Mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal speaks during Pints and Politics at The Pearl Brewery. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal (right) speaks during Pints & Politics II at the Pearl Stable. Photo by Scott Ball.

Early voting for the May 9 City Election opened Monday, April 27, and that’s the morning I cast my vote at Lion’s Field on Broadway, an election season ritual for me.  That same morning my overview of the mayor’s race, Vote Early, Help Make History, was published. The article set off a week-long exchange of emails with readers who challenged me to reveal my vote, even if the Rivard Report would not issue endorsements.

One reader chastised me: “Your own article states, ‘the best people can hope for from the media is an honest presentation…’” So who was my pick for mayor, she wanted to know? What I actually wrote was, “Every person’s vote matters as much as the next, and the best people can hope for from the media is an honest presentation of the candidates, thus providing citizens with the information they need to make up their own minds.”

We’ve tried to do that this campaign season by covering many of the nearly 50 mayoral forums, two of which we organized and I moderated. Two of the candidates, Mike Villarreal and Leticia Van de Putte and their supporters, accepted our invitation to write op-eds asking for your vote. It’s not too late for Mayor Ivy Taylor and Tommy Adkisson to write.

I voted for Mike Villarreal to be our next mayor, and in District 1 where my wife and I live, I voted to keep Councilmember Roberto Treviño in office. I also support paying the next mayor and City Council. I voted yes to continue protecting the aquifer recharge zone and extending the trailway system, and I voted against holding popular elections to decide light rail and streetcar projects. I believe in electing strong leaders and then letting them lead.

Mike Villarreal. Image courtesy of Mike Villarreal for Mayor of San Antonio's Facebook page.
Mike Villarreal. Courtesy photo.

I like and respect all four people at the top of the mayoral ballot and each has a long record of public service. I have friends working in each camp. But this election is about one thing and one thing only: the future of San Antonio.

Mike Villarreal is the only candidate who set out methodically to run for mayor, to develop an in-depth urban agenda, and to give up a secure career in the Texas Legislature to do so. He’s all in, and has been since last July. As I have listened to all four candidates, it’s evident to me that Mike is the best prepared.

Our city has lost ground in the nationwide competition for recruiting and retaining talented young professionals. San Antonio needs a mayor who not only admits we have lost momentum, but has a plan to quickly regain it. The city needs a mayor who understands we don’t need another city manager. We need a strong leader. Anything less and we will fail to transform San Antonio into a city where our children want to live and work and where others want to make their careers and homes.

When I think about our next mayor traveling to Washington to meet with national leaders, I see Mike projecting the intelligent leadership that will win the city respect and positive national news coverage. We need a Geekdom for cybersecurity. I see Mike letting go of his traditional Democratic party ties and crossing over to ask people like U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) and Rackspace Co-Founder and Chairman Graham Weston, who founded Geekdom, to help him duplicate the model for cybersecurity.

Mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal talks with guests during the 2nd annual Webhead Cascarón Bash at Alamo Beer Company. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal talks with guests during the second annual Webhead Cascarón Bash at Alamo Beer Company. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I see Mike meeting with Michael Girdley of CodeUp and Cristal Glangchai of VentureLab, two of the city’s young tech innovators, and asking how we can take their coding and tech programs and expand them tenfold in the city. I see Mike asking former Rackspace President Lew Moorman, former USAA CEO Joe Robles, former Valero CEO Bill Klesse, and Dr. William Henrich, president of the UT-Health Sciences Center, what he can do to create thousands more good-paying jobs just like the many thousands of good jobs they have created.

I see Mike and I see the 21st century. I mean no offense, but when I see Leticia, Ivy and Tommy, I see the 20th century, the San Antonio that’s okay, but a city that’s complacent and too satisfied with itself. I have heard former Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation Chairman Madison Smith, a principal at Overland Partners, say on several occasions, “Okay is not okay anymore in San Antonio.” Excellence must be the new okay. We live in an era of cities vigorously competing for talent. Cities that settle for okay are the cities that will lose.

I like Leticia and admire her work and service in the Texas Legislature, but she is in the mayor’s race because she lost the race for lieutenant governor and did not want to return to the Texas Senate under the leadership of her adversary and victor, former Sen. Dan Patrick. Her end-of-year entry into the race did not give her the time Mike had to develop an urban agenda, to travel the city’s neighborhoods, or establish strategies for uniting a city divided between its urban core and suburbs and badly needing a strong leader who can unite us and move us forward.

Leticia Van de Putte accepts the endorsement for her mayoral campaign from the police union on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Leticia Van de Putte accepts the endorsement for her mayoral campaign from the police union on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Leticia had said during her statewide campaign that she would not run for mayor, yet she did. And accepting the endorsement of the police union in mid-campaign derailed collective bargaining talks and undercut the negotiating leverage of City Manager Sheryl Sculley and her team. The police union does not give away its endorsement for nothing. I’d prefer to see union officials left standing outside, unable to collect on that endorsement. We pay our police and firefighters well, and we respect and honor their public safety record and service, but it’s time for them to compromise.

Mayor Ivy Taylor was thrust into her job by an awkward vote of her colleagues, several of whom would have preferred to see themselves in the job, thank you. She had no chance to prepare for the job. The outdated City Charter forced such a selection process, and I voted Monday to amend the charter and let voters decide the next time a mayor or council member skips out mid-term.

I have a lot of respect for Ivy. She has been a strong advocate for the long-neglected Eastside, and there is an important place for her in our city leadership. I hope she becomes the next CEO of the San Antonio Housing Authority. It would allow her to preside over the biggest urban renewal project in the city’s contemporary history. She would operate with strong relationships at City Hall and Commissioners Court, and with a direct line to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington. Taylor, a planner by training, could make a lasting impact on the city – and be paid well for her work.

Mayor Ivy Taylor smiles during the 2015 Battle of Flowers Parade in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayor Ivy Taylor smiles during the 2015 Battle of Flowers Parade in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Ivy, too, said she wasn’t going to run, and it breeds cynicism when voters see elected officials reverse themselves. The rideshare issue was badly bungled, and I wish she could have put aside her personal beliefs on the non-discrimination ordinance. What ministers say from the pulpit shouldn’t drive public policy outcomes. People of the same sex have been loving and supporting one another since the beginning of time and only now as a society are we codifying their legitimacy. It’s long past time to put the debate to rest and recognize everyone’s equal rights under the law. I do wish those in the LGBT community would not vilify Ivy. She’s wrong on this important issue, but she is a good and decent person.

Tommy, too, is in the mayor’s race primarily because he lost another election, his failed challenge of incumbent Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. He does have an urban agenda, but it isn’t one that will propel the city forward or make it more competitive. Basic services are important, but we need to reach far higher as a city if we are going to thrive in the coming decades.

Mayoral candidate Tommy Adkisson gives his opening remarks during the Pints & Politics mayoral forum at the Alamo Beer brewery. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayoral candidate Tommy Adkisson gives his opening remarks during the Pints & Politics mayoral forum at the Alamo Beer brewery. Photo by Scott Ball.

Mike lives in Southtown, one of San Antonio’s most diverse and walkable neighborhoods, so he understands that safe neighborhoods, good sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and streets clear of stray dogs are important. But he also knows from his own background in public finance that San Antonio needs to fund basic services while also funding innovation. The next mayor has to do both, period.

I am all for the next mayor flying to Stockholm to meet with the Volvo leadership to pitch San Antonio as a great place for their first North American manufacturing plant, or to Japan to lobby Toyota for another assembly line. But Mike knows more jobs will be created in the long run by incubating and supporting entrepreneurship and the creative class and finding ways to recruit and retain talented young professionals here. Small businesses set the deepest roots in the community, and that’s why nurturing startups can yield such a bountiful payoff for San Antonio.

We all know our city’s core weaknesses: persistent poverty, low education outcomes, unchecked sprawl, and a public health profile defined by obesity and preventable diseases such as Type II diabetes. Mike has the brains and the work habits to tackle these big challenges. His own commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle sets an example for the city that only he among the four candidates can claim.

While cycling with some teammates along the Mission Reach near Mission Concepción on Sunday morning, I had a chance encounter with Jeanne Russell, Mike’s wife. I hired Jeanne as a young education reporter at the Express-News 18 years ago.  She was a former school teacher with graduate degrees in education, Latin American Studies and journalism, exactly the kind of brain gain we seek in the city today. It was a golden era for the fast-expanding newspaper and Jeanne soon rose to become education editor, presiding over a staff of four full-time education reporters and a weekly education section. It’s almost all gone now, but Jeanne went on to serve as education policy advisor to Mayors Phil Hardberger and Julián Castro and then joined the leadership team at SA2020.

Jeanne Russell (right) looks on as Molly Cox addresses the crowd gathered for the SA2020 Progress Report in 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Jeanne Russell (right) looks on as Molly Cox addresses the crowd gathered for SA2020’s 2014 Progress Report. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

If we elect Mike, we get Jeanne, too. The next mayor has to pick up the standard carried by Castro to make improved public education and higher education outcomes a citywide cause for every public officeholder and not just school boards and universities. The kind of policies and private sector partnerships that gave us Teach for America, Cafe College, and Pre-K 4 SA must be renewed and expanded. We simply can’t import enough college-educated and technically trained people. We need to grow our own. Our inner city kids deserve the same opportunities as our suburban kids. It’s a problem that can’t be fixed without help in Austin. I am confident Mike can shed his partisan skin and, as he has done before, work with the state ‘s Republican leadership to make progress.

We aren’t driven by the polls at the Rivard Report. Plenty of people in the political arena have spoken to us about this poll or that poll, but no one has handed us, or others in the media who have written about the polls, the actual results and underlying data. It’s difficult and its expensive to conduct an accurate poll of people likely to vote in this city election, and control those results, district by district, in the age of cell phones when fewer people have land lines. We see a tight race where every vote counts.

Follow your conscience and elect a mayor who can lead us into the future rather than someone for what they’ve accomplished in the past.  That’s how I made my decision. We will work to make San Antonio a better city with our next mayor, whoever wins. But Mike won my vote and I hope he gets yours. Most of all, I hope you vote.

Early voting continues Monday and Tuesday, May 4-5. Then it is on to Election Day on Saturday, May 9. We’ll be right here, reporting the results, starting with the 7 p.m. release of the early voting results.

*Featured/top image: Mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal speaks during  Pints & Politics II at the Pearl Stable. Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

Commentary: Only Mike Sets the Pace for a Fitter, Healthier San Antonio

Vote Early, Help Make History 

Mayoral Candidates Unveil Television Ads, Videos

Mayoral Candidates Talk Gentrification with Esperanza

Avatar photo

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.