The San Antonio Report, KSAT 12, and Bexar Facts will host a three-day mayoral forum with Mayor Ron Nirenberg and challengers Greg Brockhouse and Denise Gutierrez-Homer answering journalists’ and residents’ questions on separate nights.
The decision to have the candidates appear individually was made by the host organizations after Nirenberg refused several requests to participate in a debate-style event. The forums, parts of which will be aired on live television and parts streamed online, are slated to take place the week of April 12. More details will be announced as they are decided, organizers said.
Early voting for the May 1 election is April 19-27.
Brockhouse, the former District 6 councilman who forced Nirenberg into a runoff in 2019, and Denise Gutierrez-Homer, a businesswoman who unsuccessfully sought the District 2 council seat two years ago, agreed to a debate format.
San Antonio Report Editor Robert Rivard and KSAT Anchor Steve Spriester, who will serve as moderators of the forums, called the mayor this week to try to convince him to take part in a debate. Nirenberg’s campaign manager said last month he would not participate in a “back-and-forth” event format.
“We at KSAT are disappointed that Mayor Nirenberg is choosing not to participate in a debate, but this race is too important to ignore,” Spriester said. “Since a forum seems to be the only option to get the viable candidates to field questions from the KSAT and San Antonio Report teams, I’m excited we are moving forward with that plan, and KSAT looks forward to meaningful conversations on the issues facing everyday San Antonians.”
Rivard said the mayor doesn’t want to “give credence to the Brockhouse campaign that he does not believe is merited. We strongly disagree and believe a debate is always merited, but we respect his right to run his own campaign.”
Gilberto Ocañas, Nirenberg’s chief political consultant and campaign chair, said the forum format allows voters to better understand candidates.
“We don’t think anything productive would come [from a debate],” Ocañas said. “[Brockhouse] doesn’t want a debate, he just wants to smear his opponent.”
While there are 11 other candidates on the ballot, only Brockhouse and Gutierrez-Homer have previous experience as candidates, attracted significant voter support, and are mounting organized campaigns in this race, Rivard said.
“We are proceeding with the second-best option of a forum to promote voter turnout, civic engagement, and a meaningful look at May 1’s most important race,” he said.
The event will take place after the results from the latest Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll are released. The nonpartisan poll will gauge voters’ opinions on a variety of issues, including who they would like to see win the 2021 mayoral election.
“We at Bexar Facts believe that every voter is entitled to a public and productive discussion on policy issues from those who seek to represent them,” said Demonte Alexander, director of external affairs for Bexar Facts. “Many of our residents have voiced their concerns by participating in the development of our latest poll, and we hope to amplify those voices by presenting those issues to each candidate.”
After the forums, a video examining each of the candidates’ positions will be available to KSAT viewers and San Antonio Report readers.
Brockhouse lost by slightly more than 2 percentage points (2,690 votes) in his 2019 challenge of Nirenberg, who was then seeking a second term.
“What we’re seeing is the real Ron Nirenberg now. He thinks he’s better than anyone else, and he’s above being questioned on his record,” Brockhouse said of Nirenberg’s refusal to appear in a debate. “He knows if he stands toe-to-toe with me, he’s going to lose.”
In 2019, Gutierrez-Homer called for a recount in the District 2 election after she came in third behind Keith Toney and Jada Andrews-Sullivan, the eventual winner. Gutierrez-Homer trailed the second-place Andrews-Sullivan by 59 votes in the eight-candidate race. A recount, which Gutierrez-Homer paid for, did not change the results.
“Right now [Nirenberg] does have an opportunity every night to impress the public with his [daily COVID] report,” she said. “We need more than just that. … Because there are so many issues [to discuss], it would have been really nice to actually have the three top candidates debate.”