Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) made headlines for becoming the first openly gay, Black man elected to San Antonio’s City Council — or any office in Texas — earlier this month.

But after he was sworn in on Tuesday, McKee-Rodriguez said he couldn’t take credit.

“It wasn’t me who made history, it was the district,” he said during his first address from the dais. “For any … people who don’t feel represented, I hope that in the future, this opens a door for you. Because there are so many who came before me who opened this door.”

McKee-Rodriguez defeated his former boss Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), who was seeking a second term, by garnering 63% of the vote. He’ll be District 2’s seventh representative since 2014. The Eastside district includes some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.

The 26-year-old former math teacher said he would be taking the experiences and perspectives of his students with him into City Hall.

“My term is going to be about the future that I’ve seen in my student’s eyes and the optimism and hope that they deserve to have and they deserve to maintain. … As a teacher, I’ve gotten the opportunity to prepare my students for the world that exists, and now as councilman, I’ll be working every single day to build a city that they deserve,” he said, borrowing a phrase from Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s campaign.

His path to politics — from a University of Texas at San Antonio degree in communications to the classroom — is driven by his deep desire to serve, he said. He’s the son of two Army veterans, Michael and Daina McGee, who moved all over the country after he was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. McKee is his mother’s maiden name — McGee has been his stepfather since he was 2 years old.

“I’ve seen [my parents] serve, and I’ve seen them give so much for me and my siblings,” said McKee-Rodriguez, the eldest of three. “They always just wanted to put a little bit of good into the world. So I’m happy that I get to do the same.”

Jalen’s stepfather, Michael (left), and mother, Daina (right) McGee, are both Army veterans. Credit: Courtesy / Jalen McKee-Rodriguez

McKee-Rodriguez’s first job in high school, which he attended in Hawaii, was cleaning classrooms; he also worked as a communication assistant, captioning phone calls for the hard of hearing. He went on to volunteer for City Year San Antonio and participated in the Teach for America program. Besides a brief stint working in retail, “everything else has always had a lens of service.”

Education and service have “always been extremely important to us,” said Michael McGee, who serves as executive director of human resources for the College of the Mainland in Texas City. Before that, he held the same position for Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio.

“Everything that he did … he went above and beyond,” McGee said. “He taught himself how to play the keyboard. … He taught himself how to draw. … Once he focuses on something, he just [does it]. He’s extremely intelligent, and he sticks with it.”

As a kid, McKee-Rodriguez was outgoing and signed up for just about every extracurricular club or sport there was, McGee said.

While attending high school in Kentucky, McKee-Rodriguez ran track. Credit: Courtesy / Jalen McKee-Rodriguez

During his senior year at Fort Knox High School in Kentucky, “he was really successful running track and became the student body vice president,” said McGee. That was after leaving all his high school friends behind in Hawaii, a move that devastated him, said his father. “But one thing about military kids is they’re extremely resilient.”

He never pictured his first-born son getting into politics, but it doesn’t surprise him.

“I think if he came home one day and said, ‘I want to be an astronaut,’ I wouldn’t be surprised,” McGee said. “His potential … is unlimited.”

Settling down in San Antonio was an easy decision, McKee-Rodriguez said.

“It’s a very familial atmosphere, everywhere you go,” he said. “It does feel like we have each other’s back, and we saw that during the winter storm. We’ve seen it during a pandemic. People really want to help their neighbors, and I feel like that’s something unique to San Antonio.”

He met his husband Nathan in 2016 while attending UTSA, where McKee-Rodriguez plans on getting a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies later this year. They were married in 2018.

“When you know, you know,” the councilman said. “We’re both very like-minded. We’re both very ambitious. We both like to work very hard.”

The connections and friendships McKee-Rodriguez built growing up across the country followed him to San Antonio, as hundreds of donors from dozens of states contributed to his campaign for District 2.

His campaign refused to accept contributions, however, from developers, police unions, or corporate political action committees. He ran a progressive campaign in which he pledged to, among other things, expand affordable housing and transportation options, increase police oversight and accountability, and defend residents in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods from exploitation and displacement.

While his tenure inside Andrews-Sullivan’s office ended with him filing a complaint of harassment and homophobia against her chief of staff, McKee-Rodriguez was clear throughout that his campaign wasn’t about revenge.

He felt the Council office wasn’t engaging enough with the community and was therefore not representing the community.

When he met Andrews-Sullivan in January 2019, he said he saw a woman who was “doing amazing things and wanted better for her community. And all of those things that I saw in you then,” he said to her directly from the dais on Monday, “I [still] see in you now, and I hope the best for your future and thank you.”

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez speaks during a candidate forum. McKee-Rodriguez won a runoff with former Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (left) in June. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Shortly after the June 5 runoff showed McKee-Rodriguez with a commanding lead over Andrews-Sullivan, he celebrated with his supporters at the Eastside bar Tucker’s Kozy Korner.

Joe Linson, a political consultant and vice president of Chelsea’s Catering & Bar Service, was beaming as he shook hands with the councilman-elect.

“He has a servant-leader-type mentality,” Linson told the San Antonio Report. “In other words, he’s not a politician. But he’s very smart.”

He is confident that McKee-Rodriguez has the staying power to provide the consistent leadership District 2 needs.

“He’s progressive, he’s bold, he wants to hold the police accountable, [and] he’s going to understand that budget,” especially as a math teacher, Linson said. “[McKee-Rodriguez] is going to make sure this district is listened to.”

Transitioning from a classroom of high schoolers into the political world might be difficult, but McKee-Rodriguez is used to moving around, his father said.

“I told him, ‘Be consistent, man.’ That’s it,” McGee said. “Continue being who you are when you ran, and you won’t fail.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org More by Iris Dimmick

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