Greg Brockhouse (left) and Mayor Ron Nirenberg debate at the Wyndham Riverwalk before the election in April 2019. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s campaign plans to decline debate invitations leading up to the May election, his campaign manager and chair said Friday.

Campaign manager and chair Gilberto Ocañas told the San Antonio Report that Nirenberg, who is seeking a third term, would be open to participating in forum-style events but not those involving back-and-forth among mayoral candidates. The mayor faces at least 11 challengers, including former City Councilman Greg Brockhouse, who pushed Nirenberg to a runoff in 2019 and lost narrowly.

“What would be the reason to do a debate? … The mayor is the head of the city, managing a COVID crisis,” Ocañas said. “We’re working on economic recovery. We are focused on that.” 

In January, Nirenberg told the San Antonio Report he wanted to avoid the idea of a horse race between him and Brockhouse, especially after the tumultuous presidential election and its aftermath. He echoed that sentiment Friday.

“We just went through a vicious 2020 election cycle, but San Antonio came together in a nonpartisan way to overwhelmingly approve investments in early childhood education, workforce development and enhanced transit – all possible without a tax increase,” Nirenberg said in a prepared statement, referring to ballot measures passed by San Antonio voters in November.

“We need to keep that spirit of moving forward together, so I’m just not going to get into the politics of horse races or promises at this point. As the campaign takes shape that could change, but the public was dragged through enough political drama last year.”

Brockhouse said he was not surprised by Nirenberg’s decision.

“If I had Ron Nirenberg’s record I wouldn’t want to debate either,” he said in a statement. “Trying to explain 150,000 jobs lost, the failure to attract any major new businesses to San Antonio and the refusal to stand with SAPD as radical groups try to defund police is a tough sell.“

Brockhouse has criticized Nirenberg in the past for “standing on the sidelines” by not taking a position on the Fix SAPD petition, which gathered enough signatures to put a proposition on the ballot asking voters to decide whether to repeal a state law allowing police officers and firefighters to collectively bargain with the City.

Ocañas left open the possibility of Nirenberg debating an opponent at some point during the campaign. Both Nirenberg and Brockhouse will attend a virtual candidate forum hosted Saturday by the North East Bexar County Democrats, where candidates will introduce themselves and answer questions posed by the organization’s members.

Of the 12 candidates in the mayoral field, most have little financial backing and lack an organized campaign. Several have mounted previous campaigns for mayor or council seats, finishing well back in the pack.

Brockhouse, however, has the platform of a weekly podcast and has Austin-based political consultant Matt Mackowiak, who is well-known in Republican campaign circles, as his campaign spokesman. Mackowiak worked on Brockhouse’s campaign in 2019 as well.

“We’ll see if people are responding to his message,” Ocañas said of Brockhouse. “… I’m not gonna worry about him. I’m gonna worry about us.” 

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.