The Trinitonian recently had the opportunity to interview Ron Nirenberg, Trinity alumnus and candidate in San Antonio’s 2017 mayoral election, about Trinity University and his election campaign.
Nirenberg graduated from Trinity University in 1999 with a B.A. in communication before going on to earn his M.A. in communication from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. At Trinity, Nirenberg was on the Trinitonian staff as editor-in-chief. He returned to San Antonio as the general manager of KRTU between 2009 and 2013. Nirenberg was elected the city councilman for San Antonio’s District 8 in June 2013; he was re-elected in 2015 and presently sits on the council.
San Antonio residents will vote for their next mayor on May 6, 2017. Incumbent mayor Ivy Taylor is running for another full term. Nirenberg announced his candidacy December of last year and stands with Manuel Medina, Bexar County Democratic Party chairman, as Taylor’s primary opponents. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Trinitonian: You’re a Trinity alumnus and former Trinitonian staff member — it makes me wonder what you saw in San Antonio as a student here. Are you originally from San Antonio?
Nirenberg: Right. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts. We moved to Austin, Texas, when I was three. When it came time to decide where to go to college, I had three choices: go back to the east coast — which I kind of wanted to do — go to UT-Austin, or go to Trinity, which was not really on my radar until my dad suggested I go check it out.
T: Did your experience in the press help prepare you for politics? Did it spur your interest?
N: One of the first things I did when I stepped foot on campus was walk down to the [Trinitonian] dungeon and ask for an internship. My dream was to be the beat writer for the Red Sox, so I really wanted to get into sports journalism, which I eventually did. My first break came when I got a fill-in football assignment. I got to cover one of the primetime football games and I guess the editor at the time saw talent in me. I became a sports editor my sophomore year, studied abroad my junior year, came back and was a sports columnist. I applied for the editor-in-chief position, got the job and we turned the newspaper around.
It prepared me because, especially as an editor, I was attuned to what was happening in San Antonio. It formulated a lot of my initial impressions of the changing leadership and dynamic of the city.
T: The mayoral election is on May 6. In formulating your campaign strategy, what do you prioritize?
N: Really, it’s about listening to the aspirations of people throughout the community. From neighborhoods in my own district, to offices to CEOs, to soup kitchens at local churches, there are hopes and aspirations that exist in the city of San Antonio that the current leadership is failing. I want San Antonio to be a tier-one, world-class city, in which no matter where you live, you’ll be proud of it and you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I believe that we have all the resources, people and the willpower to make that city. It’s time leadership gets on board.
T: Your first campaign had a slogan: “Meet your neighbors.” What can students and institutions of higher education offer to the city in order to become a better neighbor to San Antonio?
N: I have a deep and abiding belief that if people get outside of the confines of their own lives, homes and offices to meet people across the street or across town, or even consider that people “other” than themselves — and I use the word “other” in quotes — have every right to thrive and to enjoy San Antonio as they do, we would create a better place. It works for local policy and it would work for international policy if we all had the cause and mission of being a better neighbor.
There’s not a greater concentration of intellect and motivation among the next generation, and the people who inspire them, then at the universities of San Antonio. I think it’s extremely important for a place like Trinity to coalesce that energy, burst the Trinity bubble and really reach out to San Antonio and offer your talents. Reach out across the campus and get students to start thinking about the city they live in.
T: The conduct of the press has become a mainstay in national conversation. What role do you think the press has to play in politics, in serving the public, especially at the local level?
N: Well, at every level, there is not a more important institution than the free press. The denigration of the media under the current administration, and really over the last many years, is one of the greatest concerns I think we should have for our democracy. I’m not exaggerating that. I’m a huge believer that if we don’t have an autonomous, independent free press that has the eyes, ears and trust of the public, then we’re in trouble as a country.
It’s one of the reasons why I think we, at the local level, need to do a better job of being transparent. The only place where citizens can readily find out the work of local government, without having to go down to city hall every day, is through local media: through the newspaper, TV, radio and so forth. We know that social media is a great way to spread information, but it lacks the independence and credibility of a legitimate, professional media outlet.
This is also one of the reasons why, as a councilman, my office has strict rules about the media: when they call, we answer. When they ask a question, we answer. When they ask for information, provided that it’s not under some sort of non-disclosure clause, we provide it. I have a general rule that when a member of the media calls, I try not to let them go to voicemail — though I hardly ever live up to that — just to maintain a level of respect. We ensure that we’re providing journalists the latitude they need to tell the story of what’s happening in city government. As a member of the city government, I have a responsibility to provide them that access.
I think we can all agree that there’s a crisis of public confidence in all institutions: public institutions, the private sector, education, certainly government and the media are also part of that. It’s incumbent on all of us to work together to inspire trust again. Part of that as an elected official, with regard to the media, is to provide unfettered access and transparency, even when it’s uncomfortable. We’ve done that for professional outlets here in San Antonio, when they call outside of San Antonio and when they call from the campus press.
T: Would you like to share any closing thoughts?
N: I would, actually. I work a lot with refugees. There’s a huge population in my district. I also do kids’ town halls with students as young as six, seven or eight years old, where I go in and answer questions as I would with Homeowners Association leaders. I come from a civic engagement background, I did work professionally after Trinity in civic engagement. It’s really important for people to know that they have a voice and even a responsibility to be part of their city government. Yes, voting is one way of doing that. It’s extremely important that people vote.
But honestly, if voting were the only way of being involved in your local government, we might as well turn it in now. The reality is that one out of 10 registered voters in San Antonio vote in municipal elections, even fewer than that if you count people in general who are ineligible to vote because they don’t [permanently] live here, because of their immigration status, age or whatever else. It’s really important that we work with young people, regardless of their age and regardless of their residency, to be involved.
I encourage everybody at Trinity to take an interest in this election and be involved one way or another. Their voice is no less important than the retiree’s who’s lived the last several decades here in San Antonio.
Ron Nirenberg will debate Mayor Ivy Taylor and Manuel Medina in Laurie Auditorium, March 6th at 6 p.m.