Race for District 1 should be a hot one in San Antonio

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(Part of a series on San Antonio's municipal elections at Concerned Citizens. I updated my original entry to reflect recent information.)

It's time for the municipal elections in San Antonio and 2011 should prove to be interesting. So that brings me to my home district, District 1. This district is where I predict all the fun will be had for the 2011 election cycle. Currently there are four announced candidates for the seat currently held by Mary Alice Cisneros, who terms out in 2011. Not only do I expect this district to be the hottest race in the munis it's also the one I'll be watching most closely since I live in the district. So who are the candidates at this point and what are their backgrounds?Understand that at this early stage it's difficult to get a solid read on any candidate. However some key factors are starting to emerge about the candidates in the race that will probably give indication to their campaign strategies. Before I dive into the candidates you might take a read on a post I did about what I think makes a good D1 councilmember. In the post I try to outline the diversity and challenges any candidate might face running in the district and serving on council. I've also talked about a few issues

Chris Forbrich

Let's start with our returning challenger, Chris Forbrich. Forbrich mounted a pretty aggressive campaign against Cisneros in 2009, attacking the councilmember on a variety of community issues including management options for Market Square and La Villita. In the general election Forbrich was able to garner 39% of the vote but couldn't force Cisneros into a run-off.

Since that election Forbrich has remained in “campaign mode” and probably has the most organized and articulated views of any of the campaigns. In his District Plan he outlines many of his positions on a variety of issues. Some are motherhood and apple pie but others like bringing younger families back into District 1 and developing a San Pedro business corridor are more focused. While this gives Forbrich the early advantage it also might make him the most vulnerable since he has staked his position in the race, inviting targets by the other candidates.

Recently in an article in Plaza de Armas, a new media source in San Antonio, Gilbert Garcia wrote about the possibility of Forbrich garnering endorsement by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, speculating this could help Forbrich in an area where he is struggling – fundraising. I expanded further on Garcia's column by comparing the opportunity to that of Fort Worth Councilmember Joel Burns in an entry called “The Victory Fund Effect.” If Forbrich can gain endorsement by the Victory Fund it could help provide him the necessary resources and organization backing needed for race that is predicted to be extremely competitive.

Ralph Medina

Ralph Medina, the retired SAFD District Chief, has announced his candidacy and has launched his website. Medina is a lifelong resident of District 1 so he should have an understanding of the needs. In the few meetings I've had with him Medina possibly could expand his knowledge a little more on the district's challenges but that should come as he gets out into the community. Medina's service as a San Antonio firefighter and District Chief gives him a good working knowledge of one key element in every campaign – public safety and first response.

But with Medina's period as a firefighter comes another aspect of special interests, one being the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.  This may not be a bad attribute but it does call into question some loyalty aspects. Will Medina be a true representative of the city in any discussions with the firefighter union or the police union?

Medina has started his campaign by enlisting a strong treasurer with Trish DeBerry. DeBerry's experience in several citywide campaigns is valuable and could help Medina in his quest for one of the most diverse districts in the city. I've always had a high respect for DeBerry's marketing insight and can see her putting that insight to work in this campaign.

One thing I did notice when researching this entry was Medina's first blog post. In it he talked about the desire to leverage Microsoft Sharepoint to help gain citizen insight in the district. I admire his initiative on this, as it echoes a goal Mayor Castro set in his mayoral campaign of virtual neighborhoods. It's something I blogged about after the 2009 campaign, detailing some aspects and examples I've found around the nation.

However, I think calling out Sharepoint specifically without a business case is something we in the I/T industry hate. It's a solution looking for a problem. Besides Sharepoint has pretty steep licensing costs depending on the configuration and usage. There are many open source tools in the industry that don't come with these licensing costs. I applaud Medina for his initiative to create connected communities but caution him on his approach. It's something I hope to talk more about with him in person.

Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal is another candidate who has announced his candidacy for the post. Bernal's background is primarily within social work and community advocacy, serving as the staff attorney for MALDEF after graduating from law school at the University of Michigan. Bernal is a lifelong resident of District 1 and is probably the least experienced of the four candidates in terms of tackling the role of councilmember. What impresses me the most about Bernal is his civil rights and community advocacy as well as his active involvement with the arts community of San Antonio. District 1 is the most diverse and arts related district of all the council districts so Bernal connects well with these communities.

Having that connection and support could help Bernal's grassroots campaign and possibly draw away from the others in terms of core voters, especially Forbrich's base. Bernal also could garner core Democratic support through his treasurer Joe Bernal, a longtime Democratic activist and former state senator. Sen. Bernal is highly respected in Democratic circles and could help lock in this support for Diego in a district that has a large Democratic base. But these constituent bases are only part of the dynamics of District 1, which leads to the final candidate in the council race.

Recently Bernal updated his website with a list of issues he feels are important. Most are what I would call standard issues such as improving first response, fixing sidewalks, and working towards affordable housing. However, he does dig a little deeper on a few items such as increasing curb appeal for areas and businesses leading downtown.

Carolyn Kelley

Carolyn Kelley is the final candidate I've seen announce as a candidate for the council seat. Kelley is the newest resident of the District among the field but has probably the most public service experience, having worked on a number of federal issues including recognition by Pres. Clinton for helping simplify the tax system for small businesses. She currently serves as the president of the Tobin Hill Community Association and has worked to help secure funds for neighborhood improvements and other initiatives for the area.

Kelley's most recent city public service has been as District 1 representative on the Zoning Commission. While that has provided Kelley with a connection within city government and to businesses within the district, it doesn't create other much needed connections within the community. However, Kelley does have probably the best business connection with District 1 businesses of all the candidates, possibly garnering her critical funds for her campaign. In my conversations with Kelley, she has a strong desire to listen to the needs but it's difficult to discern her vision for the district in the conversation. That vision is also not articulated on her website so more needs to be revealed to understand her commitment to the district.


So far, these are the only candidates I've seen announced for the race. Others have been rumored but with this strong of a field announced this early it's going to be critical for any others to announce now or expect to chase the field through the election. As you can see this is shaping up to be the most dynamic race of the 2011 municipal elections and rightfully so. Someone asked me today why District 1 would garner this strong of a field. I can only point back to my prior blog entry on the strength and diversity of District 1. Where else in the city could you find such an environment? District 1 truly is the strongest district of the city. It's the heart and soul of San Antonio.

I could start to speculate on how the various groups and factions might line up with the candidates and you can probably get a good sense from my first views; however, it will be critical to watch how the candidates nurture these groups in the coming weeks. Locking in some constituent foundations early on will be key to having the ability to close the race. If a candidate doesn't lock a faction in with this wide of a field, that candidate stands to lose strength down the stretch when key funds and volunteer support will be critical.

From what I understand several of the candidates has been secured for voter forums by neighborhood associations and interest groups. As the race progresses I'll try to keep you informed of what I hear about. I encourage you to get to know these candidates if you're a District 1 resident. All bring great strength to the table but each one has flaws that should be identified. After all, where District 1 goes, in my opinion, so goes the city.


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1 Comment

  1. thanks randy!!!
    excellent posts on SA.

    of course i have picked a side in this race, but it is very interesting to read about the race from an objective perspective.

    i look forward to the upcoming districts you will profile.

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