(From left) Keith Toney and Jada Andrews-Sullivan
(From left) Keith Toney and Jada Andrews-Sullivan Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Keith Toney’s been here before, but the former District 2 appointee has never been elected to City Council. Now after running for the seat in 2014, 2015, and 2017, he aims to finally win the vote of the Eastside district.

He faces Jada Andrews-Sullivan in the June 8 runoff, having come off a May 4 election in which he won a plurality of votes – something he had failed to do in any of three previous bids for the District 2 seat – out of a field of eight.

It’s a persistence Andrews-Sullivan said she admires.

“To continue to put yourself out there after the attempts and the fall-throughs to let people know I’m truly about my community, I commend him for that because not too many people will continue to run the race when it hasn’t been in their favor,” she said. “So him continuing to do so just speaks about his [commitment] that he has for District 2.”

Toney has won the endorsements of the Texas Organizing Project and the International Laborers Union of North America, two progressive groups. But the 67-year-old retired federal employee said although he identifies as a fiscal conservative, his candidacy defies political labels.

“I don’t prescribe to any particular philosophy unless it’s a philosophy of common sense and unless it’s going to move the needle in a positive direction,” he said.

Toney was tapped in 2014 for the District 2 seat vacated when Ivy Taylor was appointed mayor. He held the seat for half a year before losing a special-election runoff in December 2014 to Alan Warrick. Toney ran for the seat again in 2015, but lost.

This time, Toney got 1,456 votes, or 27 percent, while Andrews-Sullivan, a disabled U.S. Army veteran and motivational speaker, received 1,157 votes, or 21 percent. Denise Gutierrez-Homer came in third, with 1,098 votes, or 20.3 percent, missing the runoff by less than 60 votes. Gutierrez-Homer requested a recount, which did not change the results.

Representation in District 2 has been a revolving door in recent years. Toney was part of a field of four candidates seeking the seat in May 2017 but came in third and failed to make the runoff. After then-Councilman Warrick’s unceremonious runoff defeat, when William “Cruz” Shaw beat him, Shaw left his post before it was completed – taking a job as an associate judge. Art Hall then replaced him as an appointee, but chose not to seek election.

That lack of consistency in City Hall has caused stagnancy in District 2, said Andrews-Sullivan, who unsuccessfully sought the interim appointment. She aims to reverse the trend of turnover in the district to give the residents of the district a stable voice.

“There’s not been someone that was consistent in making sure that District 2 received everything that it deserved,” she said. “But for me, it’s truly looking at your community and saying, ‘We deserve just as much as every other community in the city of San Antonio.’ And that’s what made me step up. It was a call to action.”

On Friday, Andrews-Sullivan responded to a column in the San Antonio Observer pointing to bad checks, arrest warrants, and an eviction in her past. She told the Rivard Report that abuse at the hands of her then-husband while she was pregnant caused her to be hospitalized and nearly cost her baby’s life. She eventually fled her husband, who followed and threatened her before killing himself, she said.

At this time the warrants, have been dismissed. It was found to be fraud against me,” she said, because someone wrote checks on her account while she was hospitalized.

Those years were the worst in her life, she added, but “I was able to fight for my life and the life of my child.”

Andrews-Sullivan has received criticism for her perceived coziness with real estate developers. The candidate has received support from the developer of the controversial Hays Street Bridge project, Mitch Meyer, who is nearing a deal with the City to deed land near the once-blighted bridge for the development of a public park. Community activists have challenged the private development of the land and, instead, have lobbied for it to be developed into public space.

Meyer has obtained construction permits to build a five-story residential project at the North Cherry Street lot, but would move the project to the land at 223 South Cherry St. under the terms of the compromise.

Andrews-Sullivan’s messaging around the topic of gentrification has left some close followers of the race unconvinced she will protect longtime residents from the more negative effects of the new development coming to the East Side, such as the mixed-use development Essex Modern City and a five-acre project to transform the former Merchants Ice Building into a biomedical research hub.

“Gentrification steamrolled into District 2,” she said. “We looked up and we [suddenly had] multi-level apartments coming up in places that it had just been high grass and weeds for years.”

A new development is directly next door to an older home in Dignowity Hill near Hays Street Bridge.
A new development (left) sits directly next to an older home in Dignowity Hill near the Hays Street Bridge. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Andrews-Sullivan has vowed to bring all stakeholders to the table during the planning process of future real estate deals that could cause displacement or an exorbitant rise in property values. The average property value in District 2 rose more than 25 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the Bexar Appraisal District. The surge in valuations has uprooted residents who cannot afford the increasing tax bills.

Like Andrews-Sullivan, Toney said he would bring developers into the conversation. He said he would work to ensure affordable housing units are set aside for low-income and moderate-income families. Training and internships are also needed in a district that has a high population of residents with criminal histories, he said, adding that crime is a symptom of poverty.

“We can’t just treat the symptom of the disease,” he said. “If they can get training and after training get jobs and sustain themselves, that will be better.”

Andrews-Sullivan has garnered an impressive haul in political contributions for a first-time candidate. The former servicewoman received nearly $8,800 over the course of her campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. She had spent just over half that amount as of the April report.

Meanwhile, Toney was operating on a smaller supply of cash, reporting $3,270 in campaign donations and spending about $2,360.

Gutierrez-Homer, who received just 60 fewer votes than Andrews-Sullivan, has said she would not endorse either of the candidates in the runoff.

Although the three top candidates separated themselves from the rest of the pack in May, several candidates collected sizable chunks of the electorate, including marketing professional Walter Perry and construction consultant Salena Santibañez Guipzot, who each received hundreds of votes.

But neither Toney nor Andrews-Sullivan emphasized reaching out to certain voting coalitions. Rather, the two candidates are both taking a grassroots approach.

“We’re just touching as many voters as we can,” said Andrews-Sullivan, who was doing media interviews between block-walking sessions on Tuesday.

“Mr. Toney has been here before, so his name ID is greater than mine. I’m the new kid on the block that just came in, and everyone’s trying to get to know who is she, what does she stand for, what will she do?”

Previous losses have prepared Toney for this moment, he said.

“That’s all it is,” he said. “It was nothing but practice for the inevitable. Every time you lose, you learn. Now we’re implementing the lessons learned so that we can move forward for the residents of District 2.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick contributed to this article.

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.