(From left) Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) look around Confluence Park.
Councilwomen (from left) Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Rebecca Viagran (D3) will wrap up their final terms on City Council in 2021. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

With municipal elections approaching, candidates are already throwing their hats in the ring for City Council positions. San Antonians will see at least two relatively crowded fields: Districts 3 and 5, both of which will lose their incumbents come June.

In 2021, Councilwomen Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Shirley Gonzales (D5) will wrap up their final terms on City Council; the City Charter, as amended, states the maximum number of terms one can serve on City Council is four elected two-year terms. With both of them departing office, San Antonians in those districts will certainly have a full slate of candidates to choose from, said Henry Flores, a professor emeritus of political science at St. Mary’s University.

“They’re going to be wide open races and I think you can look forward to runoffs. … You’re going to see a lot of folks out for both of the seats,” Flores said.

In District 5, six people have already appointed their campaign treasurers for the May 1 elections, along with two in District 3. More have announced their intention to run. Candidates must apply to be on the ballot between Jan. 13 and Feb. 21, so there is time for interested parties to mull over campaigns.

“After the turn of the year and everybody’s Christmas wishes have been fulfilled and everything, I think we can get a more clear picture of who’s a big personality in those districts,” Flores said.

Both districts have the lowest per capita income in San Antonio, according to SA2020. District 5 also had the highest poverty rate while District 3 came close to tying with Districts 1 and 2, the next poorest in the city. While San Antonians will be discussing the same issues in all races, such as the response to the coronavirus pandemic, voters in those districts will have different priorities and ideas on how to implement solutions, Flores said.

“Evictions are going to be an issue,” Flores said, referring to the number of people who face losing their housing after being economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Congress passed a new stimulus package Monday that extends a federal eviction moratorium through January, and the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday extended eviction relief for tenants through at least March 15.

“[And] the majority of COVID deaths have come from those districts in San Antonio. That’s not a good way to start election year, because the people in those districts are going to want to know what kind of plan our council people have to deal with that issue.”

Candidates have already begun spotlighting those topics on campaign websites and social media pages. Jason Mata, who is running for District 5, put free coronavirus testing and economic assistance on his platform. Norberto “Geremy” Landín pledged to champion improvements in equity, health, and small-business investment. And Teri Castillo said she wants to strengthen tenant protections to address San Antonio’s housing crisis.

Flores predicted City Council aides and staff likely will be some of the contenders adding their names to the ballot in the coming weeks.

“They’ve also established some roots within the community,” he said. “And in San Antonio, a successful City Council person or a mayor generally has really good relationships with neighborhood associations and community organizations within those districts.”

That can be especially important in a low-turnout balloting, which is typical for municipal elections. A candidate’s establishment in the community matters more than platform and issues, Flores said, citing the “friends and neighbors politics” concept first coined by political scientist V.O. Key Jr.

“The individual who has strong connections in certain neighborhoods maximizes the turnout in those neighborhoods and they win,” Flores said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.