Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales Attacks Chamber President for Saying Domestic Abuse Isn't "a Business Issue" After Mayoral Debate

click to enlarge Shirley Gonzales - JADE ESTEBAN ESTRADA
Jade Esteban Estrada
Shirley Gonzales
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said she's "furious" over San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez's dismissal of a question about why Thursday's mayoral debate didn't include a question about allegations of spousal abuse by candidate Greg Brockhouse.

Following the televised debate between Brockhouse and Mayor Ron Nirenberg — the last before Saturday's citywide election — Perez told the Express-News his organization didn't consider domestic violence "a business issue."

"I'm furious that he would make such a flippant comment," said Gonzales, a frequent voice for women's issues on council. "Domestic violence is a huge issue for this community. We have some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the state, some of the highest in the country. It touches our lives at every level."

A reporter posed the query to Perez after debate moderator Jim Forsyth didn't ask a single question related to police reports from 2006 and 2009 in which one of Brockhouse's ex-wives and his current spouse accused him of domestic violence. Brockhouse, who represents District 6 on council, has denied the claims and was not arrested in either incident.

In an email to the Current, Perez said there was a "misunderstanding" about his statement to the reporter.

"When asked by a reporter why Councilman Brockhouse was not asked about allegations of domestic violence against him, I explained our focus was on business issues rather than the allegations against him," Perez wrote. "I, in no way, meant to imply that domestic violence is not a business issue, and I apologize for that."

He added: "As Mayor Nirenberg stated at the conclusion of the debate, the epidemic level of domestic violence is one of the most serious problems that San Antonio faces. This is a vitally important issue that needs to continue to be a priority for our entire community."

Forsyth, a reporter for WOAI radio, said he shared a list of questions with chamber officials prior to the debate, one of which mentioned the police reports. Before the debate, chamber spokeswoman Julie Ring expressed concern over the wording of the question, Forsyth said.

"The chamber did indicate that they were a little uncomfortable with the issue, that they'd rather focus on business and economic issues," Forsyth said. However, he said he didn't remove the question from his list and simply ran out of time to ask it.

Ring said she didn't like the lead-up to Forsyth's question but never told him not ask about the allegations.

Sarah Erickson, a Trinity University professor who studies both mass media and gender violence, said she understands why members of the media might be uncomfortable bringing up domestic violence allegations during a political race. Still, she said the allegations must be addressed so voters can make informed decisions.

"The unwillingness to report on this issue isn't new," she said. "But I do think it's irresponsible not to bring it up, because we're in a place where it's such a problem."

Last year, 25 San Antonians died in domestic violence incidents, the highest number on recent record. That total is three victims more than in 2017 and roughly triple the rate in 2015.

Gonzales, herself a business owner and on-and-off member of the San Antonio Chamber, said Perez's "glib statement" was cause for the organization to discipline him.

"If people don't come forward and demand a very strict reprimand, it would certainly reflect on the views of the constituency he represents," she said.

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