Councilman Ron Nirenberg (left) and Mayor Ivy Taylor (right) will be entering a runoff election to decide the next San Antonio mayor on June 10th.
Mayor Ivy Taylor (left) and Councilman Ron Nirenberg (right) will be entering a runoff election to decide the next San Antonio mayor on June 10th. Credit: Hannah Whisenant and Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ivy Taylor and District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg will go head to head in a June 10 runoff, separated Saturday night by less than 5,000 votes and 5 percentage points in the general election and vying now for the nearly 20% of the votes that went to 12 other candidates on the crowded and confusing ballot.

With all ballots counted, Taylor has 41,788 votes, 42.01%, while Nirenberg won 36,887 votes, 37.08%. Voters favored Taylor in the early voting, while Nirenberg drew more votes on Saturday.

Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina, whose controversial candidacy was self-funded, was a distant third with 15,049 votes, only 15.13%. Eleven other candidates who did not mount active campaigns drew a total of 5.79%.

Few people outside of Nirenberg’s campaign predicted he would finish as strongly. One factor may have been Taylor’s place on the second page of the electronic ballot.

“This is the moment we planned for, this is a great victory,” Nirenberg said as he arrived at his campaign headquarters. “This campaign has been about a message of a bolder vision for San Antonio, strong leadership. … We don’t need more planning. We need a vision, and we need leadership in the mayor’s office, and this is a clear mandate for that change.”

Taylor came through the doors of the Wyndham Garden Hotel on the River Walk  hand in hand with daughter Morgan, 13, and husband Rodney. Supporters chanted, “Ivy! Ivy!” and “two more years.” Councilman Joe Krier (D9), also in attendance, hugged Taylor in support.

“Well, it’s definitely hard to predict,” Taylor said. “With 14 [candidates] on the ballot and with me being on page two, I’m not surprised, but I think we’re in a very strong position. … I’m ready to continue serving as mayor of San Antonio for two more years. To my supporters, I say come back out on June 10 and let’s do it again and finish this up.”

In a city with nearly 1 million registered voters, only 77,579 voters went to the polls during the early voting period, which ended Tuesday. Far fewer voters, less than 40,000, turned out Saturday on Election Day. (See unofficial Bexar County returns below.) As more and more people choose to vote early, Election Day polls are drawing smaller and smaller percentages of the vote total – less than 30% this election. Yet poll workers staffed 565 city precincts.

In the end, the final vote count reflected less than a 12% turnout of the city’s registered voters.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the city’s record $850 million bond, with all six propositions passing by margins ranging from 67%-79% of voters in favor of the plan. Voters living in the Alamo Colleges districts also voted overwhelmingly to approve the $450 million bond.

Voters were less kind to City Council incumbents.

In District 7, challenger Ana Sandoval stunned incumbent Cris Medina. Sandoval finished with 50.79% of the vote to Medina’s 36.29%. Three other candidates were on the ballot.

Ana Sandoval cheers when she rises above 50% of the vote at Deco Pizzeria during the election.
Ana Sandoval cheers when she rises above 50% of the vote at Deco Pizzeria during the election. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño finished with 48.76% of the vote, not enough to win outright over his main challenger, Michael Montaño, who won 31.45%. Four other candidates accounted for the other 20%.

District 2 City Councilman Alan Warrick also will be in a runoff, winning only 40.86% of the vote while his main challenger, William “Cruz” Shaw, finished second with 28.64%. Keith Toney, who was appointed to the council seat when Taylor first became mayor in July 2014 and then lost in the 2015 election to Warrick, finished third with 23.40%.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran sailed to an easy re-election with 62% of the vote against six challengers. District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña won 78.36% of the vote against two challengers. District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales won 65.78% of the vote against five challengers.

Districts 6, 8, 9, and 10 will all see new members elected to City Council with the four incumbents stepping down. All four races are headed for runoffs.

In District 6, Greg Brockhouse won 36.09% while Melissa Cabello Havrda won 20.57% to get into the runoff by nosing out Ricardo “Rick” Treviño by 28 votes, who finished at 20.24% of the vote. Four other candidates were on the ballot.

In District 8, Cynthia Brehm finished first with 33.38% of the vote over Manny Pelaez with 27.26%. Four other candidates were on the ballot.

In District 9, Marco Barros won 24.68% of votes cast, and John Courage was second with 22.40%. Eight other candidates were on the ballot.

In District 10, Ezra Johnson and Clayton Perry finished neck-and-neck to make it into a runoff. Johnson received 2,733 votes – 18 ahead of Perry with 21.55%. Eight other candidates were on the ballot.

City Council elections seldom generate such drama. One incumbent was unseated Saturday. Two others incumbents were forced into runoffs, and runoffs in four vacant council districts means that at least five of the 10 council members taking office will be new.

But it was the tighter-than-expected mayor’s race that will generate the most political buzz and speculation in the days that follow. Some political watchers said in advance of Saturday that  Taylor might win outright in the general election or might be forced into a runoff by Nirenberg, with neither outcome being a surprise in an age where people distrust polls and their own political instincts.

Yet everyone seemed surprised by the strength of Nirenberg’s performance.

Taylor, Nirenberg, and Medina were the three candidates with visible organizations, campaigns, and the funding to reach eligible voters. Yet Taylor supporters had to scroll through two screens of candidates to even find her name on the electronic ballot. She was listed 12th out of 14 candidates, while Nirenberg was in the fifth position and Medina in the eighth position. The two principal challengers both appeared on the first screen of names.

Ballot placement was determined by a drawing at City Hall, allowing candidates who did nothing more than pay the $75 processing fee to draw a low number and secure a high place on the ballot.

Taylor was first elected in 2009 to City Council as the District 2 representative on the city’s Eastside, a traditionally black stronghold that is now majority Hispanic. She was re-elected in 2011 and 2013. When then-Mayor Julián Castro was tapped by President Obama to become Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, Taylor was elected by her fellow city council members to serve out Castro’s unexpired term.

Taylor took office in July 2014 with the promise that she would not seek a full term as mayor, but she changed her mind and voters supported her run by electing her in a June 2015 runoff election with former State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte.

Taylor became San Antonio’s first elected black mayor, and only the second woman after Lila Cockrell ( 1975-83 and 1989-91) to win the office. Taylor also is the first black mayor in a city with more than 1 million people.

Nirenberg was first elected to represent District 8 on City Council in 2013 and re-elected in 2015. He would have been eligible to serve two more two-years terms, but gave up his seat to challenge Taylor.

This was Medina’s first run for political office in Texas, but his official biography omits a previous unsuccessful run for office in Mexico that was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News, which also documented a decade-long stretch when Medina, a Mexican native and naturalized U.S.  citizen, appeared to live and work in Mexico. Medina disputes the newspaper’s reports, but questions about the veracity of his official biography and allegations of financial mismanagement of party funds became significant issues that dogged him through the campaign.

Mayoral candidate Manuel Medina passes outside his campaign headquarters after receiving only 15.13% of the vote.
Mayoral candidate Manuel Medina leaves his campaign headquarters after receiving only 15.13% of the vote. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Most prominent Latino Democrats in San Antonio have been conspicuously absent from the Medina campaign, which was largely self-funded by the political consultant and Dominion resident.

Medina was gracious in defeat Saturday evening.

“We said we needed a mayor who was independent of special interests. I believed that then, and I believe it today,” he said. “We said we needed a mayor who focused on today. I believed that then and I believe it today.”

Medina said he would continue to fight against the role that special interests play in local government. He also said that longstanding issues of intergenerational poverty on the Westside, Eastside violence, Northside traffic gridlock, and lack of Southside infrastructure must be addressed.

“We didn’t win today, but our issues won today,” Medina added.

He congratulated Taylor and Nirenberg, but declined to make an endorsement.

“I want to thank them for their hard work, for the issues they talked about, and the hard fight and the long days and nights they gave because they love their city, too,” he added.

The Bexar County results below are based on 100% of all precincts counted.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.