Greg M. Schwartz [email protected]
30-year-old small business owner and lifelong San Antonian John Carlos Garcia officially threw his hat into the ring for District 5 City Councilperson today, when he filed the official paperwork at the city clerk's office. Garcia says he feels he can “bring a fresh approach to local politics.” He joins what looks like a four-person field, with former zoning commissioner Eiginio Rodriguez and 2007 runner-up David Medina also challenging incumbent Lourdes Galvan.
Garcia has been running the J. Carlos Garcia Insurance Agency since 2002 and feels his combination of business experience and relative youth would be an asset to the district. Garcia estimated he'd probably have to raise $15-20,000 to be competitive in the race, but said he doesn't think advertising will be the key to winning this election.
“I think this race is going to be won more on the ground,” said Garcia, noting that voter turnout is historically low in the district. Galvan won the 2007 District 5 race with just 1,434 votes, roughly 45 percent of the 3,164 votes cast. Total turnout in the 2007 citywide elections was just 86,000-plus, less than 13 percent of the registered electorate, according to the office of the city clerk's canvassing report.
“The whole reason I'm running is I think that's just horrible,” said Garcia of the low voter participation in District 5 and across the city. He believes his youthful energy can help him win, saying that he's “just about the right age to get more people involved.”
“I think I can be more accessible,” said Garcia regarding how he thinks he can do the job better than Galvan. He said he thinks Galvan has done a fair job, but that he would be available to answer the phone at all hours, just as he does running his insurance business where he considers attentive customer service to be a top priority.
Garcia was in attendance last week at the District 5 town hall meeting held by Galvan, for residents to voice concerns about the problems they've been experiencing with the dust from the San Antonio Housing Authority's low-income housing construction project on San Marcos Street. He said he felt the citizens were under-represented and that their questions were not clearly answered.
“I don't think they did a real good job of comforting the community,” said Garcia. He said he felt reps from SAHA, TCEQ, Franklin Development and environmental engineering consultant Geo-Marine focused too much on saying that contaminants of concern were below regulatory protection levels rather than assuring residents that the area is absolutely safe.
“There was not a clear statement on whether it's safe or not,” said Garcia. He agreed with concerns expressed at the meeting that TCEQ's regulatory standards might not be as protective as citizens would reasonably hope.
“We have to review the processes and tests that have gone onâ?¦ not just TCEQ, but EPA as a wholeâ?¦ If you go back to the â??80s with the clean air acts, people didn't realize what they really were `doing`,” said Garcia of what some have come to view as an industry-led whitewashing of air quality standards, now known in the 21st-century as greenwashing.
“And if they `TCEQ` are greenwashing, these regulations can be changed, people can be voted out of office,” suggested Garcia in a refreshingly pro-active tone.
For what it's worth, candidate Eiginio Rodriguez was also at the District 5 town hall meeting last week, asking questions that were skeptical of SAHA and TCEQ's proclamations that residents had nothing to worry about. Meeting host Galvan asked no questions, at least not in public.
Overall, Garcia says economic development is an important issue, but that he would like to encourage it from within the city, to maximize local resources.
“We need to do things to encourage neighborhood crime watches, neighborhood associations are lacking in resources,” said Garcia. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil, if people aren't showing up to these meetings, nothing gets done.”
Garcia says he hopes all District 5 candidates will participate in a debate on the issues and that the League of Women Voters wants to host one. Will incumbent Galvan agree to debate her challengers? Stay tuned.