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Former City Councilman Greg Brockhouse, Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s top challenger in the May 1 election, said he learned several lessons from his narrow defeat for the mayor’s seat in 2019. One of the most important: Collaboration is key.

“I’m going to think about the lessons learned from 2019,” Brockhouse said Wednesday. “For instance, I learned we cannot do it on our own. I don’t have all the ideas. I need to find the right people to work with to [find] the solutions that are different for every individual district in our city.”

Brockhouse spoke during the second of three mayoral forums co-hosted by KSAT-TV, the San Antonio Report, and Bexar Facts and moderated by San Antonio Report’s founder and Editor Robert Rivard and KSAT anchor Steve Spriester. Nirenberg attended the first forum Tuesday night, and Denise Gutierrez-Homer – who narrowly missed the City Council District 2 runoff in 2019 – will participate Thursday.

This year, Brockhouse faces a different political landscape amid the coronavirus pandemic and a controversial proposition on the ballot. If approved, Proposition B would remove the ability for the police union to collectively bargain for a labor contract. In 2019, Brockhouse’s campaign enjoyed endorsements and funding from the police and firefighter unions he once worked for as a political consultant. This year, the unions’ attention has been focused on the proposition.

“The rank-and-file firefighters and police officers overwhelmingly support me,” the nearly 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran said. “I don’t worry about that I’m running to be the mayor of the entire city of San Antonio. And those are lessons learned from 2019. You can’t run just to be the mayor of the police and firefighters, you have to be [mayor] of the entire community, of the entire city.”

While opposed to Prop B, he said changes needed to address accountability can be done at the collective bargaining table.

“Unequivocally, we must fire bad police officers,” he said. “Nobody wants a bad cop gone more than a good cop. … I think you can be pro-police and pro-Black Lives Matter.”

He agrees with the approach City Manager Erik Walsh has directed the City’s negotiating team to take at the bargaining table: a hard line on disciplinary reform. That comes from another lesson learned, he said.

“The city manager and the mayor … need to work hand-in-hand, side-by-side … [with] the common goal of doing what’s best for the city of San Antonio,” Brockhouse said.

He said he also wants to “clean up the judicial system” and find ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism at the jail.

Doug Heath, editor of the San Antonio Observer, submitted a question regarding how candidates for mayor would, if elected, address the disparate outcomes for people of color during the pandemic in terms of deaths and vaccinations.

According to state data, Black residents in Bexar County, who account for 8.6% of the local population, represent just 3.2% of the vaccinated population. 

Brockhouse criticized the vaccination rollout as slow and uneven and called for the City to actively reach out to at-risk populations to get them vaccinated.

Those issues and others are not due to systemic racism, Brockhouse said.

“I don’t believe we’re a systemically racist or broken society. … I do believe that we have a system that needs to be fixed that respects and honors people of color and makes sure they’re all treated equally and the same,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s a systemic problem by any means.”

The City launched its vaccination waitlist on Wednesday. Brockhouse said he would have done that sooner.

He also took issue with the SA Ready to Work program, approved by 77% of voters last year. The $154 million, five-year program will provide scholarships and other benefits for up to 40,000 workers to receive training and education for in-demand jobs.

“What I’ll do as mayor is freeze what’s going on with the workforce development [program] and push that cash back out to the community,” Brockhouse said. He said he would refocus the program to help workers in tourism, restaurant, and trade industries. “I’m not going to focus so much on trying to retrain people into jobs that I think are better over the next three to five years.

Such a shift, if possible, would likely require support from a majority of Council members.

“I’m going to fight for every job. I’m going to pour my heart and soul into being your mayor,” he said. “And no matter what happens, I’m going to do it with everybody at the table. And that’s what I learned from 2019 was that it takes all of us to make it happen.”

The third mayoral forum, featuring Gutierrez-Homer, will be streamed live on Facebook and KSAT.com at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Early voting begins April 19.

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