(From left) Michael Bloomberg and Mayor Ron Nirenberg meet in January 2019 to announce an effort to combat climate change. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

As competition continues to heat up in the 2020 Democratic presidential contest, San Antonio’s mayor says he intends to stay above the fray.

Mayor Nirenberg told the Rivard Report this week that he doesn’t plan to publicly support any presidential candidate during the 2020 Democratic primary. Early voting ends Feb. 28 for the March 3 Super Tuesday primary. 

“There are a number of very strong candidates that we would do well and be proud to call our president,” Nirenberg said.

However, only one of those candidates – former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given millions to San Antonio to assist in its efforts to fight climate change, one of Nirenberg’s signature policy goals.

Last year, the San Antonio City Council accepted an offer of up to $2.5 million in support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg’s foundation.

Nirenberg didn’t deny that he’s been asked for political help from the Bloomberg campaign, which kicked off a Texas bus tour in San Antonio in January. But Bloomberg is far from the only candidate who’s courted his support, he said.

“I’ve been asked by almost every campaign that’s viable right now for an endorsement,” Nirenberg said. “But I’ve informed them all that I’m going to stay out during the primary.”

The Bloomberg campaign bus tour will make stops again in San Antonio on Monday, staffer Victoria Yu told the Rivard Report in an email Friday. While Yu did not address questions about Nirenberg, she spoke about Bloomberg’s record supporting the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and efforts as mayor to make New York a leader in addressing climate change.

“Mike championed progressive issues like climate change long before they were trending, and he will continue to champion progressive issues as president,” Yu said.

The City received the financial support as part of Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge, which San Antonio competed for against municipalities all over the U.S. Bloomberg chose San Antonio along with Austin, Albuquerque, Denver, and Orlando.

But after announcing his campaign last November, Bloomberg has been able to spin his support for mayors into major endorsements. One of the most prominent came from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who insisted that Bloomberg first apologize for promoting “stop and frisk” policing policies as New York mayor that disproportionately targeted black and Latino men.

Bloomberg also has earned endorsements from mayors in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Memphis; Columbia, South Carolina; and San Jose, California, among others. Mayor Steve Adler of Austin – another climate challenge winner – has thrown his support to Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.  

In San Antonio, one use of the Bloomberg money is for paying the salaries of two contractors with the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council who work with the City to implement San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan adopted last October. 

As for whether Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has had any influence on the City’s climate efforts, San Antonio Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said no.

“They have made a very concerted effort to distance the climate challenge as much as possible from [Bloomberg’s campaign],” Melnick said. “The campaign’s the campaign, and this is something completely different.”

San Antonio’s selection for the climate challenge came in January 2019, long before Bloomberg, a financial media mogul who served as New York’s mayor from 2002 to 2013, announced his bid for president. Bloomberg Philanthropies has been heavily involved in funding cities’ efforts to tackle gun violence, improve education and public health, and implement climate change initiatives. The organization donated $767 million to causes around the world in 2018, according to its most recent annual report.

For Nirenberg, an independent serving in a nonpartisan elected office, it makes little political sense to pick sides among more progressive Democratic candidates like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or moderates like Bloomberg or former Vice President Joe Biden. Nirenberg is focused on passing a controversial sales tax proposal to better fund public transit, for which he’ll need support from diverse parts of San Antonio. 

Other prominent San Antonians have made their picks. Spurs Assistant Coach Tim Duncan endorsed Bloomberg. After ending his own presidential campaign, former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro announced their support for Warren in January. Biden earned endorsements from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), among others.

Sanders, who hosted a rally Saturday night in San Antonio, has gotten the least formal support among local politicians, though he earned an endorsement from grassroots group Texas Organizing Project.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.