American flags decorate the front doors of Texas A&M University-San Antonio during the mayoral forum. Photo by Scott Ball.
American flags adorn the front doors of Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

There will be 14 candidates on the May 9 City Election ballot. In the interest of time and efficiency, most mayoral forums have only invited the top four contenders – Leticia Van de Putte, Mike Villarreal, Tommy Adkisson, and Mayor Ivy Taylor. In the interest of offering an opportunity for the public to meet and hear from all 14 candidates, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA) and the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce invited them down to the Southside campus.

Nine candidates participated and one, Pogo Mochello Allen-Reese, left early for unknown reasons. Allen-Reese was by far the most expressive character on stage – he held up signs during the forum including one that read “God Help Me,” and “No Liars Our Master” on another. He spent much of his time organizing his materials with occasional, theatrical flourishes.

Notably absent from Wednesday night’s forum was the front-runner former Sen. Van de Putte. Her chair was left empty next to the chairs of Michael “Commander” Idrogo, Julie Iris “MamaBexar” Oldham, and Douglas S. Emmett. Van de Putte was attending a fundraiser that had been scheduled weeks in advance, said campaign manager Christian Archer in an email. Unfortunately, she could not attend both.

The approximately two-hour long forum was marked with several moments of confusion on both sides of the long table on stage. On average, three candidates were allowed to answer each question and they were selected at random by moderator Michael Valdes of Muñoz & Company – a somewhat clunky process involving numbered balls in a bowl. Overall, however, the evening was a positive exercise in democracy for many attendees who sought more information about the candidates.

The four main players have had plenty of practice during their more than 20 engagements over the past several months, so it was interesting to see what the other candidates had to offer, said Andres Holliday, president of the A&M-SA Student Government Association.

“One of the reasons I wanted to host something like this is because I didn’t know who I wanted to vote for,” he said. “If I don’t know, then there’s a chance that other students don’t know either. So why not give them a chance to let them get to know who they are and get to meet them?”

Some candidates joined students, faculty, and members of the community for a mixer after the forum.

NOWCastSA recorded the entire forum. Click here to view more.

This is A&M-SA’s first major political forum, Holliday said, who is a senior double majoring in political science and psychology.

“Inviting (all 14 candidates) is sticking to the purpose of having an election – for those people who walk out on the line and say, ‘I’m willing to stand up for what I want,’” he said.

About 25% of the less than 100 attendees were college-aged. Many of the questions and answers were focused on education.

“I thought it was interesting that (Villarreal) wanted to create 20,000 internships for college students to help them move on with their career,” said A&M-SA senior Brittany Reyes. She said she was glad she attended. “There were so many different personalities – I kinda thought they would all be the same.”

The four panelists – A&M-SA President Cynthia Teniente Matson, South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Al Arreola, Cotter & Sons Vice President James Adam Cotter, and Cotter & Sons Executive Account Manager John Griffin – submitted seven questions and the SGA selected three from each panelist. Eight questions were from community members and university faculty.

So far, there is not another forum on the books that will invite all 14 candidates to gather again, but here is a list of other upcoming forums:

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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