Brockhouse and Nirenberg Trade Blows at Volatile KSAT-12 Debate

Nirenberg and Brockhouse debate each other Monday night. (Photo Credit:  GA Media Productions )

Nirenberg and Brockhouse debate each other Monday night. (Photo Credit: GA Media Productions)

April 8, 2019 - Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center (North SA)

By: Jonathan Guajardo - Editor, San Antonio Sentinel

Mayoral debates in San Antonio have always been a sight to behold. Every two years, a group of candidates rise to the forefront of our city and, over the course of several weeks, duke it out over issues ranging from transportation, housing, crime and of course the ever present topic of who loves the Spurs the most. However, this election cycle has been one of the most hotly contested in recent memory, and Monday evening’s debate at the state of the art Phil Hardberger Urban Ecology Center seemed to encapsulate the rabid spirit of the 2019 mayoral campaigning season with District 6 Councilman Brockhouse and Mayor Ron Nirenberg trading blows like two prizefighters in the hunt for the world title.

Organized by Northside Neighborhoods for Organized Development and hosted by KSAT-12’s personable anchor, Steve Spriester, the debate was streamed live to KSAT.com and featured comments from live audience members as well as online commenters. While potential voters from all ages and walks of life filed into the eco-friendly meeting space, the two candidates made their way around the room shaking the hands of concerned citizens and greeting the organizers of the event, but never coming close to one another.

Eventually Spriester called the meeting to order and introduced the two competitors and, like the flick of a match, the forum flared up with heated oratory and incendiary statements from both candidates. Brockhouse and Nirenberg opened the evening with broad statements about how San Antonio is either advancing or falling behind. “San Antonio is thriving,” “our economy is booming,” stated the incumbent Nirenberg. “The crime rate is the highest of the top 15 cities in the nation,” “we’ve had the worst job creation in the last 10 years,” retorted candidate Brockhouse.

Steve Spriester moderates the debate. (Photo Credit:  GA Media Productions )

Steve Spriester moderates the debate. (Photo Credit: GA Media Productions)

Continuing on the topic of crime rates, Nirenberg stated, “We have since made the greatest turnaround in two years and saying otherwise is an affront to the truth and it’s an insult to the men and women who are on the front lines wearing the uniform who should be credited with that work.” Brockhouse responded by teasing, “As you can tell, Ron gets angry when you disagree with him,” which led to the mayor interrupting the councilman’s statement and sharply interjecting with, “I get angry when you lie!” The crowd whispered amongst themselves, marveling at the rapid escalation of the night’s discussion. Calmly denying that his facts were false, Brockhouse then said that Nirenberg’s facts were from 2018 and therefore not up to date. He ended his declaration by maintaining that, “Ron’s path, I just think is wrong, and that failed leadership is hurting all of us.” Nirenberg then retorted by leveling more statistics buoying his aforementioned statements.

Nirenberg debates Brockhouse. (Photo Credit:  GA Media Productions )

Nirenberg debates Brockhouse. (Photo Credit: GA Media Productions)

You’re not endorsed by the police officers, you’re endorsed by the union political hacks.
— Ron Nirenberg on Brockhouse's SA Police Officers Association endorsement

Brockhouse would go on to state that he intends to tackle the crime issue and that he has the endorsement of the city’s police officers to which Nirenberg, again interrupting Brockhouse’s statement, declared, “You’re not endorsed by the police officers, you’re endorsed by the union political hacks!” Applause rang out in some parts of the room while murmurs and soft boos came from other sides, echoing the various points of view held by those in attendance.

The Sentinel analyzed facts from a variety of sources including the San Antonio Police Department and the San Antonio Express-News and found some truth in both of the candidates statements. In an Express-News article by Emilie Eaton on September 25, 2018, Brockhouse’s statistic of San Antonio’s overall crime rate maintaining its distinction of being the “highest among the nation’s 15 largest cities” appears to hold true. However, after an examination of statistics on the SAPD website, it looks as if violent crime has decreased by 10.34% since 2017, which seems to bolster Nirenberg’s statement. This suggests that the facts are in flux depending on the point that either candidate is trying to make.

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Nirenberg’s Top 3 Issues Facing SA:

1. ECONOMY

2. TRAFFIC

3. CRIME

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Brockhouse’s Top 3 Issues Facing SA:

1. FIXING TRUST GAP BETWEEN CITY COUNCIL AND THE COMMUNITY

2. CRIME

3. WAGES / JOB GROWTH

The candidates then went on to list their top three issues facing the city (see above) and describe their stances on property taxes, which led to the mayor making an accusatory statement that he was the “only person on this stage that actually has paid the property taxes he owes” and referring to Brockhouse as a “delinquent.” The councilman then defended himself by saying that since he rents his home, he has no property taxes to pay and, in a statement to The Sentinel after the debate, he further clarified his response stating that it had to do with unpaid taxes on equipment for his company and that he is currently disputing those claims with the office of the Bexar County Tax Assessor. “The Bexar County Appraisal District claims for assessed value of equipment in your business…so it doesn’t have anything to do with property taxes, and I’m disputing it. They say I have about $30,000 worth of equipment and I know I have about $1000. I’ve got 10 old Dell computers and a burnisher for floor care.”

Words like ‘we don’t want those people here’ were used to describe the Republican National Convention
— Greg Brockhouse, referring to the council's decision to not apply for the RNC

When the question of the Chick-Fil-A airport deal came up in conjunction with the subject of the Republican National Convention that the council decided to pass on last May, Nirenberg defended both decisions and emphasized that they were nonpartisan in nature. He stated that the economic impact of the convention would have been too high and that it would have cost the city’s taxpayers $65 million. He defended the Chick-Fil-A decision by stating that when people land in the airport, he wants to, “make sure they walk in with a full array of (local) options, not a darkened food court.” Brockhouse pushed back on the issues, recalling utterances made at the council meeting in question when the topic of the Republican National Convention was discussed. “Words like ‘we don’t want those people here’ were used to describe the Republican National Convention,” recalled Brockhouse. Hearing this statement, the crowd murmured and shifted in their seats, visibly upset by the situation that had been described, with one woman even going so far as to vocalize her disapproval by uttering “tisk-tisk-tisk.”

Audience members watch the debate unfold. (Photo Credit:  GA Media Productions )

Audience members watch the debate unfold. (Photo Credit: GA Media Productions)

Environmental issues also had their time in the spotlight at this debate. In response to a question asking if the candidates would support a plastic bag ban, both stated that they would like to focus on recycling efforts instead. Regarding the city’s proposed climate action and adaptation plan, Brockhouse stated that he would “put the brakes” on the plan until he could fiscally justify it, calling the plan, “government overreach at its finest.” Nirenberg responded saying that the plan is a “set of goals” and that they are currently working on a cost-benefit analysis.

From Left to Right: Matt Piña, Tony Diaz, Carlos Castanuela. (Photo Credit: GA Media Productions)

They chose to only interview two instead of being inclusive, which they could have been. That’s the problem with our city politics to begin with.
— Mayoral Candidate Tony Diaz

The night’s debate, while providing no shortage of excitement and political theatre, did have a notable deficiency of candidates. In an effort to keep the public informed, the Northside Neighborhoods for Organized Development handed out a flyer at the entrance that listed all the candidates running with their contact info. Several candidates not on the debate roster chose to attend anyway in an attempt to make their presence known.

In a statement to the Sentinel, mayoral candidate Matt Piña explained his opinion on the matter. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed, at least about this event and many others, is that they’re excluding my campaign along with the others to showcase that there’s only two people running,” emphasized Piña. He, along with Tony Diaz and Carlos Castanuela, watched intently from the back of the room and greeted constituents in the corridors, all the while listening intently to the words of their competitors and waiting patiently for an event to come along that would provide them an equal footing with the two predicted frontrunners.