There have been dozens of mayoral forums this year, some hosted by organizations with a specific focus, such as transportation or tourism and the hospitality industry. The Rivard Report’s forum at the Pearl last week focused more broadly on a range of urban issues. The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center‘s forum on Saturday afternoon, titled “Gentrification and the Right to Remain,” was the latest single-issue forum.
Esperanza invited the four major candidates – former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, Mayor Ivy Taylor, and former state Rep. Mike Villarreal – to participate. Four candidates were on stage, but most notably, Taylor was not among them. Due to a schedule conflict, she did not attend. Mayoral candidate Rhett Rosenquest Smith, who lists his occupation as “private security,” took the opportunity, uninvited, to take her seat. He’s one of the many minor candidates on the ballot who are not running traditional campaigns.
The opening questions were about development projects that Esperanza actively opposed and protested: the $75 million multi-family apartment complex that displaced Mission Trails Mobile Home Park residents; the Alamo Beer Company’s new brewery next to the Hays Street Bridge, and the sale and demolition of the Univision building to make way for the $55 million, 350-unit Elan Riverwalk project now under construction.
Interestingly, none of the candidates openly challenged Esperanza’s opposition to the City’s handling of the projects, or its policies that support increased residential density in the urban core and revitalization of the downtown business district and surrounding neighborhoods. Instead the candidates offered ideas for how future development projects can be managed to avoid social conflict and economic displacement, such as increased transparency and more proactive communications with the community.
The candidates also answered various questions – asked by moderator Theresa Canales – that were sent in by community members and the audience, which wrote down questions on cards that were then selected by Esperanza staff.
The strongest words of the evening came in an exchange between Villarreal and Van de Putte, who targeted each other on the handling of state legislation that cleared a path for the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation to move forward without a public vote. Villarreal pushed for language that prohibited or limited hotel development within the park. Van de Putte’s bill that passed the Senate, with strong support from San Antonio-based Zachry Corp., did not include that restriction. The City ultimately added a restriction in the Hemisfair deed that limits hotel development to a boutique hotel with no more than 200 rooms.
“There was an advocate who wanted to build a hotel, a guy named David Zachry,” Villarreal said. The mention of Zachry’s name elicited several hisses in the audience of about 75. “We were able to prevent him from building a new convention center hotel … but only because we had a mayor and council (that supported the deed language).”
Van de Putte turned to her former legislative colleague and raised her voice.
“I posted the bill on a Monday. On Tuesday, our grandson didn’t wake up. He died. And I was not in the Legislature that entire week,” she said. “My Senate colleagues, in an effort to help me, took every single bill that I had in the Senate and passed it to the House – knowing that at least (the bill) could get done.
“I wasn’t even there, I was burying my grandchild,” she continued. “For you to use a personal tragedy and that I was against that … I wasn’t even there.”
Van de Putte’s stance against restricting hotels in Hemisfair Park was clear long before her grandson’s death, Villarreal said after the forum. He was shocked by her emotional response.
“The death of her grandson had nothing to do with her position,” Villarreal said.
The heated words from the two candidates came as the campaign intensifies in the closing days before early voting commences on April 27 and three weeks before the May 9 election. Both Van de Putte and Villarreal are reaching out to voters with television advertisements, mail-outs, and aggressive social media campaigns.
More forums are on the calendar, even during Fiesta, as candidates enter the home stretch.
Upcoming forums include:
- Wednesday, April 22, 6p.m.: Mayoral Candidate Forum on Clean Energy at UTSA
- Monday, April 27, 7:30 p.m.: Change the Vote, a “discussion on arts as an economic engine to revitalize San Antonio” at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
- Tuesday, April 28, 6:30 p.m.: The San Antonio LULAC Council in partnership with MOVE San Antonio and the Pride Center of San Antonio will host a forum at the San Antonio Area Foundation.
*Featured/top image: Theresa Canales moderates the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center’s mayoral forum. Photo by Iris Dimmick.