San Antonio mayoral candidate Manuel Medina led a march of 50 supporters to the front doors of the San Antonio Express-News Monday afternoon to protest a Brian Chasnoff column that raised serious questions about Medina’s claim of continuous residency in the United States since his arrival as a child.
The column, which appeared Thursday, March 29, contained previously unreported information about Medina that directly contradicts his biography and campaign presentation as a U.S. naturalized citizen who was born in Mexico, immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 3 with his mother, and has lived here ever since.
Chasnoff cited records and sources in Mexico that indicate Medina worked at a university in Torreón, Coahuila, from 1997 to 2008. During that time he also ran unsuccessfully for public office there, was legally divorced, and then remarried.
About 50 people carrying American flags and pro-immigrant signs gathered on the steps of the newspaper’s front door at 301 Avenue E at 12:45 p.m. Local media, including the Rivard Report, received advance notice of Medina’s press conference. Chasnoff and other Express-News journalists were not given the same notice.
A few heated, verbal exchanges took place between Medina supporters and Express-News reporters. Medina did not provide any direct evidence to refute Chasnoff’s revelations, and refused to respond to questions asked by Express-News journalists. Some of those marching in support of Medina shouted racial epithets at Chasnoff.
Protesters gathered one block from the Express-News building and then marched to the front door, chanting “Medina: sí, Express: no,” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Brian Chasnoff’s got to go,” “New year, new mayor,” and “U.S.A.” Some yelled “liar” and “racist” when they spotted Chasnoff in the crowd.
Medina, the Bexar County Democratic Party chairman, claims Chasnoff purposefully mischaracterized his residency timeline in an attempt to capitalize on “racist, xenophobic, and ignorant” feelings some people may have toward a non-native citizen, a charge the local columnist refuted.
“He made his immigration story the centerpiece of his biography on the campaign trail, and the question is: Is Manuel Medina being honest and truthful about his immigration story?” Chasnoff told reporters.
Medina, who became a U.S. citizen in 2009, has now acknowledged that he spent a lot of time in Torreón: teaching at a university (1997-2008), running for Mexican office (2005), and divorcing his first wife and marrying his second wife (2006) – but never for more than a couple days at a time, he told reporters Monday. None of that 11-year record of Medina operating in Mexico appeared in his biography or was known prior to publication of Chasnoff’s column.
“I would go down there for a night and come back,” Medina said, adding that the column gave the impression that he lived there for 10 years.
He did not explain how he was able to run for elected office in Mexico while not residing there.
Residing in Mexico would have prevented Medina from becoming a U.S. citizen, campaign manager Carlton Soules told the Rivard Report after the protest. “He applied for citizenship during that time frame … in the mind of the U.S. government, he has met every requirement he needs to be a resident.”
Medina read the column as an attack on his and other naturalized citizens’ patriotism. Others read it as a serious challenge to the personal story he has touted for months.
“The 47-year-old native of Mexico has stuck to this story on the campaign trail,” Chasnoff wrote, “portraying himself as a patriotic American who immigrated to the United States at age 3 and has lived in this country ever since.”
Medina takes issue with the term “portrayed” in regards to his patriotism, as though he is “pretending to be an American,” he said.
“To imply that he’s somehow less American than you or I is just wrong,” Soules said. “Plenty of people do business in Mexico and live in Texas, it’s a border economy.”
Medina claims that he only ran for office in Mexico to build name recognition for his political career.
“I had access to public records from Mexico that stated he was divorced in Mexico, he remarried in Mexico, he worked in Mexico, and ran for office in Mexico,” Chasnoff said. “So whether or not he lived in Mexico during that time, that’s a question that the reader should grapple with and the voter should grapple with.”
As for the accusations of racism and ignorance, Chasnoff said he’ll leave that up to readers as well.
“Anyone who reads [the column]…I am confident that they will come away from reading it with a conclusion that it’s not a racist column, that it really does just question his truthfulness on the campaign trail,” he said
“I’m a ‘one-hundred-percenter’ of the free press,” Medina told reporters. “I’ve learned that you can answer the questions but they’ll write whatever they want.”
Medina accused Chasnoff of describing him as “nothing more than a Mexican native attempting to portray myself as a patriotic American.” The column refers to Medina as a “native of Mexico” and clearly states he became a citizen in 2009.
The column’s implication that Medina didn’t live in the U.S. for long periods of time, Soules told the Rivard Report, is the most erroneous.
“[The column] made it sound like [Medina] lied about where he was for 10 years,” he said.
Chasnoff is known in the community for revealing interesting and/or controversial connections in San Antonio’s political realm. He is a columnist, which allows him to add his own perspective or point of view.
“I have a track record of writing columns that question candidates when I perceive that they are not being truthful,” Chasnoff said. “To me it was just another example of pointing out to the readers of the Express-News that a particular candidate was not being truthful to the voters.”
Soules said he’d like to see the Express-News leadership as well as its owner, the Hearst Corporation, hold Chasnoff accountable and “take this seriously.”
“We stand by not only our columnists, but our columns,” stated the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Mike Leary in the paper’s coverage of the protest, “They’re 100 percent accurate and documented.”
Mayor Ivy Taylor declined to comment on the issue. Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), also campaigning to unseat Taylor, could not be reached before deadline but he told Chasnoff, “This certainly betrays the myth that Manuel Medina has created about himself … and tells voters he can’t be trusted on his biography, let alone his wild promises.”