FeaturedOpinionWhat are you doing May 4?

Explaining the power behind local government
identicon Soleil GaffnerApril 25, 2019512 min
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Illustration by Genevieve Humphreys

May 4 is the official election day for San Antonio. This election has a lot at stake: each district has two or more candidates and the mayoral seat has a whopping nine. Who knew Ron Nirenberg would have so much competition?

What’s interesting in this mayoral race is the fact that not many residents understand that the mayor’s position doesn’t actually have that much more power than a councilmember, at least not in San Antonio. We have what’s called a “council-manager” form of government, which means that the city manager (another alum, Erik Walsh) holds the position of chief executive officer, albeit unelected. In our current form of government, the mayor can have a vision and plan for our city, but it’s really the city manager who needs to make things happen.

With that in mind, it’s still incredibly important to understand the powerful impact of local government. San Antonio is a big city with close to 1.5 million residents. Alexa Ura, demographics writer for the Texas Tribune, anticipates that this number will keep growing. The mayor and city council are in the position to help San Antonio prepare for that growth rather than be swallowed by it.

One issue that can make or break San Antonio is the future of our transportation system. Our very own university president Danny Anderson has questioned whether Trinity will need so many parking spaces in the next 10, 20 or 30 years. This type of forward thinking has been driving city council to focus on revolutionary ideas that can skyrocket San Antonio’s transportation system into the future. During his two-year term, Nirenberg has tossed around many concepts, from the futuristic light rail to the practical protected lanes for bikes and scooters (newly termed “micromobility”).

ConnectSA is a nonprofit organization formed by Nirenberg and Judge Nelson Wolff that was created to tackle these forward-thinking problems. Some goals they envision are to alleviate congestion, prioritize getting people to employment opportunities, incorporate other mobile networks (think Uber, Lyft, micromobility options) and focusing on sustainability and environmental impact.

These options are simply visions — because the council has yet to decide how ConnectSA will be funded and sustained. Councilmen Clayton Perry and Greg Brockhouse raise logical concerns about the as-of-yet unfunded projects costing over a billion dollars.

It’s important to note that Greg Brockhouse is Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s biggest rival in the 2019 mayoral campaign. Brockhouse doesn’t seem to support ConnectSA’s strategy and implementation but hasn’t released an official plan accounting how he would handle the city’s transportation if he were elected. Meanwhile, Nirenberg has a goal, a team and half-funded plan. The un-funded half is still up for debate.

The future of San Antonio is fully dependent on the people who show up to vote by May 4. Transportation is simply one of the major debates happening at the moment. Mayoral debates between Brockhouse and Nirenberg discussions have covered immigration, crime and safety, property taxes and more. Each of these topics can and will affect our neighbors in San Antonio, whether that be today, in five years or in 20 years.

Bexar County has had a history of low voter turnouts, especially for local elections. It’s estimated that between 10% and 13% of registered voters will cast their ballot this election cycle.

Whether this low voter turnout is due to Easter holiday, Fiesta celebrations, the lack of paid time off or the fact that San Antonio elections are off-year and off-season (as in they take place when there are no presidential elections and in May rather than November), these elections don’t receive nearly enough attention.

I urge you to vote this season. Texas Public Radio put together a comprehensive how-to for early voters that can show you where and what you’re voting on. The Rivard Report has compiled an extensive voter guide on all the candidates that you’ll see on the ballot. You have all the resources at your fingertips. Let’s make a difference.

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Soleil Gaffner

| Class of 2019 | Majors: Communication and Spanish

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