Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) embraces with San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) embraces San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele in April 2018. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The firefighters union is putting its full force behind District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse’s bid for mayor, union President Chris Steele wrote in a letter to members, and will be staying out of other City Council races.

“Defeating an incumbent Mayor is a near impossibility,” Steele wrote. “Therefore: 1. We are not going to get involved in ANY [other] city council races. Our focus must be on the Mayor’s race on-line. 2. If we work this race similar to the charter VoteYES campaign, Greg will win hands down. 3. When Greg wins, we can rest knowing that our #1 city leader cares about the safety of the citizens.”

Two of the three union-backed propositions were approved in November that limited pay and tenure for city managers and granted the union unilateral impasse declaration rights with binding arbitration in labor contract negotiations. But Steele said the union faces a tougher battle getting voters to support Brockhouse.

“We will need ALL the firefighters to man the polls…,” wrote Steele. The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association union had firefighters and other representatives near most polling locations during early voting and on Election Day in November. “I am not going to ‘sugar coat’ this. The ask ‘To vote for Greg Brockhouse’ is much more difficult to win, than the ask [in support of the propositions].”

It’s more difficult, he told the Rivard Report Monday night, because politicians in general are a tougher sell than the issues that propositions A, B, and C addressed.

“When you poll any and every politician versus a firefighter — firefighters are number one in credibility …. and respect over any occupation,” Steele said. A voter might like Brockhouse, for instance, but “hate Chick-fil-A.”

The union has been aggressively advertising on Facebook on Brockhouse’s behalf. It’s not yet clear how much its political action committee will raise and spend on the mayoral campaign this season, but it would need to be a substantial amount to fill the gap between the roughly $152,000 that Nirenberg has raised compared to Brockhouse’s $51,000 – as reported in their most recent campaign finance reports.

Steele said the union PAC had not set a fundraising goal, and it remains to be seen if it will buy television and print advertising.

Nirenberg ousted an incumbent, first-term Mayor Ivy Taylor, two years ago after entering the last month of the race with roughly half the amount of funding Taylor had on hand. That race sent them into a runoff.

“There’s absolutely nothing surprising here,” Brockhouse said Monday evening. He had not seen the letter until the Rivard Report sent him an excerpt, he said. There are strict rules prohibiting contact between political action campaigns and candidates. “Firefighters support me and I support them. I don’t run from that. … Ron has a boatload of supporters and they’re going to rally, too.”

During a candidate debate last week, Nirenberg said Brockhouse’s support lies only with union “political hacks” and not with the general membership of the union. Both police and fire unions have endorsed Brockhouse.

But firefighters and police officers and their families who show up to poll sites, Brockhouse said, not just union officials.

“The union head’s latest statement proves yet again that Councilman Brockhouse doesn’t pull his own strings,” Kelton Morgan, Nirenberg’s campaign manager, said via text. “The union is doubling down on the $478,000 they put in Councilman Brockhouse’s pocket before he became a councilman by being the sole source of financial and political support of Councilman Brockhouse’s mayoral campaign.”

Firefighters, police, and pension unions paid Brockhouse through PACs for marketing and political consulting work he did over two years starting in 2014.

Brockhouse said he dropped the unions as clients before he announced he was running to represent District 6, and describing it as a payoff is a gross mischaracterization, he added.

“I have marketing and advertising fees, I put billboards up, I build websites for their public outreach,” Brockhouse said during a live mayoral debate on Texas Public Radio Monday afternoon. “[A small-business owner] would understand that you have income in and expenses out.”

Meanwhile, the union continues its negotiations with the City on a labor contract. The years-long wait for a new contract has been marked by political battles, lawsuits, and appeals. The union declined all invitations from City officials to negotiate until Brockhouse sent an open letter to the union calling for talks to begin after the November election and the City dropped a lawsuit against the current contracts 10-year evergreen clause.

“I’m the only person [the public safety unions] trust in City Hall,” Brockhouse said during the broadcast. “My commitment to the citizens of San Antonio is: They will be first in the conversation.”

Steele wrote in his letter that the City “has not been bargaining in good faith.” The two sides have met 10 times over the past few months and don’t seem any closer to a deal than before, but not for lack of effort.

“We are prepared to go the distance,” Steele wrote. “We are prepared to make sure our members have the best opportunity to receive the wages, benefits, and working conditions they deserve.”

Early voting runs April 22 through April 30. Election day is May 4.

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...