Jade Esteban Estrada
Jada Andrews-Sullivan is running for a second term to represent District 2 on City Council.
It’s a sunny Tuesday afternoon as Jada Andrews-Sullivan waves to me through my computer screen. She’s wearing glasses, an eye-catching floral blouse and the friendly smile that helped boost her political success as the District 2 representative on San Antonio City Council.
Andrews-Sullivan’s staying power will be put to the test as she vies win a second term. She’s facing off with 11 diverse challengers on the May 1 ballot.
“We’re excited about this campaign season, even though it’s in the midst of a pandemic,” she says from her office. “[We want] to let our community know we’re still here [and] we’re here to do the work.”
Andrews-Sullivan, 45, says she wasn’t surprised when she saw her former communications director and most competitive opponent, Jalen McKee-Rodriguez
, on the crowded ticket.
“Honestly, Jade, I wasn’t surprised to see anyone who’s running for the District 2 seat,” she says. “People can look at it as a negative, but for me it’s a positive to see people who are energized about the state of the district.”
I first interviewed Andrews-Sullivan a week before the 2019 election at the Denver Heights eatery Mittman Fine Foods. It was there, under a framed photograph of former Mayor Ivy Taylor, where she told me about her upbringing, military experience and the relationship she has with her East Side neighborhood. After a nail-biting runoff, she ultimately prevailed over her opponent, former Councilman Keith Toney.
She’s hoping to repeat that win on Election Day. Sans the nail-biting part, of course.
That victory seems like a long time ago, considering the strain COVID-19 and the ensuing economic crisis has put on local government. Given those circumstances, I ask her whether being on council is everything that she’d expected it to be.
“Yes, it is,” she says. “[But] it has been a humbling experience. It has been a daily trying of our spirit, of our faith, but it’s everything you want it to be when you’re about helping people, so I’m lovin’ it.”
When COVID hit, Andrews-Sullivan was in the middle of organizing a spring break camp for young people.
“It was kind of an ‘Oh, gosh! What do we do with our youth?’” she recalls thinking.
At that point, it had yet to dawn on some council members they would soon be fighting to keep people in their homes, making sure residents had food to eat and fielding concerns over whether students would be returning to school.
The following weeks and months impelled council to do something many had never been pressed to do during their lifetimes, “truly help other people’s lives stay intact,” Andrews-Sullivan says.
I ask her what the most demanding public policy aspect of the pandemic has been.
“I would say the most challenging aspect of dealing with COVID is giving people everything they really need to be sustainable,” she says. “How do we make the dollar that’s not there reach the person that needs it the most?”
The crisis has forced council to get creative about where it finds funding, she adds.
“We had to redirect how we were going to do our budget this year. We tapped more into our tourist funding that is normally used for development,” Andrews-Sullivan says. “And you’re looking at exactly how you make the emergency rental assistance stretch for a community that was already looking at a 60% poverty rate, which was already No. 1 in the country for being a poverty-stricken city.”
Disseminating information has also been difficult given District 2’s digital divide.
“How do we get to those that do not have access to the internet, don’t have a cell phone, don’t have a computer, that are just maybe hearing [information] on the radio or passing by a TV?” she asks.
To that end, Andrews-Sullivan maintains that one of the biggest accomplishments of her term was educating residents on how to advocate for the help they need and the changes they want to see. Facetime is particularly important on the East Side. It’s been eight years since a District 2 incumbent has been reelected — a fact of life that’s made it hard to ensure the success of long-term projects.
After a string of East Side shootings in January, Andrews-Sullivan met with both the city manager and the police chief. In the aftermath of that violence, she feels it’s vital to address mental health issues in the district.
“You have seen continuously, over and over again, from the ’90s up until today, death, crime, just gunshots,” she says, slowly shaking her head. “That is a traumatic mindset that we’re living in, and some people have become complacent in it, and some people are really just tired of it.”
Even with the work she puts in, Andrews-Sullivan wonders if it’s enough.
“What keeps me up at night is wondering, ‘Are we getting enough to the people that need it? Are we making ourselves available enough to the people that need us?’”
A week later, when I meet Andrews-Sullivan for a photo shoot at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, she credits her mother for inspiring her to nurture the community she serves.
“My mom is my strongest advocate,” she says. “[She] really led me to be the woman I am today. She’s helped me understand that being a mother is hard, but having [that] source of strength behind you? You soar. You just go places that you never even imagined going because [mothers] speak that into your life.”
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