50 square miles. The district is bordered by the San Antonio International Airport and U.S. 281 to the west, parts of Evans Road to the north, and suburbs to the east. The district’s southern boundary abuts Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills, and Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
As of 2013, District 10’s population was more than 133,000 and had a per-capita income of nearly $23,000, according to City data.
“You have young families north of [Loop] 1604 and at the southern end of the district, around Oak Park/Northwood, and then you have older neighborhoods and homes in between,” Podowski said.
While municipal elections are typically nonpartisan, many elected Council members have a voting history with one major political party. But this year’s District 10 candidates are split somewhat evenly between Democrat and Republican.
According to a Bexar County Republican Party document, four District 10 candidates have consistently voted Republican since 2008: Delmer, King, Perry, and Army retiree Andrew Padilla, who did not attend Monday’s forum.
Attorney Ezra Johnson, 40, has consistently voted Democratic since 2008. School psychologist and business owner Diana Kenny, 45, and child care worker Celeste Montez-Tidwell, 49, have been less consistent in voting Democratic in the last eight years. Montez-Tidwell also was absent from Monday’s forum.
While the candidates are more diverse this election cycle, District 10 voters have elected white males in recent Council elections. Gallagher, who was appointed in 2014 after Carlton Soules resigned, was elected to a full term in 2015, while Clamp served two terms beginning in 2007. Chip Haass served District 10 on the Council from 2003-2007.
What matters to voters, Clamp and Gallagher agreed, is whether the candidates are fully engaged with constituents on the current issues most relevant to the district. District 10’s last four Council members all have been active in their neighborhood organizations and other groups, boards, commissions, and panels.
“District 10 has one of the biggest voter turnouts” in municipal elections, Gallagher said. “We have very active homeowner and neighborhood associations.
“This alliance brings together 85 neighborhoods – you can see that by the turnout tonight,” he added. “That’s really a reflection on these candidates.”
Beyond their focus on infrastructure, public safety, and budgeting, most of the candidates also highlighted more specific issues.
Delmer and King criticized how the City has handled collective bargaining talks with the local police and firefighter unions. Delmer said it’s time for the firefighters and the City to settle on a new agreement.
“The last two years [have] been a waste,” Delmer said, referring to the time that has elapsed since the current contract’s expiration in 2014.
King said perhaps the police deserved a better deal in their latest contract: “They lay down their lives for us. I don’t think what they asked for is too much.”
Candidate John Alvarez, 35, a psychotherapist who served on the city’s SA2020 Commission for Strengthening Family Wellbeing, said an external ethics review panel would help provide better accountability and transparency at City Hall.
“We need an independent ethics review of contracts,” he said.
Kenny called for enhancing the way the City provides services to the homeless and to individuals with mental issues. She also suggested the City take a role in using existing resources to improve schools and other primary education initiatives.
“There are needs in schools, and I think we can connect the City to that,” she said.
Johnson said District 10 and the City must get a better handle on local transportation challenges. He pledged to immediately seek solutions if elected to the Council, saying the next municipal bond should focus on transportation.
Beautification and improving the overall look of District 10 was another topic discussed Monday. Morse suggested a comprehensive review of current zoning laws and the code of ordinances.
“Turn that over to neighborhoods for them to decide, and they could have some good solutions,” Morse said.
Johnson called for additional code compliance personnel to better cover the growing City, with Jett adding that stronger code compliance could help reduce graffiti and littering. King praised the Northeast Corridor Improvement Partnership and how it works with area businesses to enhance beautification efforts.
“Our code compliance doesn’t have any teeth,” Delmer said. “Councilman Gallagher said that on TV.”
The NNA does not endorse candidates. Gallagher said he may wait until closer to voting time in late April to publicly back a candidate. Both Gallagher and Clamp said it’s hard to determine who the frontrunner in District 10 is.
If campaign finances are an indicator, Perry is the leader. He recorded contributions of $48,387 in his mid-January report to the City. In the same reporting period, Johnson had $15,036, followed by Delmer with $2,650.
Gallagher urged voters to look at candidates’ experience.
Perry, for example, parlayed his military experience into a private sector career with architectural engineering and construction firms. Locally, he has been active with his homeowners association and the NNA, and is the current chairman of the City’s Building Standards Board. He also served on one of the committees to prepare the City’s $850 million bond.
Delmer’s neighborhood association is one of the largest by membership in San Antonio. He runs a gun shop in Comfort and founded Students Against Drunk Driving at Alamo Heights High School.
“When I walk into City Hall, the main thing they asked was if I had been active with the city – had I been on boards and commissions,” Gallagher said. “You’ve got to have that perspective about what kind of power does the city have and what can you do to get anything accomplished.”