Mayor Ron Nirenberg (center) responds to Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) during the second public debate for Mayor of San Antonio.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg (center) responds to Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) during the second public debate for Mayor of San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and his principal challenger, Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), gave tourism and hospitality leaders a refresher Wednesday on the stark differences between them.

Brockhouse has been firmly on the same side as much of the business community when it came to three divisive issues: Chick-fil-A at the airport, paid sick leave for workers, and the City’s Republican National Convention rejection. Those stances earned him a smattering of applause from the crowd. The second formal debate was hosted by several local industry associations, including Visit San Antonio and the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association. The latter group supplied the questions for the debate.

Nirenberg’s rebuttals, however, also elicited some applause, but not from the same people.

As the two frontrunners among nine candidates on the May 4 mayoral ballot continue their series of debates and candidate forums, they’ll continue to drive home those differences and messages to voters that became clear even before their first debate nearly two weeks ago.

“The angst is lessened [in subsequent events] because I know exactly what Ron’s going to say and Ron knows exactly what I’m going to say,” Brockhouse said after the event. “But what that tells you, though, is that all these industries and people … have the same concerns. … Chick-fil-A is not an isolated incident now. It’s permeated in every neighborhood and every industry at this point.”

Nirenberg defended his stances on the other side of the contentious issues. He voted with the majority March 21 to oust Chick-fil-A from an airport concessions contract because its restaurants are closed on Sundays and the company has made donations to groups known for anti-LGBTQIA positions.

“San Antonio is open for business,” Nirenberg said. Nirenberg said he has “no qualms with the Chick-fil-A faith-based business model, nor do I care about who they donate to.”

“To make sure that we have local [businesses that are] open seven days a week in an airport that is running seven days a week is critically important to me,” he said.

Brockhouse was one of four City Council members who voted against taking the fast-food restaurant out of the contract. He wanted more discussion about the process and contract before it was approved. He also called for a public City Council vote on whether the City should pursue the 2020 Republican National Convention but it was discussed during a closed executive session instead.

“The message we put out to the … planet needs to be one of inclusivity wherever possible,” Brockhouse said. “‘Open for business’ doesn’t mean you turn away $250 million of economic impact from any political convention – Republican or Democrat – and it doesn’t mean you tell somebody that our unreliable [request for proposals] process can’t be trusted.”

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks to the business and hospitality industry at the Wyndham Riverwalk.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks to the tourism and hospitality industry at the Wyndham Riverwalk hotel. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

These decisions send an “anti-faith” and “anti-Republican” message to the world, Brockhouse said. City Council made a political decision in a closed-door meeting against bidding for the RNC. Nirenberg said the event would end up costing the city more money than the economy would benefit.

Nirenberg said he took those actions on behalf of the best interests of the entire city, not just one industry or group. “I stand by a decision when it’s based on that calculus and not anything else,” he said.

The paid sick-leave ordinance, which was approved by City Council last year and will require most businesses to give employees paid time off if they are sick, received fierce opposition from the business community. Nirenberg said he does not think the City should be regulating those aspects of an employer-employee relationship, but he voted in favor of the ordinance so that San Antonio could contribute to the statewide conversation and likely legislation that would override a local ordinance anyway. Some employers will have to comply with the ordinance as early as August 2019.

The ordinance came to Council as a citizen-led petition, so Council had to choose between working with the community to improve the ordinance or putting the language on the ballot to voters that would have easily passed, Nirenberg said.

“Believe in what you stand for and show consistency on the dais,” Brockhouse said of the sick-leave vote. “You can’t say, ‘We’ve got to pass it so we can fix it later.’ That makes absolutely no sense.”

Moderator David Dunham, vice president of development for Texas Monthly, presented the candidates a series of yes or no questions about keeping hotel occupancy tax and hotel fee revenue directed to promoting tourism in San Antonio and marketing the city to visitors.

Brockhouse and Nirenberg largely kept their answers to a short “yes,” agreeing that the industry deserves the funding it gets. Those questions were purposefully focused on funding, said Liza Barratachea, president and CEO of the local Hotel and Lodging Association.

 “We just need to continue to reinforce the fact that … when there’s investment in the [visitor and tourism] industry there’s a major return on investment to the whole community,” Barratachea said.

While the association does not endorse candidates, Barratachea said, the debate’s goal was to inform the business community on how candidates respond to industry-related questions.

There are several more formal debates, forums, and other events Nirenberg and Brockhouse will attend ahead of the May 4 election:

  • Saturday, April 6: San Antonio Night Live: A Youth Municipal Candidate Forum at the Brick at Blue Star, 6 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 7: COPS Metro Alliance’s Accountability Session, 3 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church
  • Monday, April 8: With Northside Neighborhoods for Organized Development at Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center, 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 9: With AARP at Palo Alto College, 11:30 a.m.
  • Monday, April 15: With TPR live at 12 p.m. and Northeast Neighborhood Alliance meeting, 10303 Tool Yard, 6:45 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 17: With the Rivard Report, Spire at St. Paul Square, 8 p.m.
  • Friday, May 3: For a broadcast on KLRN, 7 p.m.

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