Earlier this week, District 2 City Council candidate Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, who is gay, accused church leaders of “telling their congregants that a vote for me is a sin.” Nearly a dozen Black pastors gathered at a polling site Friday to endorse incumbent Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan and reject McKee-Rodriguez’s claim.
“I don’t know of one pastor, not one pastor, that has gone to his pulpit to make that statement – not one,” said Pastor Jerry Dailey of Macedonia Baptist Church, who chairs the Community of Churches for Social Action. “And if you have to make that kind of outrageous allegation to get in, what will you do once you’re in? We did not do that. We have not done that. We will not do that.”
Campaign staff for McKee-Rodriguez declined to provide the names of poll watchers who said they had conversations with voters and a pastor at the polls that led to the candidate’s posts on Twitter and Facebook, the latter of which has since been made private.
“We can’t give names because that will only continue this issue when we are distracting from what is actually happening in the community,” said campaign manager Jordee Rodriguez.
Le Reta Gatlin-McDavid, a field director for McKee-Rodriguez’s campaign, said they want to put the issue behind them – but challenged the pastors’ accusation that McKee-Rodriguez’s claims were false.
“We didn’t pull that out of thin air,” Gatlin-McDavid said. “It absolutely came from congregation members and direct conversations from some of those pastors with our poll watcher.”
Dailey said the press conference at the Claude Black Community Center was not organized by the pastors to respond to the allegation, but to show their “personal support” for Andrews-Sullivan.
Neither candidate attended the press conference. Early voting for the June 5 runoff election continues through June 1.
In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Patrick Jones, pastor for the Greater Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, acknowledged that he was one of two pastors (with Jonathan Ellis of The Conquerors Assembly Church) specifically accused in subsequent posts on Facebook of telling their congregations that voting for McKee-Rodriguez, a high school math teacher, would be a sin.
“Farthest thing from the truth,” Jones said. “[My opposition to McKee-Rodriguez] has nothing to do with lifestyle but it has [everything] to do with: This young man has done nothing in our community. … I see no footprints from you across the district.”
He admitted that he has not always been a supporter of Andrews-Sullivan.
“We may not have been totally happy with the service or the performance of Miss Jada Andrews-Sullivan,” Jones said. “I was against Jada, but in this runoff season I have to go with someone that has some kind of footprint across our district.”
At the press conference, Dailey said that the pastors declined to endorse Andrews-Sullivan in the previous round of voting because many of the other 11 candidates on the District 2 ballot “were part of our congregations. And so, therefore, [this is] where we are right now and we support Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan.”
Andrews-Sullivan said “it was a shock” to receive the pastors’ endorsements, but “to have those leaders supporting you is truly an honor. It’s a humbling experience because we know they lead with discernment.”
Asked if she believed homosexuality is a sin, she replied: “I believe everyone has a right to be who they are. That’s it. … They’re human. We’re human. We’re all human together. And we’re just here to uplift each other.”
McKee-Rodriguez takes issue with the assumption that the older, religious, Black voting population will automatically vote against him because he is gay.
“I think that’s definitely the minority. We’re still getting so much support,” he told the San Antonio Report earlier this week. “And there are people who are religious, who are black or older, and they’re supportive. They’re excited to see a candidate like me. … Maybe sexuality is taboo, but they’re willing to look past things that they wouldn’t have in the past.
“[District 2] as a whole is not homophobic. I wouldn’t even say that there’s a majority [of] a segment of the population that is … homophobic.”
On Monday, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, twin brothers, announced their endorsements of McKee-Rodriguez.
“Jalen has proven himself to be a tireless advocate for working class families and his vocal support for police accountability showed us that he’s willing to speak truth to power,” Castro said in a statement. “As a teacher, he already knows what it takes to serve his community.”
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) has also endorsed McKee-Rodriguez, who has also garnered support from the Texas Organizing Project, Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
McKee-Rodriguez, 26, worked on Andrews-Sullivan’s 2019 campaign and served in her Council office as communications director until he resigned in December that year. He filed a complaint with the City accusing her chief of staff, Lou Miller, of discrimination and harassment. The complaint was investigated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but no action was taken against Miller.
McKee-Rodriguez led a 12-candidate field on May 1 with 26% of the vote, getting 819 more votes than Andrews-Sullivan, who was second with 17%.
“Overwhelmingly, 83% of the district voted against [Andrews-Sullivan],” McKee-Rodriguez said. “83% of people are willing to vote for a new councilperson.”
Meanwhile, a cornerstone of Andrews-Sullivan’s campaign has been her assertion that the district needs consistent representation on City Council. District 2 has had five representatives over the past seven years.
“If you want to see things continue to be elevated up, you need consistency,” she said during a recent debate. “That is what we bring to the table. We are getting the job done.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Andrews-Sullivan was joined by three of her former challengers – Kristi Villanueva, Walter Perry Jr., and Dori Brown – and community leaders who emphasized that message.
“She’s here now,” Perry said. “And she has the power to get things done right now and to work with us. … She has not promised me anything except that she’s going to do a better job. And she’s going to be more inclusive to the community. And that’s the only guarantee I need right there.”