District 2 challenger Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and District 5 candidate Teri Castillo won their runoff races Saturday, adding two young, progressive voices to the San Antonio City Council on Saturday as District 1’s Roberto Treviño lost his bid for a fourth term.
McKee-Rodriguez, a 26-year-old teacher, defeated the woman he used to work for, Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), who was seeking a second term. He will be the first openly gay man to serve on City Council; the first openly gay person to serve on City Council was Elena Guajardo (D7), who was elected in 2005.
“People said District 2 wasn’t going to be ready for an openly gay man to represent them, and we proved that they are,” McKee-Rodriguez said.
Castillo, a 29-year-old urban historian and substitute teacher, outpaced retiree Rudy Lopez in early vote results and held her lead through the rest of Saturday night. She and McKee-Rodriguez both ran on progressive platforms and were endorsed by the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, and the San Antonio chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Castillo cited housing affordability as one of her campaign priorities and said in May that she wanted to ensure “that our public money works for us.”
“Right now, the City of San Antonio and many other cities throughout the nation are in the midst of multiple crises: an economic crises, an environmental crisis, and a housing crisis, all coupled with COVID-19,” she said Saturday night. “And District 5 in San Antonio has an opportunity and duty to lead the nation by creating green union jobs, by decarbonizing, and retrofitting our homes. And what that looks like is investing in programs that already exists but are severely underfunded. It’ll create well-paying jobs, it’ll preserve our existing affordable housing stock, and it minimizes our carbon emissions footprint.”
Castillo will find another colleague who prioritizes environmental issues in newcomer Mario Bravo, an Environmental Defense Fund project manager who defeated Treviño.
Districts 3 and 5 had no incumbents running. Phyllis Viagran, sister of District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, claimed victory Saturday night with nearly 60% of the vote. She faced Tomas Uresti, another familiar political name, in the runoff.
The five runoffs followed a first round of voting on May 1 in which Mayor Ron Nirenberg secured a third term, and incumbents Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), Ana Sandoval (D7), Manny Pelaez (D8), and Clayton Perry (D10) won reelection.
Fighting for a final term, Treviño trailed early Saturday evening when early vote totals were announced and was not able to close the gap on his challenger. Bravo claimed 54% of the vote, defeating the incumbent by 539 votes in unofficial results.
Bravo said Saturday that he “slept really well the last couple of nights.”
“We worked hard, we did everything that we could, we encountered obstacles that weren’t anticipated, but we kept our head down and worked,” Bravo said. “A lot of the establishment piled up against us. A lot of people were endorsing Treviño without even interviewing me, and a lot of people made decisions without even knowing who I am or what I stand for. But at the end of the day, the community was with us. This is my hometown. I love this city; it’s a great city. I want to make it even greater.”
Over the past four weeks, Treviño and Bravo faced off in several debate-style forums, with Bravo criticizing Treviño’s approach to dealing with property taxes, homelessness in District 1, and CPS Energy.
Treviño, 50, raised nearly twice as much as 45-year-old Bravo in the month leading up to the June runoff, with $63,190 to Bravo’s $35,190. But Bravo nearly matched his expenditures in the same time period. He spent $45,077 while Treviño spent $48,214.
“I’m a little surprised,” Treviño said Saturday. “We knew it was gonna be a close race. I thought we did well at the debates. We drew a clear distinction between our campaign and Mario’s.”
Both candidates ran on promises to continue local coronavirus relief and equity efforts. Bravo criticized the incumbent’s approach to handling people experiencing homelessness in the district, particularly in the Dellview neighborhood.
Treviño’s key role in the Alamo redevelopment plan has also been controversial. A fierce advocate for the Cenotaph’s relocation, Treviño was removed from two key Alamo committees in March as city and state officials agreed to move forward with a revised plan. Treviño also backed Proposition B, a proposal that other Council members remained neutral on. (Bravo also said he was neutral on Prop B, which ultimately failed in May.)
With all the votes in, McKee-Rodriguez led Andrews-Sullivan with 63% of the vote, 2,961 to 1,731.
McKee-Rodriguez will be District 2’s seventh City Council representative since 2014. On the campaign trail, Andrews-Sullivan, 45, spotlighted that turnover as a core part of her candidacy as she advocated for consistency in district representation.
After early vote results were posted, Andrews-Sullivan texted media members Saturday night: “We did our best for our community, and we’re thankful for the opportunity.”
Taking a break from dancing with supporters later at Smoke BBQ + Skybar, she said, “We were just here to do the work, as long as we were allowed to do the work. And whatever happens after that – who knows? We might have a run for Congress, we might run for state [office]. God only knows.”
Rose Hill, president of Government Hill Alliance, supported Andrews-Sullivan in the runoff. She hopes that the work in affordable housing and district communication that she and other neighborhood leaders have done over the past two years can continue under McKee-Rodriguez.
“She was able to bring together neighborhood leaders,” Hill said of Andrews-Sullivan. “I want to congratulate [McKee-Rodriguez]. I will bring the [neighborhood association] presidents together and we will move forward. It’s all for the betterment of our community … not politics.”
At his election night watch party Saturday, McKee-Rodriguez said he was excited to see such a large margin in the District 2 race.
“What I know about District 2 is that there’s an abundance of talent, there’s an abundance of leadership,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “That’s why every year there’s a number of candidates that the community will rally behind. And that makes it so that District 2 doesn’t have to settle. … And I expect the district to continue to hold me to a high standard, and I’m going to work to meet that standard.”
McKee-Rodriguez spent more than $22,000 in the month leading up to the runoff election, compared to the more than $35,000 Andrews-Sullivan’s campaign spent. Andrews-Sullivan raised three times as much as McKee-Rodriguez did in the same time period.
McKee-Rodriguez had drawn strong support in the May election, leading a 12-candidate field on May 1 with 26% of the vote. He received 819 more votes than Andrews-Sullivan, who was second with 17%.
Andrews-Sullivan was first elected in 2019 with 52% of the vote against challenger Keith Toney.
McKee-Rodriguez worked on Andrews-Sullivan’s campaign and served in her Council office as communications director until he resigned in December that year. He filed a complaint with the City accusing her chief of staff, Lou Miller, of discrimination and harassment. The complaint was investigated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but no action was taken against Miller.
In District 3, a race between two candidates of political dynasties ended with 48-year-old Phyllis Viagran taking 60% of the vote total and Tomas Uresti claiming 40% in unofficial results.
Viagran said Saturday before 9 p.m. that Uresti had called her to concede. She added she was surprised to see how strong the turnout for her was during the early vote.
“I knew we could get it in early vote,” she said. “I did not expect it to be that large in early vote, but all the hard work definitely paid off for that early vote: the block walking, the mailers, we talked to the voters. We finally got to do in-person forums, televised forums. … I think we really got our message out there, and people really understood what was stake. I think what they really wanted to see was someone [who] understood the issues.”
Uresti said that he respected the voters’ decision on Saturday night and wished Viagran luck on City Council. He also said he was impressed by the positive tone on the campaign trail.
“This is the first race I’ve been involved in the past 30 years where there was no mudslinging from either side,” Uresti said. “And even the initial 12 candidates that were in here, nobody did any mudslinging. But for us to not go negative in any way was a plus and not something that we see too often.”
Viagran campaigned on the assurance that she had formed strong relationships with council members and understood the City Council system enough to do the job. Her sister is finishing her fourth term, the maximum allowed under San Antonio’s city charter.
Uresti has served on the Harlandale Independent School Board as well as one term in the Texas House of Representatives. His brother Albert is the Bexar County tax assessor-collector, and his brother Carlos, a former state senator, is currently serving federal prison time for multiple fraud-related felonies.
Viagran raised three times money as much as Uresti did and outspent him two-to-one the last month of the campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance reports covering April 22 to May 26.
Castillo claimed District 5’s open council seat with 58% of the vote. Lopez, who serves as the president of the Thompson Neighborhood Association, trailed with 43%, 656 votes behind.
Castillo led the May election with 31% of the vote, and Lopez made the runoff with 15% of the vote in an 11-candidate field. Lopez outraised and outspent Castillo three-to-one in the most recent campaign finance reports that covered the period between April 22 and May 26.
Lopez scooped up key local endorsements on his way to the runoff, including outgoing District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who is finishing her fourth and final term on the Council, and state Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio). Castillo had the support of former Mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and his brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio), as well as their mother and longtime activist Rosie Castro.
Lopez said Saturday night that he remained committed to working for his community as a resident and as the president of his neighborhood association.
“At the end of the day, I think that my opponent and I have the same thing in common and that’s the interest of our community,” he said. “And I know that she’s gonna do the best to get what we need in our community and I’m not giving up. I’m working on my community too.”
John Courage defeated Patrick Von Dohlen, a financial advisor, to win a third term in District 9, claiming 54% of the vote, or 9,895 votes. Von Dohlen, in his third City Council campaign, garnered 8,476 votes.
Courage relied on a reputation for reliable constituent services, which had earned him the support of many neighborhood groups. He also eschewed positions on controversial issues like Proposition B, which would have done away with collective bargaining rights for San Antonio’s police union. The measure was defeated in May.
“I’m not coming in with any agenda,” Courage said at his election night watch party Saturday. “My agenda is the people’s agenda.”
Von Dohlen took strong stances on culture-war issues, emphasizing his opposition to the removal of a Christopher Columbus statue downtown and City and County orders in the early weeks of the pandemic to temporarily prohibit in-person religious services.
After making the runoff, Von Dohlen raised nearly $18,000 more than Courage did in the last month leading up to the election and spent $31,000 more. Von Dohlen got support from Bexar County Republicans in get-out-the-vote efforts, but it wasn’t enough.
“I am grateful for all of the incredible, widespread support of so many great people,” Von Dohlen said Saturday night.
Lindsey Carnett, Waylon Cunningham, Iris Dimmick, and Nick Wagner contributed reporting.