San Antonio Fire Fighter Association President Chris Steele.
San Antonio Fire Fighter Association President Chris Steele. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Go Vote No campaign on Tuesday released six more audio clips of firefighters union President Chris Steele that further describe his political, social media, and contract negotiation strategies. Two previous recordings illuminated similar goals, but the new recordings outline Steele’s perception of the union’s power locally and statewide.

“There’s no one stronger than us, politically,” Steele said in one of the recordings. “So, [in] 2019, there’s going to be some legislation to take care of contracts, take care of insurance, and some other things that we’re going to pass for us.”

In the 2017 recordings, Steele said the union could use San Antonio’s crime rates to dissuade people from coming to Tricentennial celebrations and make Mayor Ron Nirenberg “bow down” during labor contract talks. Television and social media ads would make Nirenberg “cry uncle,” Steele said, and Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who has worked for the police and fire unions, would “knock him out [as mayor] in May of 2019.” Steele also implied that the union used social media to pressure Fire Chief Charles Hood while on a trip to Phoenix.

“The so-called ‘secret recordings’ are just another attempt by the No campaign to deflect discussion away from the issues,” Steele stated in a news release Tuesday in response. “Don’t be fooled, be focused on the choice at hand: reform City Hall and end corruption and backroom deals, or let the lobbyists and special interest silence your voice and stay in control.”

The Go Vote No camp’s release of the recordings, along with its press conference Monday with Nirenberg and four previous mayors, is part of the group’s final push to connect with voters ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

The San Antonio First (or Vote Yes) campaign “is all about his [Chris Steele’s] agenda,” Go Vote No campaign manager Christian Archer told the Rivard Report. “It’s not about the people or the city. It’s all about Chris Steele’s power.”

In the recording, Steele is heard incorrectly saying that San Antonio has the highest crime rate in the nation. “We’re No. 1.”

“Don’t come to San Antonio for the 300 year because you’re not going to be safe,” Steele said.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus disputes that claim.

“People who live in San Antonio know that it is one of the safest big cities in America,” McManus said in an email to the Rivard Report. “The numbers speak for themselves: violent and property crime is down 17 percent, and to say otherwise is an insult to the hardworking men and women in my department.”

The overall crime rate, according to SAPD and FBI data, has declined by 21 percent since 1995 despite spiking in 1996, 2001, and 2008.

Archer said following Hood and threatening to scare people about the City’s tricentennial celebrations are “blatant attacks on the city.”

“It speaks volumes about how Chris Steele could care less about anything but his own private agenda,” Archer said.

But none of what is said in the recording is necessarily new or surprising information, Brockhouse said in an email to the Rivard Report.

“Everyone knows fire supports me and I support them,” he said. “Every company, nonprofit, or business PAC in this town strategizes for political reasons. This slow drip of recordings is tired already. Let the voters decide on the merits of the propositions and enough already with the manufactured drama to help the Go Vote No campaign.”

The San Antonio Express-News independently obtained the audio from a Fire Department source earlier this week. Archer said he could not identify the source that had recorded and shared the audio with his campaign, but that it was one of many on-duty firefighters who attended Steele’s address believed to have occurred in a firehouse in November or December of last year.

“I’m not going to respond to Chris Steele’s union rhetoric,” Hood said via email. “He’s got a political agenda; I’ve got a fire department to run.”

The San Antonio First campaign for the petitions, which is also known as Approved By Citizens, publicly launched in February 2018. The warring sides have filed lawsuits, ethics complaints, and traded blows at public debates ever since.

Several individuals and businesses have been vocal about their positions on this matter, including Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Monica Alcántara, who released a statement Monday denouncing the propositions and clarifying her party’s involvement with the fire union. Recent Approved By Citizen advertisements touted endorsements from both the Republican and Democratic parties of Bexar County.

“I believe the proposed amendments to our city charter are rooted in a fundamental distrust of our government. They seek to dupe the citizens of San Antonio into ceding even more power over to developers and other special interests by exploiting our natural inclination to make government more accountable to the people,” Alcántara said. “It is my opinion that the proponents of these propositions are engaging in the same Trump-style populist tactics that Democrats are working so hard to fight against.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...