Mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal talks with guests during the 2nd annual Webhead Cascarón Bash at Alamo Beer Company. Photo by Scott Ball.
Then-mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal talks with guests at a Fiesta event in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I did not intend to get involved in the San Antonio Mayor’s race this year, but recent events have prompted me to speak up.

I am disappointed in Mayor Ivy Taylor’s recent decisions to unnecessarily inject partisan politics into our local elections, and in a way that is deceptive and unfair. I was proud to see that San Antonians rejected such tactics in the first round of voting, when they decisively voted against a mayoral candidate who misrepresented San Antonio’s real challenges and personally attacked journalists. I hope that voters will continue to reject leaders who behave in ways that divide, rather than unite, our great city.

As many of you know, I stepped down after 15 years in the Texas Legislature two years ago to run for mayor. One of the many reasons I was attracted to local government was my appreciation for the can-do attitude of San Antonio, our willingness to work together as neighbors to solve issues that mattered to our daily lives, to make decisions based on a belief in our future: investments in Pre-K, in linear parks, in the San Antonio River, in major infrastructure projects.

In short, while tribal partisanship was making the state and national government less and less functional, at the local level people were rolling up their sleeves and getting things done together, perhaps in part because they ran for office with neither a “D” or an “R” beside their name.

Unfortunately, we saw partisanship infect the 2015 Mayor’s race, which came on the heels of a highly partisan statewide race. The race for Mayor became characterized as a proxy contest between liberal and conservative.

National events today make it is almost impossible to escape this toxic and often meaningless division. I speak as someone who took potshots for routinely working with Republicans as an elected Democrat, though these compromises brought results.

At the local level, we can choose to draw a bright line. We can focus on the issues that affect our city, from policing and safety, to taxes and infrastructure, to investment in our people in a global talent competition. We can insist that our local leaders work for the interests of our entire community by being socially just and fiscally responsible with our tax dollars. Perhaps most importantly, we can demand that our local leaders behave with integrity, and act as role models for our youth. Only the voters can determine if character matters in elections.

I have never been a believer in politicians endorsing other politicians, and many of my former supporters have good reasons to back either Mayor Taylor or Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8). But I do believe as public leaders we set a tone. We can lead with love, which is infectious and positive, or we can prey upon people’s fears and spread negativity like a cancer. We are called on to be peacemakers in every part of our life, including our civic life. I know this is not easy. It never has been. But, it is the only path forward to overcome our city’s challenges and unlock our community’s true potential.

Mike Villarreal is a former state representative and founding director of the Institute on Urban Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio.