On the West Side of San Antonio, a wide-open City Council race may be defined by what voters think the ideal community advocate looks like.
With Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales finishing her fourth and final term, 11 candidates are vying for the open seat and the race likely will proceed to a runoff.
“I think we have to look at community activists there because people know who they are,” said Henry Flores, a professor emeritus of political science at St. Mary’s University. “They’re trying to accomplish things in the community. So they’ve got some name recognition.”
Because none of the candidates in the District 5 race have prominent political ties, they must rely on their neighborhood connections to push them to the top, Flores said.
“A community-based rep with neighborhood associations and community organizations is almost as valuable,” he said. “[There] historically have been a lot of council members that have made their bones on neighborhood associations and community organizations.”
Many of the candidates share similar priorities, such as the economic recovery effort in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and providing more affordable housing in the area. District 5 is the smallest council district geographically, spanning a mere 22 square miles of San Antonio. But it’s also the most densely populated in San Antonio, according to SA2020, as well as the poorest council district, with 32 percent of its population living in poverty in 2018. District 5 had the highest unemployment rate in 2018 at 9%, a problem only exacerbated by the pandemic as thousands lost their jobs.
Candidate Teri Castillo is an urban policy historian and member of the Historic Westside Residents Association. The 29-year-old substitute teacher has lived in District 5 her entire life, she said, and she wants to see investment in affordable housing and home rehab programs.
“I’m running to make sure our public money works for us,” she said during an April 14 candidate forum at a neighborhood business that sold attendees mangonadas, beer, and shaved ice. “Right now, District 5 is experiencing a lot of economic investment. However, it’s being concentrated in the downtown area. Our public money is being used to construct housing that our kids and families cannot afford to live in.”
Castillo has participated in a push by residents of Álazan-Apache Courts against the San Antonio Housing Authority’s evictions in 2019 and protested SAHA’s effort to redevelop the public housing facilities into a mixed-income development. (That was called off in January following many residents’ opposition.)
Castillo had one of the largest fundraising hauls in the race, with almost $14,000 in contributions between Jan. 1 and March 22, according to a campaign finance report filed April 1. She also reported $9,232 in expenditures and $8,783 cash on hand, the most reserves any candidate had left in the race.
Castillo landed endorsements from state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), and various political and labor organizations. She also nabbed an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
Having secured the endorsement of San Antonio Express-News’ editorial board, Norberto “Geremy” Landin saw his candidacy gain wider exposure despite having lived in District 5 for less than three years. Landin moved around the city growing up and moved into the district after graduating from St. Mary’s University with a bachelor’s degree in 2018.
“No matter where you were born and raised in proximity to here in San Antonio, you are a product of something that happened on the West Side,” he said in a January interview.
He wanted to run for City Council after realizing how many people were not aware of services that could help them, he said. He also pledged to improve quality of life in District 5 by focusing on health, transportation, and infrastructure. At 25, he’s the youngest candidate in the race.
Landin most recently worked at the San Antonio South Texas Allergy & Asthma Medical Professionals (STAAMP) as the vice president of operations and business development. He reported the highest amount fundraised on April 1 – more than $15,000. He also reported $17,288 in expenditures and no cash on hand as of March 22.
Among the candidates, only one has held elected office before. Ricardo Moreno is currently a board trustee for the Harlandale Independent School District and also works as an assistant principal at Losoya Middle School. He sees his educational background as a conduit to understanding the community, especially in the past year, he said.
“When it comes to certain things that we’ve been able to experience throughout the pandemic, I’ve had another unique lens,” Moreno said during the candidate forum.
Business owner and social services worker Jason Mata, who runs a youth boxing program in the district, emphasized the importance of tackling generational poverty. Education, job and skills training, and social services must all work in concert to address that, he said.
“We need to get our kids, we need to get our families out of poverty,” he said. “It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up. That’s going to be my No. 1 focus.”
Anthony Gres, who serves as president and CEO of a local fresh fruit and vegetable processor and distributor, agreed and added that giving businesses incentives to set up in District 5 would help employ more residents and lift them out of poverty.
“We need to use federal funding that is already coming in to invest in all these small businesses, to create better jobs, to keep them on here in the district by incentivizing them to hire people from the district like I do,” he said.
And attracting more investment to District 5 requires making the area more “enticing,” realtor Marie Crabb said in another candidate forum April 15, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area.
“We need to look at the basics to create the environment that small businesses will be attracted to,” she said. “I’ve had many people tell me that they want to see boutiques here. They want to see different types of restaurants. Let’s create the environment that drives those businesses to our district.”
Like other candidates, Rudy Lopez acknowledged that more business investment from outside could change District 5 and risk ushering in gentrification.
“Gentrification is going to happen and it’s really important that we get a good handle on it so that it doesn’t affect the culture and the people that have been in the neighborhoods for generations,” said Lopez, president of the Thompson Neighborhood Association, during the League of Women Voters candidate forum. “We’ve also got to work on preserving our legacy businesses within our neighborhoods, the businesses have been here for generations.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Norberto “Geremy” Landin’s education and occupation.