Being an incumbent typically means you have the upper hand when it comes to robust community support. But in District 2 City Councilman Alan Warrick’s case, his incumbency has drawn three challengers: attorney William “Cruz” Shaw, former D2 Councilman Keith Toney, and tax preparer Dori Brown.
The race for leadership of an area with numerous challenges and opportunities is perhaps one of the most contentious of this year’s City Council races, with Toney trying for the third time to unseat Warrick and past political disagreements between Warrick and Shaw, who poses the biggest threat to his re-election.
Last June, Warrick called for Shaw’s resignation from the Zoning Commission, to which Shaw was appointed in 2013 by then-District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor. He was later selected to chair the commission. Warrick cited ethical concerns over Shaw’s rumored Council candidacy, pointing to a part of the City Charter that does not allow board or commission appointees to stay in their roles while running for City-elected office.
Shaw, who initially ignored Warrick’s request to step down from the commission, did so two weeks later and officially announced his candidacy for District 2 City Councilman in December 2016.
Both Warrick and Shaw have garnered support and donations from leaders within the district and across the city.
Some of the prominent supporters of Warrick include State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-120), President/Interim Executive Director of San Antonio Fighting Back Willie Mitchell, and Nettie Hinton, a longtime Eastside resident and Warrick’s aunt.
Shaw has drawn support from key district figures such as Tony Gradney, owner of Tony G’s Soul Food and Shaw’s campaign treasurer; Charles Williams, Eastside businessman and civil rights activist; and Aubrey Lewis, Denver Heights Neighborhood Association president.
Deep-rooted issues such as poverty and crime have historically plagued the district and are still prevalent today, and whoever wins the seat will have to address them. Warrick and other community leaders have led efforts to bolster economic development, workforce training, educational opportunities, and affordable housing options in the area in hopes of mitigating those concerns.
The Eastside neighborhoods closer to downtown, such as Dignowity Hill, Denver Heights, and Government Hill, recently have been experiencing a revival that shows the positive, wide-reaching impacts of such programs and investments in the district.
Warrick, who was born in District 2, said since assuming office in 2015 he’s noticed that the district’s challenges “have not changed, it’s just they’ve become a little less prevalent in some areas.”
Regarding crime, he cited last year’s implementation of the $280,000 gunshot-detection system ShotSpotter in the district as an effective measure that has improved public safety and decreased police response times. Warrick said San Antonio is the first city in Texas to have the technology, which alerts the San Antonio Police Department every time a gun is fired.
Warrick also touts the Eastside Dreamers Academy, a program he started that is housed at the Eastside Boys & Girls Club, and the expansion of the district’s Midnight Basketball league, which began in 2012 with the Eastside Promise Neighborhood Grant, as crime deterrents that will pay off in the future as they expose area children to career, educational, and recreational opportunities.
“There’s still much to be gained on the public safety side,” Warrick said.
Murders in the district, for example, are not showing positive trends: In 2015, there were eight murders; that number surged to 13 in 2016. So far this year, there have been seven, he said.
But other aspects of crime, such as burglaries, are down, Warrick said.
Shaw and Toney also agreed that crime is one of the district’s biggest issues, both linking it to larger, more complex issues such as poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and parental neglect, among other things.
Brown did not return requests for comment before publication deadline.
Warrick’s opponents believe more can be done in other areas.
Shaw said there needs to be stronger partnerships among the school districts in District 2, the City, and other stakeholders “to ensure that we’re providing every opportunity possible for our children.
“Not everyone is meant to go to college, and that’s fine, but we need to make sure we have avenues and resources available for those [who aren’t enrolled in higher education],” he said. “Right now, we’re dropping the ball.”
Toney, who has lived in District 2 since 2004, was appointed in 2014 to City Council, but lost the seat to Warrick later that year in a special election. The Vietnam veteran and school liaison officer for Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston unsuccessfully faced Warrick again in the regular election in May 2015. While Toney was councilman, he voted to enact strict regulations on rideshare companies in the city that caused them to leave town. Warrick later voted in favor of less onerous regulations.
While there already are endeavors to provide more workforce training and improve educational outcomes in place, Toney thinks leaders should implement more aid for the formerly incarcerated.
“Of course we have Crosspoint Inc., and that does an incredible job, but that’s not enough,” he said. “We need more such programs that are at no cost because I think it’s more of an investment than an expenditure when we invest in these programs. That [way] the formerly incarcerated can learn some sort of marketable skill or get some formal education.”
The former Sam Houston School Board president will retire at the end of this month and, thus, said he is the district’s only chance at having a “full-time councilman.” The other candidates have time-consuming, full-time jobs, he said.
Toney criticized Warrick, CEO of World Technical Services, for suggesting that the historic Ella Austin Community Center, a nonprofit based in a City-owned Eastside property, might need to relocate since it cannot fund necessary building upgrades. In its current location, the organization has provided social services to predominantly low-income people – from children to the elderly – since 1971.
In 2015, Warrick also suggested rerouting the City’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. March from the Eastside to five different routes across the city, all converging at Hemisfair. Community leaders on the Eastside, which has hosted the historic march since its creation in 1972, spoke out against the plan, which Warrick pitched without gathering opinions beforehand.
Toney sees these examples as indicative of Warrick’s “misguided” political will.
“I’m not running because I’m angry at the current councilman,” he said. “I’m disappointed, however, in that there just seems to be a lack of political will to advocate fully for the district.”
Some areas in the district, namely Dignowity Hill, are seeing a resurgence, with more people funneling into the neighborhood to live, work, and play. Throughout his tenure, Warrick has been a vocal proponent of various housing developments and new businesses coming into district. He said more than 30 businesses have moved into the area, and 88 businesses have been assisted with storefront grants. New construction projects, including mostly multi-family and some single-family homes, also are contributing to the district’s growth. Those efforts have helped reduce the number of vacant homes and lots in the neighborhoods, he said, which has been one of his main goals as councilman.
“We’re not at a place where we were probably right before I got into office where we’d take any project,” Warrick said. “Now we’re able to be more selective because we know that investment in the Eastside is coming, and it’ll be very difficult to scare it away.”
Jackie Gorman, CEO of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside, believes there should be a continued focus on “preventing gentrification while still making the district welcoming to new people.
“That requires intentional effort, you just can’t [sit] back and let that happen,” she said. Gorman added that leaders and community members should continue to collaborate on maintaining the progress jumpstarted by the federal Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods grants, aimed at improving the Eastside through increased housing, community, and education programs.
“Community revitalization doesn’t happen in five years – it’s a long-term project,” Gorman said. “So, how do we continue this momentum without the federal dollars?”
Shaw claims he never wanted to run for public office, but said that his love for serving his community and continued suggestions from neighbors to run for Council prompted him to throw his hat into the ring.
“I can’t turn my back on them,” he said of his constituents. “They consistently tell me we need strong leadership, someone who understands the community and listens to the community.”
He thinks there is a disconnect between many District 2 neighborhoods and City Council.
“You’re going to have a few neighborhoods [that] are received with open arms because they’re doing big things internally,” he said. “Others have no clue and are not involved in the bond process.”
Taylor, Warrick’s predecessor as District 2’s representative, got many positive projects in the district rolling, Warrick said, but under his watch the district has achieved a number of goals and is on its way to being “a better place to live.
“It’s about keeping the momentum we’ve had,” he said.