Councilman Rey Saldaña is deferring his mayoral ambitions for at least two years, opting for a fourth and final term on City Council representing District 4 and the city’s Southside.
Term limits in the City Charter restrict elected officeholders to four, two-year terms. Saldaña was first elected in 2011, and if re-elected in May will be at age 30 one of the most experienced members serving alongside at least four newcomers.
“One day I want to mayor of San Antonio,” Saldaña told the Rivard Report on Friday. “But I’m not an impatient person and I can’t neglect the fact that there’s work to do in my district.”
News of his decision broke Wednesday, ending months of speculation that he was weighing a run against incumbent Mayor Ivy Taylor and fellow Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), who made his challenge official at a Dec. 10 press conference.
Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina, who probably would not have entered the mayor’s, has all but officially declared his candidacy with the naming of a treasurer and in conversations with reporters.
Saldaña said he will focus on his own re-election and “stay out of the endorsement game.”
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“Maybe if it was a different district it would be easier to leave,” Saldaña said, “but I represent a Council district where a majority of calls to my office are from people who can’t afford their (electricity) bills, (and other basic needs). … As soon as you get into this seat you automatically think about the next one — I didn’t want to get trapped in the psychology that many politicians fall into to.”
There’s still work to be done in District 4, which includes some of the lowest income neighborhoods in the City, he said. “It’s important for me to get to finish what I started.”
That work includes greater investment district parks and medical clinics, working to improve the district’s public schools, and continuing to campaign for better public transportation. Saldaña has been the most outspoken Council member in calling for more investment in mass transit and better service to riders.
A challenger has yet to emerge in District 4, but Saldaña expects healthy competition in his and most of the other nine districts. The deadline to file applications for a place on the ballot is Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Councilmen Mike Gallagher (D10), Joe Krier (D9) and Ray Lopez (D6) are leaving the Council next year, and competitive races are expected to develop in at least one or two other districts. One way or the other, the next City Council will have multiple new members.
Saldaña hopes he can “count to six” votes on a number of issues once the dust is settled in May – or June, if there is a runoff election.
Upping San Antonio’s mass transportation game is one goal. A proposal to move about $10 million out of the City’s budget and reallocate it to VIA Metropolitan Transit to enhance bus service citywide was rejected by Council in November with a 6-5 vote. It’s possible that the issue could be raised again before the May election, Saldaña said.
Saldaña, 30, didn’t have the typical “political pedigree” when he ran for office in 2011. District voters surprised many by electing him over established political insider Leticia Cantu.
His strategy was to reach out to populations that didn’t typically vote, Saldaña recalled, the very places where political consultants will tell a candidate not to waste their time block walking.
“People will not vote if you don’t ask them to,” he said.
It also helps that he grew up on the Southside. After graduating from South San Antonio High School, Saldaña won a scholarship to Stanford University, where he earned undergraduate degrees in political science and communications and a graduate degree in policy, organization, and leadership studies. He then moved back home and into his district.
Saldaña wants to continue encouraging young constituents to advance their lives on the Southside without believing feeling they have to move to the Northside or to another city to be successful.
“They want a reason to come back and be in their neighborhoods,” he said. “I could do that work on Council just as effectively as I could in the mayor’s seat.”