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Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said a friend recently told him that his spirit animal is the turtle.
“When you move, you know where you’re going, you’re methodical,” Treviño recalled his friend saying. “You’re going to get there for sure. It may not be quickly, but you get there. And you have a hard shell because you can take [criticism]. And for the right reasons and the right people, you’ll stick your neck out.”
The question in Treviño’s race for a third term on City Council is whether an incumbent who considers himself a problem-solver and policy tinkerer has stuck his neck out enough on some divisive social issues to have his head chopped off.
A measured, often mellow voice on the City Council dais, Treviño is largely running on his efforts to expand sidewalk networks, fix roofs, and improve downtown lighting. A digital advertising campaign features videos on social media showing Treviño standing on a recently refurbished roof and striding down a sidewalk with his dog on a leash.
In contrast to his low-key public demeanor, more voters probably know Treviño for his role in high-profile issues that tend to draw the media magnifying glass – the Alamo master plan, a rainbow crosswalk on Main Street to honor the city’s LGBTQIA community, and a controversial decision to pull Chick-fil-A from a concessions contract at the San Antonio airport over its corporate donations to organizations that oppose gay rights.
His challengers are hotelier Justin Holley, 46; contractor Brad Kessler, 22; international trade specialist Oscar Magaña, 34; retired military serviceman and investment firm employee Raymond Zavala, 67; former auto shop owner Richard Gonzales, 57; lawyer Lauro A. Bustamante, 68; retired Marine Alan Dennis Inchaurregui, 40; and barista Colton Unden, 18.
With so many names on the ballot, the race is likely headed to a runoff, with the eight challengers, all male, vying to make second place and to keep Treviño from receiving 51 percent of the overall vote.
A McAllen native, the 48-year-old Treviño, moved to San Antonio early in his career and spent 20 years as an architect before joining City Council, a background that figures heavily in his policy decisions. He’s held the District 1 seat since his appointment in 2014 and has won re-election twice.
“I would describe my leadership as someone who’s looking in areas no one has ever looked,” Treviño said. He plans to continue running for re-election to City Council until he serves his fourth and final two-year term, but doesn’t know if he would run for another elected office.
“I’ve been asked if I would return to being an architect, and the answer is probably not,” he said. “I have enjoyed the public service and so that’s what I’ll be looking for in the future. This is what drives me and gets me up in the morning.”
Treviño outraised all his opponents in the first three months of 2019, drawing more than $40,000 in campaign contributions. His financial backers include executives from NuStar, USAA, construction companies, physicians, and other politicians, including Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4).
Holley is partner and vice president of local hotel management company ABH Hospitality. In an interview with the Rivard Report, Holley took issue with many of the recent City Council policy moves, including regulations on short-term rentals, such as Airbnb.
In late 2018, Holley gained a fundraising lead on Treviño, raising more than $33,000 to Treviño’s nearly $20,000. He fell behind Treviño’s fundraising in 2019 with just over $5,000 in contributions.
Holley has also supplemented his campaign with nearly $48,000 in loans from his personal funds. His biggest donors are largely from the hotel and tourism businesses. Holley has served as chairman of the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association and the board of Visit San Antonio.
Recently, Holley served on a 24-member task force that over more than a year developed a set of policies for short-term rentals. He criticized Treviño for stepping in and making changes to those proposals after they reached City Council, changes he said are contributing to developers turning whole streets in historic neighborhoods into commercial strips of short-term rental homes.
Originally from Wisconsin, Holley moved to San Antonio in 2001, saying the city felt like home. An openly gay man, Holley said, “This is the city that I essentially came out in, and that’s why I’m so respectful of it.”
In February 2006, Holley was charged with possession of a controlled substance, according to Bexar County court records. The charges were dismissed in April that year due to insufficient evidence, records show.
Holley said the arrest came after he called police to report a burglary at his home. He said police then found “controlled substances” at his property and arrested him. Holley claims not to remember what substance officers found, exactly.
“Everything was dropped,” Holley said of the charges. “It was a learning lesson in my life, too, because when you’re carted off like that and you sit in a jail cell, you’re like, holy [expletive], this is what the system is? It was very, very interesting to say the least.”
Overall, Holley is skeptical of local government stepping in to regulate issues that are also overseen by federal or state agencies. A recent example is an ordinance requiring San Antonio employers to offer paid sick leave.
“We’re regulated by the federal government on that,” Holley said. “The minute you select a city to require something that’s not required by all the other cities in the state, you’re now putting us at a competitive disadvantage as a market.”
Holley said he does offer paid time off to all of his employees.
Holley disagreed with Treviño’s handling of the Chick-fil-A contract and the councilman’s involvement in the rainbow crosswalk on Main Avenue, to which the City contributed more than $12,000. He said the crosswalk “represents me and my community” but wishes the money could have been used differently.
“Personally, I wish that money would have been used to create programming and to maybe put a Pride Center where it’s not in a medical facility,” he said. Treviño was closely involved in the location of the Pride Center in the Metropolitan Methodist Hospital on Ogden Street.
In an emailed response, Treviño said it’s “not difficult to read a balance sheet and differentiate between funding sources.” The $12,000 the City spent on the crosswalk is the same as what the City would have spent on ordinary white lines; the extra $20,000 to make it an LGBTQIA pride symbol came from private donations.
“Holley is (mistakenly) betting that the community is as uninformed as he is,” Treviño continued. “His absence from the search for a home for the Pride Center, crosswalk fundraising process, and also the community discussion that occurred following the ribbon cutting speaks louder than his words.”
Treviño said his involvement in such social issues stems from the district’s center-city position and “my desire to want to do the right thing.”
“We’re the flagship district and in many cases a lot of these issues sort of emanate in the district,” Treviño said, adding that “the very responsibility we have as council is to focus on improving the quality of life for everyone in the city.”
Some of Treviño’s challengers are clearly hoping the Chick-fil-A decision, which has become a sort of dividing line in San Antonio politics, gives them an edge in the final days of the campaign. Treviño introduced the motion to oust the restaurant chain from the airport contract. On Thursday, City Council voted 6-5 against a decision to reopen
“I don’t think it was handled properly,” Zavala said of the Chick-fil-A decision. “No one should be discriminated against, and that to me is bullying and discrimination.”
Zavala said he would bring Chick-fil-A back for a second look if he gets elected and attacked the City’s spending on the rainbow crosswalk. During a forum last week, he said the City spends too much on homeless services via Haven For Hope and decried the “panhandling, nonworking, nonproductive people that we have invited here.”
Zavala said he served in the military for 25 years before retiring in 1995 and retired from his civilian job at an investment firm two years ago. He’s previously run and lost races for San Antonio mayor and City Council District 5.
In an interview Thursday, he vowed to represent “senior citizens, the youth, the disabled, the veterans” and put all but $1 of the annual $45,722 City Council member salary into a fund to help people in his district.
Neither Zavala, Magaña, Gonzales, nor Bustamante filed campaign finance forms. Unden filed a form showing he raised $200 between Jan. 1 and March 25. Unden and Inchaurregui did not respond to interview requests.
That puts Kessler in second place for fundraising, with nearly $1,000 raised between Jan. 1 and March 25.
Kessler, who works for family businesses doing construction, renovation, and painting work, said he’s been aggressively block-walking and relying on face-to-face interactions to win voter support.
“The majority of [residents], they want more affordable housing for people in the area,” Kessler said. “They don’t want to see so many cars pile up in their area, they don’t want to see taxes so high, people in the area just to flip their homes.”
Kessler described himself as a “young progressive” who supports many of Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s initiatives like the ConnectSA plan and the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.
“I would love to see people from all kinds of backgrounds to breathe better air, drink better water, to enjoy that green, clean, better-quality lifestyle,” he said.
Magaña’s platform is mainly about growing San Antonio’s economy and preparing workers for better quality jobs. A former Air Force military police officer, Magaña attended university in Guadalajara, Mexico, before eventually getting a job downtown for the U.S. Department of Commerce helping American entrepreneurs navigate the export market.
Magaña, who speaks Spanish, cast himself as the “most business-oriented” candidate and described how his job gives him a broad base of knowledge for a variety of industries. He said he’s interested in lowering property taxes or expanding property tax exemptions to more people who need them.
He said he’s been surprised to learn how few people in San Antonio vote in local elections.
“People say, ‘I don’t vote, I don’t care,’” he said. “To me, that’s kind of sad.”
Gonzales is making his second run for City Council, having previously run for the District 5 seat in 2001. He’s volunteered for others’ campaigns in the past, including Judge Monique Diaz’s campaign for 150th District judge in 2018.
Gonzales said he once owned an auto repair shop before he developed epilepsy in 2006 in his mid-40s. He said that many District 1 residents “need a little better representation” than they’re getting from Treviño.
“I feel like I’m out there prancing and dancing for a whole different community,” Gonzales said. “Everything seems to be going to the LGBTQ community, like you’ve got to appease them.”
For example, he said the City funds used to build the rainbow crosswalk could have gone to buy air conditioning units for local residents.
Bustamante, a perennial candidate, is making another appearance on the ballot. A lawyer with a broad-based general practice, Bustamante has run and lost more than 10 races since the late 1990s, including for the U.S. House, Texas Senate, 4th Court of Appeals, mayor, City Council, and State district judgeships, according to San Antonio Express-News archives.
His one electoral victory came in 2010, when voters picked him for the District 3 seat on the Edwards Aquifer Authority board. Bustamante’s second wife, Rebekah Bustamante, won that seat during the next round of elections in 2014.
Court and Texas Bar Association records show that Bustamante had his license suspended for nearly two years from 2008 to 2010. According to the newspaper, those suspensions were related to his 1998 divorce.
“The bottom line is that I had to really fight hard and at the end I got custody of my children, and that’s about it,” Bustamante said. “It was a very trying time. We had multiple court hearings and they lasted several years. … When you’re getting a divorce, it just hits the fan.”
Bustamante said he’s running for office again in part because “it really sharpens me up.”
“When you throw your head in there and run for office, you really get sharp and you start focusing on the issues,” he said. “You really get to know what’s going on.”