City Councilman Cris Medina (D7) has a target on his back. The three-term representative faces four challengers for his seat in the May 6 election yet he doesn’t plan to add his name to the short list of incumbents not re-elected.

Medina, 37, expects to serve a fourth term before stepping aside as the City Charter mandates.

But his two most formidable challengers in District 7 include a former staffer and a candidate running with the blessing of San Antonio political activist Rosie Castro, mother of former San Antonio mayor and HUD Secretary Julián and U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-20).

Michele Dalbis-Robledo, 58, is a neighborhood activist who campaigned for Medina and worked in his office. Ana Sandoval, 42, is an engineer and public health scientist who went to Jefferson High School with the Castro twins. Joining them on the ballot are Alfredo Esparza Colunga, 74, a retired civil rights activist, and Marco Reyes, 43, a teacher with a doctorate in education.

San Antonio's District 7 lines in 2017.
San Antonio’s District 7 lines in 2017. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

The sliver of San Antonio that makes up District 7 stretches from the shores of Woodlawn Lake, through the Jefferson neighborhood, bordered roughly by Fredericksburg Road on the northeast and Culebra and Callaghan roads on the southwest below Loop 410.

Once it moves past Loop 410 the district straddles Bandera Road. Fast food joints and strip centers greet those passing through Leon Valley which lies, maybe not in the heart, but more like in the right lung of the district. Eventually the smaller shops give way to trees, big box retail, and the master-planned neighborhoods that helped fuel the growth of the Northside Independent School District. A tiny wedge continues up Braun Road, past Loop 1604.

District 7 could be viewed as two distinct districts. Inside Loop 410 much of the infrastructure is more than 50-years-old. There are post-World War II neighborhoods, well-kept, next to 1970s-era homes. Curbs and sidewalks are sporadic depending on where you are and drainage problems are not uncommon.

Outside Loop 410, master-planned communities and homeowners associations have helped to ensure there are sidewalks and streets with curbs in most of the neighborhoods. In each part of the district the issues are infrastructure, traffic, and a desire to be heard at City Hall.

Medina, who has the endorsement of police and firefighter organizations, said it’s important he comes back for a fourth term as several Council members have reached term limits.

Cris Medina (7)
District 7 Councilman Cris Medina. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“It would set our district back if we’re not allowed to return for a fourth and final term,” he said. “Experience does matter. We’re not going to be as deep on the Council. We’re going to lose some good members and we need experience in District 7.”

While Dalbis-Robledo has never held an elected position, she did apply to fill Medina’s seat in 2014 when he had to take a two-month leave to fulfill an Air Force Reserve obligation. She also worked on his staff and through that experience saw better ways to work with constituents.

District 7 candidate Michele Dalbis-Robledo.
District 7 candidate Michele Dalbis-Robledo. Credit: Courtesy / Dalbis-Robledo campaign

“You can be part of the cure or part of the problem. My father said that to me,” she said. “I vote. I’m active in my community. When I moved to Braun Station 25 years ago, there was a zoning issue. I cut my teeth on zoning issues.”

Now she chews through them serving as president of the Braun Station East Community Improvement District. She also was a board member and president of Braun Station West.

“I know we have issues in our district and most of them are quality of life issues,” Dalbis-Robledo said, “but I don’t think that they’re being heard.”

Neither does Sandoval. She has worked for government agencies for 10 years after graduating with degrees from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México.

District 7 candidate Ana Sandoval. Credit: Courtesy / Sandoval campaign

“I have seen people screw things up in other places, and I’ve seen what’s worked in other places,” Sandoval said. “They might not work for our population but my mind is open.”

One of her jobs was developing a public participation plan for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco. She said District 7 is flush with eager participants – it just needs leadership to help direct them.

“We’re shortchanging our community of all that energy I see from people who are active and wanting to do something,” Sandoval said. “We need a representative at the helm who is going to be thoughtful about that. I feel our voice isn’t being heard in District 7 and our community deserves better.”

Medina is aware of the criticism about his responsiveness but he shrugs it off as the rhetoric of the campaign season.

“These folks come out of nowhere and put their name on a ballot and make accusations, and I literally have read almost every single piece about the races,” he said. “The incumbent doesn’t return calls. They’re out of touch. I think that shows how out of touch my opponents are. We return phone calls. I give people my personal cell phone number.”

Medina responded for this story after four voicemails on his cell phone and a call to his communication director.

“The most enduring and most important thing folks need to remember about District 7 is that I’m very committed to my neighborhoods and very committed to doing the people’s work,” he said. His Facebook feed is flush with photos and updates from campaign appearances and forums.

On the quieter side of the District 7 race are Reyes and Colunga. Reyes, who grew up mostly on the Northside, moved into the district nearly two years ago.

“I know that’s not comparable to running a large city, but I think I can fill the position,” he said.

Colunga has three planks in his platform:

  1. Protect senior citizens from the City, which wants to take their homes through aggressive and oppressive code enforcement.
  2. Take on Child Protective Services. “I feel that the system is rotten and I feel there is something that can be done for these children and these young adults.”
  3. The environment. “If you go down on Martin Street and there’s a river on Martin and Trinity streets and there’s nothing but old tires and baby cribs … The City doesn’t see that? Why is that on the Westside? You don’t see that on the Northside. It’s the same city.”

While Colunga says the “city is rigged” because it has “booted whoever doesn’t agree with the system,” he wants to be part of that system to fix it from the inside out.

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Sean M. Wood

Sean M. Wood spent 19 years as a print journalist, 17 of those as a business writer, before leaving to make a living. He still has a storytelling itch that needs scratching.