In the rapidly-growing Northwest Side of town, residents in San Antonio City Council District 6 have concerns including graffiti, public safety, growing traffic congestion, and street maintenance. The two candidates that emerged from a field of eight during the general election in May, political consultant Greg Brockhouse, 44, and attorney Melissa Cabello Havrda, 42, are ramping up campaign efforts to convince voters they will address those concerns.
Early voting for the June 10 runoff election – in which voters will be selecting their picks for mayor and districts 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, and 10 – starts Tuesday, May 30 and ends June 6. Click here for more information about polling locations and hours.
Brockhouse, known in local political circles for his previous work with the police and firefighter unions and other interest groups, finished with 36% of the vote in May, far short of the majority required to secure the seat that will be left open by outgoing Councilman Ray Lopez. Still, he was far ahead of Havrda, who received 20.57%, and Ricardo “Rick” Treviño, who received just 28 votes less than Havrda and finished with 20.24%. Four other candidates were on the ballot.
Treviño, 31, is a U.S. history and geography teacher at Sam Houston High School. He could not be reached for comment by deadline. Neither candidate, both of whom grew up in District 6, expects him to make an endorsement.
“I think he’s staying out of it,” Havdra told the Rivard Report.
But Councilman Lopez is in.
Lopez, who served a maximum four, two-year terms, supported his former adviser Joseph Cortez in the first round. Cortez came in fourth with 17% of the vote, so Lopez endorsed Havrda after she scored a spot in the runoff.
Havrda, who specializes in Social Security disability law, has worked for former Mayor Ed Garza, served on the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Magik Theatre boards.
Havrda has a more “open mind” when it comes to mass transportation solutions, Lopez told the Rivard Report. “It’s easy to take the negative [side].”
Lopez was referring to Brockhouse’s work for the anti-streetcar coalition in 2014, which led to a charter amendment requiring a public vote on street or light rail projects. Brockhouse also worked against the Council pay charter amendment, and a San Antonio Water System rate hike related to the Vista Ridge water pipeline. Improving mass, public transportation in San Antonio has long been one of Lopez’s goals. He serves as chair of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board.
“[Brockhouse seems to be] locked into being against that stuff and I think [Havrda] really recognizes and listens to problems,” Lopez said.
When it comes to rail, Havrda “leans towards yes, but we need to make sure it’s done in a way that’s effective … and make sure it’s what people want,” she said. “We have to make sure it’s affordable” for the City and passengers.
Long commute times and traffic congestion are “quality of life issues,” she said, adding that while growth brings amenities, it also brings challenges that will require improving existing infrastructure for all transportation options including sidewalks, bike lanes, streets, highways, and possibly rail.
Brockhouse wholeheartedly rejects Lopez’s characterization of his attitudes towards rail. “He’s wrong,” Brockhouse said.
While he did work for a political action committee dedicated against the streetcar project, “[Lopez is] taking anti-street car and extrapolating it to anti-transportation. … I’m in favor of the right rail option, but I think we have bigger issues with VIA [Metropolitan Transit] and funding right now.”
His endorsement of Havrda aside, Lopez said District 6 is lucky to have two qualified candidates for the job.
“The city is not going to be in a major bind with either one, both are honorable people, but philosophically I have not been on the same page with [Brockhouse].”
Communication between Lopez and Brockhouse is strained to put it lightly. Brockhouse campaigned to unseat the councilman in 2013 and he recently told the San Antonio Express-News that Lopez would endorse a “stuffed animal” over him.
Brockhouse wouldn’t and couldn’t compare Havrda to a stuffed animal, he said when I asked him about the column last week.
“She’s a good woman. She’s qualified … I don’t have any issues with her,” he said. “But the things I know and have done, make me more experienced.”
On Friday he released an “exhaustive roadmap” titled “The Future of District 6” which details what and when he would prioritize various issues, if elected. The 12-page document has district and citywide initiatives and action plans including identifying neighborhoods for “Extreme Sweeps” (neighborhood cleanup projects), increasing access to the district office, and adjusting City Council staff office hours: “more hours, later into the evening, to work better with resident personal schedules.” There are 11 longterm goals outlined in the document that have to do with everything from developing a plan to combat crime and graffiti in the district to increased office transparency and communication.
“I’ve got a plan. I’ve learned what matters the most to residents,” Brockhouse said. Click here to download.
While they’re not packaged in such a comprehensive way on her website, Havrda has her own plans to work with the community.
“I’m more of a consensus builder,” she said. “I’m not going to try to bully City Council into working with me.”
She plans to keep a close eye on development of District 6’s greenspace. “If we’re not paying attention it’s going to get paved over.”
Brockhouse’s strong connection with the police and firefighter unions, she said, could be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage, Havrda said.
The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association has yet to begin contract negotiations with the City despite repeated attempts by leadership and a pending lawsuit challenging the current 10-year evergreen clause, which allows most of the current contract’s terms to stay in place for 10 years without a new pact. It took more than two years of tough negotiations for the City to finalize a contract with the police union, which paid Brockhouse for his services as a political consultant and spokesman.
“Can he take that hat off and put the opposite hat on?” Lopez asked rhetorically. “I don’t mean to say he wouldn’t do anything but the honorable thing … I’m just not convinced of it.”
The contract with the firefighter union will likely be one of the biggest challenges that the next Council and mayor take on.
“He knows the issues very well,” Havrda said, “and that’s [Brockhouse’s] advantage. But the disadvantage is for the City and residents … he might be one that digs his heels in and [doesn’t] look at all sides.”
Brockhouse stopped working with the unions in October of last year, he said. “I’m a fierce defender and 100% behind our first responders, but [if elected] I’m tasked to represent the residents of District 6. That’s what I’ll do.”
His advantage is knowing the issues and people in-and-out, he said, and could lead to more successful negotiations for both the City and union. “Who on the Council can sit across from those firefighters and talk specifics?”
City Manager Sheryl Sculley treated the contract as a “business transaction,” he said, when it was really about people. “That’s a huge trust gap between first responders and City Hall.”
Brockhouse has been endorsed by local police, fire, and AFL-CIO labor unions, but “I’m not an endorsement hunter,” he said. “[The] only endorsement that matters is the voters.”
Former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Department of Housing and Development Secretary Julián Castro officially endorsed Havrda over the weekend, joining her as she block walked on Saturday.
“She’s a person of integrity who is very well prepared and has a good vision that includes everybody in the district,” Castro told the Rivard Report. “She’s a homegrown product of District 6 and has a real passion for public service. She’s clearly the better candidate in this race.”
Longtime District 6 resident Dominick Dina, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Alliance, knows both candidates fairly well. Dina’s personal opinion, not that of the alliance, is that more needs to be spent on basic infrastructure – street maintenance and drainage – as well as public safety and graffiti.
“We need to spend more money on our infrastructure before it starts falling down our ears,” Dina said. “More of that rather than some of these pet projects.”
He was referring to some larger projects funded by the 2017 Municipal Bond that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the May 6 election.
Both candidates think District 6 deserved more funding from the $850 million program. Dina declined to say who he was voting for.
Over the past few years, Dina said, “There have been gains [on some issues]. I would give the city an ‘A’ for their efforts on graffiti and we’ve definitely seen an improvement … partially because of the City and partially of our neighbor volunteers.”
District 6’s population increased by 30.7% between 2000 and 2010, according to a census analysis by the City of San Antonio. It also had the largest Latino population.
“I’m hoping all our residents go out and vote. I hate when it’s a poor showing … too many people died for the right for us to vote,” he said, just days before Memorial Day. “To me it’s shameful.”