In a City Council runoff contest that pits two progressive candidates against each other, Roberto Treviño and Mario Bravo have found plenty to disagree about.

For the second time in his political career, District 1 Councilman Treviño finds himself in a runoff as he fights to secure a fourth and final term. 

Bravo, a 45-year-old project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, garnered a solid following that propelled him into a runoff with Treviño. The incumbent received 45% of the vote on May 1 to Bravo’s 34% in a six-candidate field. 

Over the past three weeks, the two have faced off in six debate-style forums. While both are running on promises to continue coronavirus relief and equity efforts, Bravo has seized on the issue of homelessness in District 1 as a way to create space between him and the incumbent.

Addressing homelessness has long been a signature issue for Treviño, who led a nearly two-year effort to purchase a mobile shower unit for people experiencing homessless, among other initiatives. But dissatisfaction over his handling of homeless people at his District 1 field office in Dellview has provided an opening for Bravo to criticize him.

During a separate debate-style forum hosted Friday by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Bravo chided Treviño for allowing homeless people to sleep outside the office while they work with Treviño’s staff to receive outreach services.

About a dozen people experiencing homelessness sleep there on an average night with Treviño’s permission, a District 1 staff member told the San Antonio Report in February. Treviño opposed a possible homeless sweep carried out by San Antonio Police Department officers in February, distressing a Dellview resident who said she’s seen homeless people having sex on the driveway of the office.

“We can’t just say, ‘Oh, you know what? We’re going to allow them to hang out around the district office, and we’re going to run a homeless resource center here in the Dellview neighborhood,'” Bravo said. “What we need to do is follow the strategic homeless plan that the city has, and that’s how we’re going to be effective.”

Treviño fired back, saying that he has been the one coordinating much of the City’s existing strategic homeless efforts and that other offices have copied parts of his approach.

“Every single city council office citywide now has outreach specialists with a background on how to handle this and a way to coordinate with all entities because of what we did,” Treviño said.

While the Dellview Area Neighborhood Association (DANA) isn’t formally endorsing anyone, many Dellview residents are unhappy with Treviño, said DANA President Ernest Salinas. Salinas added DANA is encouraging residents to get out and vote, regardless of which candidate they support.

“As community leaders in our neighborhood, our community asks to keep our area safe and clean,” Salinas told the San Antonio Report on Tuesday. “We can’t do that with the sanctuary city he’s set up [outside] his office there.”

Residents often complain to Salinas that they see homeless people urinating and defecating in the neighborhood, causing property damage, or occasionally even becoming violent, Salinas said.

“Our position has always been to help the homeless – not to dehumanize or criminalize them. We want to help,” he said. “But that location – in the middle of a neighborhood – is not suited for [helping the homeless].”

While Beacon Hill Area Neighborhood Association President Cynthia Spielman agrees with Salinas on the matter, she added Treviño has also done a lot of good for District 1 neighborhoods during his time on City Council.

That includes helping the district’s small businesses recover from the pandemic and protecting historic neighborhoods against rezoning efforts, she said.

“He’s worked hard to keep some stuff from being built in our neighborhoods,” she said. “He made sure to get neighborhood voices in.”

In his battle to hold onto his council seat, Treviño has stepped up his efforts to reach out to voters, work that is continuing during the early voting period, which began Monday. His campaign is holding a get-out-the-vote rally Saturday to launch a round of block-walking.

Bravo, meanwhile, hired a local campaign expert who worked on Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s reelection campaign to help him target voters likely to turn out for the runoff.

During a candidate forum at The Cove last week, Bravo blasted his opponent for not pressing for more property tax reforms, noting that Treviño is chair of the board of directors for Bexar County Appraisal District (BCAD).

“We need to stop taxing people out of their homes,” Bravo said during the forum. “Councilman Treviño is … the chair of the board that decides on our valuations and when we set a new appraisal.”

However, Treviño pointed out that he has no power to set valuations, saying Bravo is purposely misleading voters. While an appraisal district’s board hires the chief appraiser and sets the budget, it doesn’t have authority to set values or determine appraisal methods.

“The board does not set values, and it’s a state agency,” Treviño told the San Antonio Report on Friday. “I’ve been advocating for the community at the state level specifically on this issue for the last seven years … which is why I have a good working relationship with state Rep. Diego Bernal, who has taken this stuff to the state [Legislature]. … This is about understanding what the City Council does and does not do.”

For his part, Bravo has stated that if he elected he would make sure District 1 residents were informed about how to file for homestead exemptions to keep rising tax bills in check.

Early voting in the runoffs is underway through Tuesday, June 1. Polls are closed on May 30 and 31. Election day is Saturday, June 5, and polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Find early voting hours here.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.