What makes a good District 1 council member?

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(Part of a series on San Antonio's municipal elections at Concerned Citizens)

We haven't even gotten through the 2010 election cycle and candidates for the 2011 municipal election are already jockeying for position, especially in District 1. In 2011 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros will be vacating her office due to term limits (she was not covered by the term limit extensions) and a field is already developing to run for her office. Greg Jefferson, columnist with the San Antonio Express-News, detailed some of the early political moves by District 1 candidates. It a good read and he's a lot more cued in on the race than I am so I'll leave any candidate analysis to him at this point. But a big question in mind is what would make a good District 1 candidate?District 1 is probably one of the most interesting districts in all of the ten city council districts in San Antonio. Stretching from Loop 410 down to just south of Southtown and running from Fredericksbug to McCullough it covers the core geographic area of San Antonio. It also is one of the most diverse districts in terms of economic, ethnic, cultural and business interests. It takes a flexible and dynamic person to truly represent this district properly.

The district holds some of the most expensive and historic homes in San Antonio in the Monte Vista and King William neighborhoods as well as some of the poorest on the westside. It also contains some of the early suburban expansion areas north of Hildebrand all the way to Loop 410. Probably the most dynamic neighborhood of the district is the urban core which is experiencing a revival thanks to the work of Mayor Castro and urban developers, including the newly rezoned River North area straddling the new Museum Reach of the San Antonio River.

Understanding the development needs of these residential areas is a critical factor for any candidate or council member in District 1. The infrastructure needed to rebuild the urban core is probably one of the most critical needs for the area. River North is an area that has been neglected in the past and left to a hodge podge of warehouses, older homes, and small businesses. With the rezoning of the area to form based codes, street and pedestrian infrastructure will be necessary to help meet the needs of development.

It has a thriving art and theater community in various areas with a large concentration in Southtown, home to the First Friday Art Walk. Recently the Tobin Foundation committed $15 million for renovation of Municipal Auditorium into a new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Coupled with the Majestic Theater, McCombs Theater, and Aztec Theater it will help expand performing arts in the city's urban core and increase the cultural offerings in San Antonio.

The majority of the city's GLBT community as well as nightclubs reside in the district. Both of the city's gay pride celebrations take part in the district. A council member must be able to address this diversity of these communities and understand their needs for funding or tolerance, something that seemed lacking in prior administrations. Having a candidate who would meet regularly with and participate in the activities of these communities could show progress for the city.

District 1 is also home to the governmental and business districts of San Antonio with both city and county governments headquartered in its downtown section. Frost Bank, HEB, San Antonio Credit Union, AT&T, and many other major businesses as well as many of San Antonio's major law firms are located in the district, giving it the most diverse business culture of the city.

Any candidate or office holder in the area must be able to meet with and help address the challenging needs of business in an area that must balance business growth with historic and cultural preservation. Sometimes these two factors clash so mediation and compromise are needed to help foster integration between the two. Having that skill can help build a district that could serve as a role model for all urban growth in Texas and the U.S.

It is also the home of many of the cities most historical structures. In the downtown area are two of the states most visited tourist attractions in the Alamo and Riverwalk. The King William Historic District has some of the oldest and most majestic homes in San Antonio with an ever increasing tourist traffic walking through the district. It is also home to the offices of the San Antonio Conservation Society as well as many of the Society's property holdings.

A person with an understanding of the historic asset San Antonio has can help grow San Antonio as a historic and preservationist destination for Texans and others. Recognizing the care and dignity that many of our city's historic sites and structures require is almost a must for the holder of the District 1 seat on council. Championing those needs and causes with the rest of council can help increase San Antonio's attraction worldwide, both for tourists and for business.

Finally, it holds an ethnic and economic cross-section that is wider than any other part of the city. Being cognizant of those groups and their needs will be a crucial skill of a District 1 council member. Understanding how to bring these groups together to help grow as one district could change the face of the district in many ways. This is probably the toughest challenge of any council member in the district but could also serve as the greatest accomplishment of the member during their tenure on council.

I have only had the opportunity to meet one of the potential candidates for District 1, Chris Forbrich. Until this year, I was more focused on District 8 where I lived. Now as a resident of District 1 I plan to find out more about the other possible candidates to see how well they understand the needs of the district. With such a diverse and dynamic district, it really needs a candidate with strong skills to help it grow and thrive in the seventh largest city in the nation.


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