For Teri Castillo, knocking on doors for her City Council runoff campaign has gotten a whole lot easier.

The 29-year-old candidate grew up in District 5, where she and opponent Rudy Lopez advanced to the June 5 runoff out of a field of 11 candidates earlier this month. The two are running for the seat to be vacated next month by four-term Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales.

During most of her campaign Castillo rode the bus to the neighborhoods where she’d go door to door. But a few weeks ago, she got her driver’s license.

“I did all the previous ground game relying on public transportation,” Castillo said. “And during early voting, I got my license. So the only difference in strategy is I will not have to wait 15 minutes for the bus.”

Runoff Candidates

District 1
Roberto Treviño*
Mario Bravo

District 2
Jada Andrews-Sullivan*
Jalen McKee-Rodriguez

District 3
Phyllis Viagran
Tomas Uresti

District 5
Teri Castillo
Rudy Lopez

District 9
John Courage*
Patrick Von Dohlen

*incumbent

Castillo is one of 10 local candidates – in City Council districts 1, 2, 3, 5, and 9 – scrambling to consolidate support and get their voters to the polls. Early voting begins Monday.

Candidates must win a majority of votes – 50% plus one vote – to win a council race outright. That was the case in six of the May 1 contests, including the citywide race that saw Mayor Ron Nirenberg beat second-time challenger Greg Brockhouse. Now, runoff candidates must push to drive turnout even without the mayor’s race or Proposition B, a controversial police accountability measure, on the ballot.

In runoffs like these, every door knocked can make a difference, according to St. Mary’s University political science professor emeritus Henry Flores. Candidates must work to persuade frequent voters who vote in every election, but mobilizing new or infrequent voters is critical.

“When you get down to a City Council district election, it’s generally the people that know you within the district,” Flores said. “They’re going to be friends and neighbors in the areas which you’ve been well known and where you’ve been very active. They’re going to be the people that go to the polls.”

Shoe leather is key in most districts

Castillo is a member of the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and backed by Texas Organizing Project (TOP). She’s got a strong social media presence and national-level endorsements from former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Houston rapper and activist Bun B.

But in an interview this week, Castillo told the San Antonio Report she’d much rather be door-knocking than posting online.

“Having those one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with residents is very important,” Castillo said. “And I much prefer to be at the doors than in a digital space.”

Teri Castillo speaks with Yolanda Aragon with her grandson, Eli, by her side. Castillo went canvassing a specific homes in District 5.
Teri Castillo speaks with District 5 resident Yolanda Aragon while canvassing in the district. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Lopez appears to be consolidating support in the district. Shortly before the May 1 election, he got Gonzales’ endorsement, followed more recently by State Rep. Ina Minjarez, and the San Antonio Express-News.

Like his opponent, Lopez emphasizes his on-the-ground approach to campaigning and deep connection to the district.

“Walking down the different streets of the West Side or South Side, talking to Miss Salazar who lives off of Lubbock Street and doesn’t have sidewalks, does TOP know about that?” Lopez said. “And I hate to say it, but does Bernie Sanders know about that?”

Lopez garnered roughly half the votes Castillo got in the crowded May 1 election – 15% compared to her 31%.

“That also means she didn’t get 70% of the vote,” Lopez said. “That means finding what the issues were for the folks that didn’t vote for Teri. I kind of think that a lot of them probably felt the same way that I do. I don’t think that there was a huge difference between me and the other nine candidates.”

Von Dohlen draws GOP help in District 9

District 5 isn’t the only race where national politics are playing a role in a candidates’ momentum. In District 9, two-term incumbent John Courage is fighting off a third challenge from Patrick Von Dohlen, a conservative firebrand who’s getting a big boost from local Republicans in terms of volunteering and fundraising.

City Council races are nonpartisan. But for Mimi Planas, a volunteer with the Bexar County Republican Party, Von Dohlen represents a “a perfect opportunity to elect another conservative-principled candidate to the City Council,” where nine out of 10 members tend to lean left.

“That’s why you see us keep pushing and pushing, you know, to get volunteers to just to get the word out that there is a runoff election,” Planas said. “And so everything is about get on the boat, you know, volunteers knocking, walking, calling, donating – just doing our best to get the word out.”

Flores, the retired St. Mary’s professor who’s spent decades studying and observing San Antonio politics, thinks that “District 9 could go either way, really.” Von Dohlen appeals to supporters of former President Donald Trump, particularly in the northeastern part of the district, he said.

But “Von Dohlen may be just the opponent Courage needs to get Courage’s people out because Von Dohlen strikes fear into the hearts of progressives,” Flores said.

District 1 candidates go head-to-head

In District 1, one of the most high-profile races this cycle, three-term incumbent Roberto Treviño is facing environmental activist Mario Bravo. Trevino earned 45% in the runoff, with Bravo getting 34%.

For Bravo, honing in on likely voters involved hiring local campaign expert Bert Santibañez, who helped propel Nirenberg’s win in May.

“His thing is targeting likely voters,” Bravo said of Santibañez, including “analyzing the field data and predicting who’s most likely to turn out” down to the voting precinct level, he said.

Trevino’s campaign has also hired another ex-Nirenberg staffer, Ryan Garcia, who parted with the campaign in mid-April.

“I’m getting out there knocking on doors, meeting people,” Treviño said. “I’m getting in front of a lot of chambers, forums. Nothing’s too big, nothing is too small, and I’m just getting everywhere that I can be.”

Moderator and San Antonio Heron journalist, Ben Olivo (left) listens to Robert Treviño (center) as he answers the next question during the in-person debate against his opponent, Mario Bravo. The two City Council hopefuls will face each other again on Election Day on June 5 to determine who will represent District 1.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño (center) answers a question during a debate with challenger Mario Bravo (right). Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Last week, the candidates participated in a whirlwind of debates and forums: Texas Public Radio’s The Source on Monday, a Lavaca Neighborhood Association event on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, a debate at The Cove sponsored by NowCastSA and other local media outlets. On Friday, the candidates did another event sponsored by the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

District 1 is one of the races Flores has followed closely this round. He thinks Treviño is losing momentum. It could be because of recent troubles with neighborhood association leaders, including in Dellview, where Treviño has faced criticism for letting homeless people camp in his field office parking lot.

“Maybe he’s given up the spirit or something,” Flores said of Treviño. “It’s almost like he wants to lose this election.”

But at the the Cove on Wednesday, Treviño’s most impassioned moment came when questioned about homelessness. The event was lively for a San Antonio runoff forum, supporters whooping and clapping as their preferred candidate emphasized their talking points and landed blows in arguments. Treviño’s supporters cheered when he defended his actions.

“I won’t stand for anybody trying to say, ‘You know what, let’s divide the neighborhoods from the people that are homeless,” Treviño said. “Homelessness is not a crime.”

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He serves as the assistant manager of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.