Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a noted Eastside community and business leader, won the Democratic runoff election Tuesday for Texas House District 120, the seat held by former state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon for nearly 20 years until her long running battle with cancer forced her into retirement last year.
Gervin-Hawkins, the co-founder of the George Gervin Youth Center, bested five other candidates in the fist round of voting earlier this year, and now has landed a spot on the November general election ballot, where she will run uncontested. Her runoff opponent Mario Salas, a former San Antonio City Councilman and Judson Independent School District board trustee, fell well short with Gervin-Hawkins winning 56% of the vote.
The contest was one of nine runoffs that local Democrats and Republicans settled Tuesday following the March 1 primaries. In another notable Democratic runoff, Javier Salazar, a former public information officer with the San Antonio Police Department, overwhelmingly beat Andy Lopez for a chance to challenge Republican incumbent Susan Pamerleau for Bexar County sheriff on the November ballot.
Gervin-Hawkins campaigned on health care, education, public safety, job creation, and supporting veterans and women’s issues. She enjoyed widespread name recognition as the founder of a popular Eastside workforce development center in 1991 with her brother, Spurs legend and NBA Hall of Famer George Gervin.
Gervin-Hawkins received 26% of the vote in a six-way March 1 primary, while Salas placed second with 23%. Salas had touted his past as a civil rights worker, and emphasized his more recent experiences as an elected official and community leader.
“I feel fantastic. Our ground game was great and the level of volunteer support was solid,” Gervin-Hawkins told the Rivard Report. “The community believes in me. My commitment to this community has been unwavering for 30 years.”
Gervin-Hawkins noted the success of the Gervin Youth Center, where she is executive director. The center is home to the George Gervin Academy, which she oversees and features a 100% graduation rate for more than 1,000 at-risk students. It employs more than 200 people.
“Helping graduate a number of dropouts, helping build homes for the elderly, this work has been life-fulfilling,” she said. “It’s been so rewarding.”
Gervin-Hawkins spent about $100,000 to win the legislative seat in a crowded primary field. She plans on spending the rest of this year communicating with residents.
“I want to get with community members and build relationships. I know that’s a big part of how to get things done and inform people,” she said.
The March 1 Democratic primary for District 120 received scrutiny from local media, with claims that several candidates were essentially carpetbaggers who did not reside in the district. Low voter turnout also was an issue. Tuesday’s runoffs drew a paltry 2.72% of registered voters, according to the Bexar County Elections Department.
That figure is lower than the 2.81% who cast ballots in a special May 7 election, where three Democrats and one independent ran to fill McClendon’s unexpired term and represent District 120 in the legislative interim session. There, none of the candidates – including two from the March 1 primary – got the 30% needed to win outright.
As a result, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an Aug. 2 special election to settle the race between the two top vote-getters from May 7 – independent Laura Thompson and Democrat Lou Miller. The victor represents District 120 until the next legislature convenes in January.
Bexar County Democrats have been critical of Abbott for calling a special election to elect someone to hold the seat this year, an honorific with little meaning but substantial costs to taxpayers to mount yet another special election of little consequence.
Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections administrator, estimated last week that the runoff election cost the County $164,000.
“If this was a local office, we’d pay for it, but why should we pay for a state office if the governor calls the election?” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff asked rhetorically as he called for the state to either pay for similar elections in the future or declare the candidate that wins the plurality as the winner.
Gervin-Hawkins said it is time for the Eastside community to unify and move forward. She hopes to win over Salas’ supporters.
“We don’t want to push this community into the dark, we want to lift it up,” she added.
The Democratic primary for sheriff held on Tuesday was a runaway win for Javier Salazar, who received 73% of the vote. Salazar and Andy Lopez placed first and second in the March 1 primary, but each fell short of the 50% needed to win outright.
Salazar, who has served in various capacities with the SAPD for 23 years, told the Rivard Report he did not change his campaign strategy coming out of the primary.
“I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned,” he said. “We ran a very clean race. We put ourselves out there in the best light possible. I’m going to continue this strategy where I’ll share with citizens my experience, abilities and plans for the sheriff’s department.”
Salazar said he seeks to emphasize accountability, experience and responsibility heading into the November general election against first-term Republican incumbent Sheriff Susan Pamerleau. His campaign has spent about $100,000 to this point.
“I am a veteran law enforcement officer. I am very experienced in establishing relationships not only with colleagues, but between a whole community and a police agency,” he said.
Top image: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (right) celebrates with supporters after winning the Texas House District 120 seat. Photo courtesy of Barbara Gervin-Hawkins’ campaign.