In San Antonio's District 4 it's the new breed vs. the old guard

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

In my continuing review of San Antonio's municipal races I decided to take a look at District 4, currently held by Philip Cortez who will vacate this year due to term limits. The district sits in the southwest area of San Antonio and is sometimes overlooked when considering the future of the city. However, since it's next to the home of Toyota Texas it also could be considered the future when looking at manufacturing job opportunities due to the amount of undeveloped land and transportation access. Most were expecting Cortez's fiancé, Leticia Cantu, to take the seat until Rey Saldaña, a young Stanford graduate, turned in a financial report topping Cantu at the January 15th mark. So did this just become a competitive race and, if so, who are these two candidates?District 4 sits just southwest of downtown along IH-35 heading towards Laredo. Within its boundaries are Lackland AFB, Port San Antonio, and it's adjacent to the Toyota manufacturing plant. It runs to the western edge of San Antonio in the Westover Hills area south of Seaworld. Palo Alto College sits in the southern area of the district and, until the new campus is completed, it also houses Texas A&M-San Antonio. Other than those facilities, the district is primarily residential and small business focused. Probably the most significant aspect is that it contains the largest areas of undeveloped flat land in the city at this point, prime candidates for manufacturing plants and jobs.

It's really the district with the most potential for growth in terms of skilled labor and manufacturing, one of the primary reasons Toyota decided to locate the plant in San Antonio. When jobs transitioned from the shutdown of Kelly AFB some moved to private ventures located in Port San Antonio. It's also the entry point to San Antonio from Mexico through IH-35, offering an opportunity to provide value added services to goods manufactured in Mexico and destined for US and Canadian markets.

Leticia Cantu is one of the candidates vying for Councilman Cortez's seat. Cantu is Cortez's fiancé and served temporarily in his place while he was deployed overseas with the Air Force. However, Cantu has been around City Hall prior to that service, having served on Councilwomen Lourdes Galvan and Mary Alice Cisneros' staff and has worked in Mayor Julian Castro's community office. Cantu has been involved in many projects throughout the city and seems to understand city policy and politics, mostly with neighborhood and constituency issues.

However, when looking at significant efforts in the district there's really nothing that stands out other than helping initiate and work towards passage of San Antonio's ban on texting while driving. There is also question of her path to the candidacy and following the term of her future husband, possibly creating a “dynasty of service” in District 4. In an article by Greg Jefferson in the San Antonio Express-News asked the question “Did she and Cortez ever discuss her interim appointment as a potential building block for a 2011 campaign?” Cantu answered that was not the plan but did aim to accomplish something during her interim term.

Cantu's tenure around City Hall and her close ties to several elected officials, including Mayor Castro, has helped raise her potential with the business community of San Antonio. At a December fundraiser the finance and host committee included almost a who's who of the San Antonio business community. It's no mistake that Fernando Reyes, a key supplier to Toyota Texas, would be her treasurer, bringing in many other business contacts across San Antonio. However, does this closeness also come at a price for District 4?

With this kind of support and experience you would almost immediately give the race to Cantu. Enter Rey Saldaña, an up and coming young Stanford graduate who was born, raised, and currently lives in District 4. Saldaña graduated from South San Antonio High School, was a baseball standout, and received an academic scholarship to attend Stanford University. After earning two degress, one in political science and the other in communications, he completed a fifth year master's degree from Stanford's School of Education.

Instead of carrying those impressive education credentials to some other market, Saldaña returned to San Antonio to focus on public service in his home community. His entry into the District 4 race was noted as early as September when former Express-News reporter Greg Jefferson reviewed the possible candidates in the race. Jefferson noted that many were hoping for a competitive race in the district and not ready to accept Cantu as the “anointed one.”

Still, Cantu's fundraising and business community support seemed insurmountable until the January 15th finance reports came in. In those reports it was Saldaña who had the lead in fundraising by a narrow margin of $87, even after Cantu's big name event in December. As noted by Greg Jefferson at Plaza de Armas (pay wall) much of Saldaña's support came from outside the city, mostly from his Stanford buddies. Cantu's support lists San Antonio residents but mostly outside the district, including some PAC money. That type of list is typically what you would see on an incumbent's report.

Saldaña seems versed on public policy issues including the laundry list every candidate hauls out such better streets and sidewalks, crime prevention, graffiti, and stray dogs. But he also has an eye for more complex policy aspects such as educational funding and programs, understanding the budget of the city (I asked him what he did when not campaigning and he said “go home and read the city's budget”), and looking for creative opportunities to help the district.

Saldaña is weak on business needs and probably needs to reach out to several in the business community such as Toyota, Port San Antonio, and some of the smaller manufacturing interests in that area. It's an area he will need to become stronger in if he wants to be a leader on council. Too often many enter council coming from public service jobs and don't really understand the full aspects of representing a district. Councilman Reed Williams is probably the best example of someone who does present a well rounded council representation, most likely built from his years of business leadership.

So the question really becomes whether District 4 voters are looking at this election as a continuance of Philip Cortez's administration in Cantu or if they are looking for a change with a newcomer like Saldaña. Cantu presents a stable transition of office but probably much more of the same for the district. Saldaña presents a new vision but probably a very rocky start as council member, possibly leaving District 4 out of some discussions in City Hall.

Regardless, this is definitely a race to watch in the San Antonio municipal elections.

Correction: I mistakenly placed the Toyota Manufacturing Plant in District 4 when it is actually across the road from District 4 and resides in District 3. I misread the maps on this. Still, the point is valid that District 4 should be cognizant of the needs of Toyota due to the close proximity of the plant. But I'm the first one to admit a mistake. The blog has been updated to reflect a more accurate position.

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4 Comments

  1. Very nice reporting
    Kudos to Randy for summarizing the D4 race in a manner that's fair and focused on actual issues. I'd disagree with just one small facet of the report: Rey Saldana (truth in advertising: I think well of both candidates but I support Rey) has already been reaching out to San Antonio business leaders, including a number of city hall insiders who won't necessarily take his side publicly. My understanding is that they're very impressed with his willingness to talk and with his knowledge of economic development issues. When he's elected, no bridges will have been burnt and the folks of D4 will have an important seat at the table.

  2. A correction and a comment
    I posted a correction to the entry. I was mistaken on Toyota's location and had put it in the district. It's actually adjacent to the district.

    Michael, thanks for the update. I was wondering if that might have been the case. Rey didn't relay that information to me (probably out of modesty or fairness) so it's good to hear that. Hopefully business leaders will be balanced in their approach to candidates and set aside cronyism for the good of the district. That's a note to those reading in case you didn't pick that up.

  3. I appreciate your taking an interest in the District 4 race; Responding to a few of your points
    I am a resident of District 4, and a big supporter of Leticia Cantu. I appreciate your taking an interest in our race, but would just like to respond to a few of you the points you make. I think it is a mistake to refer negatively to Leticia as “probably much more of the same for the district.” Philip Cortez of course has only served two terms, and is widely liked in the district. I would question whether four years really represents a 'legacy' to be continued, and if it is, I, and presumably a large majority of the rest of the district, wouldn't consider his legacy to be a negative thing. Also, I know for a fact that Leticia's support does not come exclusively from the business community, as your post makes it seem. She is also supported by the first responders unions and a huge number of community residents. I know the Firefighter's Association goes blockwalking with her every weekend. I know Leticia, and know that she has spent a lot of time coming up with original policy ideas that can help the district, so I don't think it's right to present her as just somebody with connections who won't do anything original for the residents.

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