While Mayor Ivy Taylor came out ahead in Saturday's crowded race with 42 percent of the vote, she failed to win a clean majority to avoid a runoff. District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg was close behind with 37 percent, and Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina, who local media dubbed the “spoiler” candidate and firebrand in the race, came in a distant third with 15 percent.
The big question at this point is whether we’re headed for a repeat of 2015, when two well-known left-leaning opponents, former state lawmakers Mike Villarreal and Leticia Van de Putte, challenged Taylor, split the progressive vote, and then sent the race to a runoff – which Taylor narrowly won. This year's runoff could very well hinge on how many of Medina’s progressive supporters turn out to vote Nirenberg. At his campaign headquarters, Medina wouldn’t endorse either remaining candidate.
"I'm looking forward for both Ron and Ivy to continue the conversation on the issues that we brought to the forefront," Medina said. "At the end of the day, we got more votes than eleven other candidates."
Medina – the candidate who marched supporters to the steps of the daily newspaper to lambast a columnist, who embraced Tea Party conservatives and railed about how he was going to "drain the local swamp" — was straight-up Trumpian to the very end. "I've been able to live my American dream," Medina said in his concession speech, standing on the back of a pickup truck, surrounded by family. He reminded the audience that he was accepted to "one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Texas" and had a successful career as a political consultant and running a call center business. It almost sounded like a victory speech.
"I’m going to continue to push forward on the issues that I’ve fought for from the beginning, when I was first elected chairman of the Democratic party," he said.
Shortly after Medina’s speech, campaign volunteers Rafael Alcoser and Maricella (who asked not to share her last name) got up to leave. They both looked dejected after a long day of campaigning outside the polls, but didn’t flinch when asked who’d they’d support in the June runoff. “There’s no question about it — Ron.”
Maricella said she’s confident Medina’s supporters will also support Nirenberg. Or, at least: “I sure hope they do.”
Taylor's camp is clearly hoping runoffs for city council seats in the conservative-leaning North Side and in the city's East Side district, her home base and the district she used to represent at City Hall, could very well help with turnout in areas where she already sees broad support.
Taylor struck a confident tone in her remarks Saturday night to a group of supporters gathered at the Wyndham Garden hotel on the River Walk. "So it looks like we're in a runoff, but we came darn close tonight to wining this race outright with 13 challengers and being on page two of the ballot," she said. "We fended off more than our share of falsehoods and half-truths, but we stayed positive to focus on San Antonio's future."
Meanwhile Nirenberg, who watched the results roll in from his campaign headquarters on Broadway, said he wasn't particularly surprised by the night's results.
“We are entering a runoff with the weakest incumbent mayor the city has ever seen. San Antonio voters have said tonight that they want a leader in the mayor’s office.”
As for his campaign's runoff strategy, Nirenberg said, “Our game plan is to continue to get in front of every voter in San Antonio to make sure they hear the message that our campaign has been delivering." He even shared gratitude for Medina's unusual role in the election, and said that fact that he got 15,000 votes this election only underscored how badly San Antonians want to uproot the status quo.
There were also surprises in down-ballot races Saturday night, particularly in city council districts 1 and 2, where incumbents will head to runoffs to fight for maintain their seats. District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, who represents the downtown area, fell just shy of a clear victory with 49 percent of the vote, ahead of challenger Michael Montaño, who came out with 31 percent. District 2 Councilman Alan Warrick, who represents the East Side, won just under 41 percent of the vote, meaning he'll face a runoff against attorney William “Cruz” Shaw, who won 29 percent.
Perhaps the most shocking results of the night came in District 7, where sitting councilman Cris Medina fell way behind challenger Ana Sandoval, who had the weight of the Castros behind her. Sandoval won the seat outright, avoiding a runoff with 51 percent of the vote compared to Medina's 36.
Not surprisingly, all four vacant council seats will head to runoffs. In District 8, Cynthia Brehm, probably best known for her inflammatory comments about Syrian refugees (“We don’t want them, we don’t need them, send them back!”), won 33 percent of the vote Saturday night compared to Manny Pelaez, the former Brooks Development Authority chairman who won 27 percent of the vote Saturday and will face Behm in a runoff. In District 6, police and fire union shill Greg Brockhouse came out ahead with 36 percent of the vote. He'll compete in the June 10 runoff with disability rights attorney Melissa Havrda, who narrowly nudged her way into the runoff with 20.5 percent of the vote (she came out merely 28 votes ahead of Rick Treviño, the Bernie Sanders-esque progressive in the race).
In the crowded North Side races, a District 9 runoff will see Marco Barros and John Courage, while Clayton Perry and Ezra Johnson will face each other in District 10.
Also on Saturday night, all six pieces of the city's $850 million bond package passed with flying colors (67 to 80 percent voter approval, depending on portion). Meanwhile the Alamo Community College District managed to pass its $450 million bond by a wide margin despite the district's lingering accreditation problems.