The City of San Antonio’s efforts to keep politics out of redistricting had been a mostly drama-free affair — until a conservative activist’s home wound up outside the boundaries of one of the city’s last remaining political swing districts.
On Monday, the city’s independent redistricting commission voted unanimously to shut down Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association President Patty Gibbons’ last-ditch effort to stop a proposed City Council map that would move her home out of the district she ran unsuccessfully to represent in 2017.
The decision clears one of the biggest remaining hurdles for the commission seeking to redraw the council districts that will be used in next spring’s municipal elections. No changes were made to the proposed map in Monday’s meeting at the Northwest Senior Center, though map-drawing equipment was brought in to potentially address concerns, including Gibbons’ competing proposal.
“We made significant progress by dealing with what has been a very serious concern from the communities that have come to this meeting,” said Bonnie Prosser Elder, one of Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s two appointees to the committee.
There are still two meetings left to address remaining concerns, including some unresolved conflicts related to changes in District 6. Jordan Ghawi, who represents District 1 on the committee, said he would make a motion to accept the maps in their current form at the next meeting on May 10 if remaining conflicts have not been resolved.
Gibbons and her allies dominated the first half of Monday’s meeting, including written and in-person requests to support her proposed map that kept Greater Harmony Hills in District 9. Gibbons is a self-described conservative who finished fifth in a 2017 race to represent that district, taking 7.42% of the vote.
She went to great lengths to revise the committee’s proposal — including working with a demographer to create an alternative map. Gibbons did not respond to a request for comment Monday night. She did not attend Monday night’s redistricting meeting.
“We’re going to have to recruit some good candidates [to run in District 1],” Dawn Baamonde, a fellow board member of the Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association who fought the changes alongside Gibbons, said in an interview after the meeting. Baamonde arrived at Monday night’s meeting with hundreds of signatures that fellow neighborhood leaders had gathered in support of the proposed map.
Though District 9 leans conservative in national elections, its current council representative is John Courage, who has identified in past campaigns as a Democrat, and plans to seek a fourth and final two-year term when he’s up for reelection next spring.
Gibbons’ precinct, 3063, supported President Joe Biden with 55% of its vote in 2020. It’s one of four precincts in Courage’s district that are slated to move into the much bluer District 1 as part of an effort to redistribute the city’s growing population among its 10 council districts.
San Antonio has grown by more than 100,000 people since the previous census in 2010, and District 9 is among those that must lose residents to keep the districts roughly the same size.
“The ability of Ms. Gibbons to effectively create a kingdom of Greater Harmony Hills allows her to act as though she’s representing quite a sizable voting population. … She is not,” Ann Marie Nikolich, a Whispering Oaks resident, wrote in a statement against Gibbons’ plan that was read aloud at Monday’s meeting.
Gibbons is well-known for her aggressive approach to local politics.
After her unsuccessful council bid, Courage appointed his former political foe to the Zoning Commission, where she fought hard to shield private properties from oversight by the Historic and Design Review Commission. Courage chose not to renew her appointment when it ended in 2021, he told the San Antonio Report, following complaints about her approach from other members of the board.
Gibbons, once the president and CEO of a land surveying and mapping company, then turned her full attention to the redistricting process.
“‘Communities of interest’ is part of the Voting Rights Act, and [under the new maps] we don’t have a community of interest,” Gibbons said of her efforts to stop her neighborhood from being moved to District 1. “We don’t really have a ‘community of interest’ with urban-type living.”
After months of lobbying to keep her neighborhood in District 9 during the public input process, Gibbons’ suggestions were not included in the committee’s proposal due to concerns from the city’s legal team. Comments left on the redistricting website labeled her efforts as racially motivated — something Gibbons says isn’t true.
“We’re getting our heads chopped off, but that’s OK,” Gibbons said of that opposition at a gathering of conservative activists at the Bexar County Republican headquarters last month.
On April 20, leaders from the redistricting commission presented their proposal to the City Council, which praised the plan as an example of how communities can keep the redistricting process from devolving into partisan warfare.
Undeterred, Gibbons went back to work on a new plan, which she used to rally support from the neighborhood and reopen the map-drawing process with the committee.
“Once all the map boundaries got moved all over, then I think this window came open,” Gibbons explained to other conservative activists of her plan to craft the new map. “That’s when we worked with our own demographer and we came up with these two precincts, one in District 9 and one in District 10 [ to move into District 1].”
On the website for the Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association, Gibbons asked neighbors to submit feedback on why they don’t want to be moved to District 1 on a page titled “SAVE US.”
When Gibbons presented her new plan to the commission on April 23, she was surrounded by allies who stood up to make their case for her new map and defend her good intentions.
Gerri Peters, another supporter who serves as Republican precinct chair in 3063, pointedly reminded the audience that she is Hispanic
“We are finally getting a senior center that is necessary for our area and we have a thriving community. Please, allow us to stay where we are,” Peters implored the commission.
Their pleas brought the committee back to the drawing board Monday night.
“I’ve appointed two people from my district that each live on different sides of [U.S. Highway] 281, so I thought, you get slightly different viewpoints,” Courage said of the redistricting commission.
“I told them, you just need to listen to the evidence and make the decision you think is right, because I’m trying to keep the politics out of this,” he said of the decision to hear out Gibbons and her allies.
Still, leaders of the redistricting effort bristled at her approach.
“It’s pretty obvious that Hollis [Grizzard Jr.] and I, as representatives of District 9, have been put in an extremely difficult position in which we must ask our committee, the full committee, to consider two competing and diametrically opposed options,” said Larry Lamborn, one of Courage’s two appointees to the committee.
But that deliberation came to an abrupt halt just moments later when Laura Garza, a representative from District 8, made a motion to take no action on Gibbons’ plan.
Fifteen members of the committee voted in favor of the motion, none voted against.
Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Laura Garza as a representative from District 7. Garza represents District 8.