District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg with former Mayor Phil Hardberger at Hardberger Ecology Center. Photo by Robert Rivard.
Councilman Ron Nirenberg (left) has received the mayoral endorsement of former Mayor Phil Hardberger. Credit: Robert Rivard / San Antonio Report

Former Mayor Phil Hardberger has endorsed Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) for mayor in a video released Monday at 9 p.m., less than 12 hours before early voting opens in San Antonio’s June 10 mayoral and City Council runoff election.

Hardberger delivered his endorsement in a three-minute, 31-second video that features him speaking in his backyard garden, with still photos of Nirenberg campaigning and meeting with constituents and voters interspersed with Hardberger’s commentary.

The video does not appear to be a slickly produced work with high production values, suggesting Hardberger’s decision to make the public endorsement has come in the closing days of the campaign, which many observers see as too close to call.

Hardberger’s endorsement comes days after City Council voted to give the 10-year, $100 million river barge contract to Go Rio San Antonio over the Chicago-based Entertainment Cruises, represented by Hardberger.

YouTube video

“This is not about the river barge contract, this is about leadership for the city,” Nirenberg said in a brief interview Monday evening. “I’m proud and excited to have Mayor Hardberger’s endorsement. He sits in the pantheon of great San Antonio mayors and his support is meaningful to our city. And as an esteemed former mayor and lifelong servant to our country, he agrees with the majority of San Antonio that we need new leadership in the mayor’s office to restore the momentum we’ve lost under Taylor.”

Mayor Ivy Taylor won 42% of the vote in the May 6 election, while Nirenberg won 37%. The ballot was crowded with 14 names, but the 15% of voters who supported Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina, who finished third, are seen as key to determining the outcome on June 10.

Both Taylor and Nirenberg have received their share of endorsements, although the incumbent Taylor has outpaced her challenger with establishment endorsements from the business community. She also received the endorsements of the City’s police union last week. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and former state Sen. and once-bitter rival Leticia Van de Putte also endorsed Taylor. Former Mayor Julián Castro has endorsed Nirenberg and taken to the streets to campaign with him.

Do such high-profile endorsements matter? It’s an oft-debated question in politics, but candidates and their campaign staffs covet endorsements, and they represent a bellwether in any given contest.

“Ron is the most informed public servant that I have met in a long time,” Hardberger said in a Monday evening interview, echoing his remarks on the video. “When I first met Ron, he was running for City Council in District 8 and he presented me with a series of white papers, each one containing very detailed analysis and his positions on various subjects. I was impressed with that. Since then, I’ve come to see that he is always very well-briefed on all the issues, and no one works harder.

“The river barge contract did not have anything to do with my thinking,” Hardberger said. “Of course, I am sorry Mayor Taylor stopped that process and restarted it to her own favor, but my belief in Ron goes back four years and that is what led to my decision.”

The Taylor campaign reacted quickly in a statement from spokesman Greg Jefferson, who said the endorsement had everything to do with the river barge contract.

“Ron Nirenberg has been a loyal footsoldier for the former mayor and current lobbyist, especially on the barge contract,” Jefferson said. “Hardberger’s endorsement is his payday.

“Nirenberg was the cheerleader for a skewed bidding process that gave the Chicago firm, for which Hardberger lobbied, an unfair advantage,” Jefferson said in a statement released Monday evening. “Mayor Taylor unstacked the deck, anyway, and Hardberger’s client wound up second in staff rankings to a strong local team. Still, Nirenberg stuck with his general to the end, casting the only vote against Go Rio San Antonio.

“Nirenberg wrote off local small-, women-, and minority-owned businesses in the process. But at least he was clear about where his loyalties lie.”

Click here for early voting sites, times of operation, and dates. The Taylor-Nirenberg runoff and runoffs in six of the 10 City Council districts are expected to generate a higher than normal turnout. Registered voters who sat out the May 6 election are eligible to vote in the June 1o runoffs. More than 2,200 people registered to vote in the brief window of time between the May 6 election and the May 11 deadline to register, indicating a surge of interest in the runoff, according to Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen.

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.