Ezra Johnson and Clayton Perry, the remaining candidates in the City Council District 10 runoff, admitted it was hard for any one of the 10 original candidates to distinguish themselves before the May 6 election.

That challenge was reflected in Election Day totals, when Johnson claimed 2,733 votes, only 18 more than Perry. The two candidates combined for just over 43% of the vote. But in the final stretch of the campaign ahead of the June 10 runoff, Perry is stressing his experience with City boards and committees and with neighborhood organizations. Johnson is defining himself as a consensus-builder in the Northeast San Antonio district.

Johnson and Perry, both vying to succeed retiring Councilman Mike Gallagher, have addressed themes such as public safety and maintaining basic infrastructure and City services.

Johnson said he has talked with City staff and residents who say streets and sidewalks in District 10 have deteriorated and are in need of attention.

“Public safety has been a major issue,” Perry said, adding that residents want an increase in police presence in their neighborhoods.

A retired U.S. Air Force engineer, Perry has helped to manage numerous construction projects in the military and the private sector. He also has led his homeowner association and worked with the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance. Citywide, he has served on the Building Standards Board and was a District 10 representative on one of five committees that developed the voter-approved 2017 City bond.

He and many of his key supporters say Perry, if elected, would be the lone Council member to hold military experience, given the departures of Gallagher and Council members Cris Medina (D7) and Ray Lopez (D6).

“We need that experience,” Perry said. “I can be that bridge between the City and the military.”

Gallagher and Carlton Soules are two of six outgoing and former District 10 Council members who are publicly backing Perry, along with John Clamp, Jimmy Hasslocher, Lyle Larson, and Jeff Webster.

Johnson is concentrating his campaign on how District 10 can be a model for a “functional, modern, multigenerational City,” as he states on his campaign website. Expanding transportation options, enhancing senior center services, beefing up the San Antonio Fear Free Environment program, and stepping up infrastructure improvements are among the keys to this objective, Johnson has said.

All that’s needed is a more concerted approach among Council members, Johnson said. He hopes to use his experience and skills as an attorney, adjunct law professor, and small businessman to help negotiate and solve problems at City Hall.

“My opponent and I have different approaches to getting more resources for District 10,” Johnson said. “I’d like a more collaborative approach with other Council districts facing the same issues we are facing.”

Johnson said Perry, as a member of the 2017 bond development committee, could have done more to work with colleagues to get more street and sidewalk bond projects for District 10.

“I’ve heard complaints from many residents that District 10 didn’t get enough projects,” Johnson said.

An obstacle for Johnson is District 10’s traditional conservative bent. Although municipal elections are nonpartisan, voting records show Perry has voted Republican in recent elections, as have many past District 10 representatives.

When the Republican Party of Bexar County invited people to a luncheon May 24 to meet Council runoff candidates, the invited candidates included Perry, Marco Barros (D9), Cynthia Brehm (D8), and Greg Brockhouse (D6).

Soules said Gallagher and his predecessors have reflected the values of most District 10 residents, especially on the issues of public safety, military affairs, economic development, and taxes. To Soules, Perry is a natural to succeed Gallagher, who was appointed to succeed Soules in 2014 and won the seat in 2015.

“The bulk of that [conservative] support is now consolidating around Clayton Perry,” Soules said.

“Both candidates are fine gentlemen, but Clayton has got the conservative values to move the district forward in a positive way,” Clamp said.

Two of Perry’s former opponents in the Council race, Diana Kenny and Reinette King, are now backing him.

Meanwhile, Johnson has received endorsements from two of his former opponents, Jonathan Delmer and John Alvarez. Delmer said Johnson best represents a bipartisan approach needed to lead the district, which stretches from north of Loop 1604 to Terrell Heights.

Johnson said he has voted Democratic in recent elections and served as a deputy district chair with the Bexar County Democratic Party. He sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congressional District 20, won by Joaquín Castro, in 2012. In the Council race, Johnson has been endorsed by three local Democratic groups, the local Sierra Club chapter, and several area unions.

“It’s been a historically conservative district,” Perry said. “My opponent has a liberal history. I think it’ll be an issue with some voters.”

But Johnson said his campaign is concerned only with issues that matter the most to District 10 residents, regardless of political labels.

“I want to be supportive of all District 10 constituents and respect the interests and needs of everyone,” Johnson wrote on his Facebook campaign page.

Johnson’s campaign is at a monetary disadvantage. Campaign finance reports filed May 3 with the City showed that Perry had $31,584 cash on hand, while Johnson had $5,344.

Johnson has received contributions from a handful of local law practices, and political action committees (PAC), such as the local Sierra Club and Northeast Bexar Democrats. Perry has contributions from corporate and industrial political action committees, such as Valero, USAA Employees, Greater San Antonio Builders Association, and the Texas Association of Realtors.

Responding to questions about lack of public service experience, Johnson said he and his family have been active in other ways, such as neighborhood associations, the North East Independent School District (where his wife teaches and his daughter attends school) and serving on the St. Mary’s School of Law Alumni board.

“There many ways to be civically engaged,” he said.

Casey Whittington, who served on the facilities bond committee, said the Council campaign has addressed the district’s key issues. However, he is not backing either runoff candidate.

“Councilman Gallagher has done amazing work for the district and we are going to miss his leadership and guidance,” he said.

Early voting starts May 30 and runs through June 6.

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.