Analysis: Beto Altamirano has a tightrope walk ahead in his run for San Antonio mayor

The tech entrepreneur's speech outlined some objectives that may not be easy to line up.

click to enlarge Beto Altamirano speaks at Saturday's launch event for his mayoral campaign. - Michael Karlis
Michael Karlis
Beto Altamirano speaks at Saturday's launch event for his mayoral campaign.
Giving local business owners a voice at City Hall and fighting generational poverty were among the plans tech entrepreneur Beto Altamirano unveiled Saturday as he formally launched his bid to be the Alamo City's next mayor.

About 500 people, ranging from small-business owners to beer swilling hipsters, braved oppressive heat to hear Altamirano speak at Southtown's Friendly Spot, where he laid out a utopian vision for San Antonio, which he described as a "forward-looking, historic city."

The charismatic Altamirano promised a glimpse of a San Antonio with less violent crime, more good-paying jobs, improved government transparency and better regional economic cooperation. Although his speech touched on his plans to tackle pressing issues such as the slew of recent dog attacks, he zeroed in on poverty, which he called the city's biggest problem.

"About 20% of San Antonians are facing poverty," Altamirano said. "That's about 250,000 people. So, connect the dots between the lack of internet access and access to the modern economy and poverty. We've got to address it today. We must act now."

During his 20-minute speech, the candidate — who serves as CEO of artificial-intelligence company Irys Technologies — doubled down his political outsider narrative. He railed against those inside City Hall, whom he described as disconnected from the "everyday struggle of the residents of San Antonio."

At the same time, Altamirano painted himself as a friend to the local business community, both large and small, saying those enterprises need to be involved in processes at City Hall, especially conversations about construction projects.

"The challenge is that government needs to do a better job and a better planning effort as well," Altamirano said. "Neighborhoods and businesses should not have to suffer because of construction delays. That's unacceptable. Come on, we are the seventh-largest city. Let's act like it."

Judging from the twitter response to Saturday's speech, that big tent platform appeared to excite both social justice activist and ACT4SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas and San Antonio Report founder Bob Rivard — not exactly peas from the same pod.

However, taking bold steps to solve San Antonio's longstanding problem of generational poverty and giving businesses more involvement in city processes don't inherently intersect. The reality is that the wants of the business community and those striving to eliminate poverty in our city are often at odds.

Take for example the failure of Prop. A during last year's municipal elections. Among other things, that ballot initiative would have decriminalized low-level pot offenses and codified cite-and-release for Class C misdemeanors such as low-level shoplifting and vandalism.

Advocates argued the measure would have eased the financial burden of those being picked up for a petty crime, which is considerably greater for low-income people than those with greater means.

However, business interests — joined by San Antonio's police union and Mayor Ron Nirenberg — lobbied hard against the proposal. In the end, it was rejected by 74% of voters.

During his speech, Altamirano also said San Antonians should earn a living wage.

"Families should also not be struggling paycheck to paycheck just to afford things like housing, healthcare, childcare and groceries," he said.

Again, San Antonio's business community hasn't always lined up behind efforts to see paychecks rise across the board. In the past, local chambers of commerce vigorously battled efforts by the city and county to tie tax breaks for relocating businesses to requirements that they pay a living wage.

Altamirano and other candidates will be required to offer more specifics about their plans as mayoral campaigns intensify in the coming months. Only then will we learn more about where the tech entrepreneurs allegiances lie.

What's clear for now is that Altamirano is setting himself up for a tightrope walk.

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Michael Karlis

Michael Karlis is a Staff Writer at the San Antonio Current. He is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., whose work has been featured in Salon, Alternet, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Orlando Weekly, NewsBreak, 420 Magazine and Mexico Travel Today. He reports primarily on breaking news, politics...

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