With incumbent Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan finishing second in the first round of a race that has stretched to a runoff, District 2 voters face yet another potential leadership shakeup. With election day approaching, the candidates have been concentrating their efforts on reaching as many voters as possible – including through several debates.
On Thursday evening, Andrews-Sullivan and challenger Jalen McKee-Rodriguez met for their fourth debate in five days at Dominion Church of God in Christ in East San Antonio. They sparred over economic development, housing, and what the discussion’s moderator, attorney Artessia “Tess” House, called a lack of “access” to the District 2 office.
“There has been open criticism in the community that during the heart of the COVID pandemic, residents were not only shut in because of social distancing measures, but they were shut out from even having telephonic access to their District 2 representative,” House said.
Andrews-Sullivan said that her district office had been taking calls, staffers ensured that emails were directed to the correct departments, and she personally answered Facebook messages. And going forward, the 45-year-old councilwoman pledged that communication between her office and District 2 residents would be strengthened further by forwarding office phone calls to staff cellphones, a process that she said already has started.
“So if you’re calling now and you’re calling after hours, guess what? One of our staff [members] is able to get to their cellphone,” she said. “So you always have constant communication.”
Andrews-Sullivan also asked the roughly 40 audience members Thursday to think about maintaining “consistency” in the District 2 office. The last time a District 2 Council member served more than one term was when Ivy Taylor was in the seat prior to becoming mayor.
“If you want to see things continue to move, we need consistency,” Andrews-Sullivan said, echoing the message printed on mailers her campaign sent out to District 2 residents. “If you want to see things continue to be elevated up, you need consistency. That is what we bring to the table. We are getting the job done. We’re getting the job done by being the actions behind what we want to be, and we’re getting out there and making things happen.”
McKee-Rodriguez, a 26-year-old high school math teacher, pushed back against that. “Business as usual” will not meet the needs of District 2, he said.
“Our City Council is … built to keep us exactly where we are,” he said. “So we need a disruptor. We need a disruptor at City Council that is wanting to say, ‘Hey, no, this business as usual is not okay to happen anymore.’ We cannot continue to have these promised words and beautiful speakers.”
He also challenged Andrews-Sullivan to stop accepting campaign donations from developers. The companies that pledge to build affordable housing do not truly create affordable housing, he said.
“They will build a high-rise luxury apartment and say a certain number [of units] will be affordable for two teachers, but two teachers and their family are not going to live in a one-bedroom studio apartment, so that is not affordable housing,” he said. “That’s not serving the purpose that they were asked to.”
Andrews-Sullivan bristled at the notion her campaign donations influence her decision-making on the Council.
“I’m no one’s puppet,” she said. “I have a brain of my own. A developer cannot run me. … When you talk about what the developers were doing, [they saw me as] a person that will fight for their district. So that’s why they contributed.”
Although it wasn’t discussed at Thursday’s debate, McKee-Rodriguez would, if elected, become San Antonio’s first openly gay councilman.
“We were told at the very start of this, ‘Is District 2 ready for an openly gay person?’ And I think when we’re going door-to-door that people are excited about the young, fresh, well-researched candidate, and if that takes the form of a gay man, they’re more than happy to accept,” he said.
The debate was hosted by the Community Churches for Social Action, a group of African American churches that work to be “a voice for the marginalized and underserved in San Antonio,” said Dominion pastor Geoffrey Stirrup, who serves as CCSA’s vice chair. He did not endorse either candidate, but he did appeal to voters to consider what having a City Council member for more than one term would mean for the district.
“We want to see change for our community, but at the same time we can’t afford to see change every two years in that seat,” he told the San Antonio Report after the debate. “It’s so important that whoever wins this election, we continue to support them so they can get some things done in the district.”
Early voting begins Monday and continues through June 1. Election day is June 5.