Mayor Ivy Taylor: The accidental politician

Jade Esteban Estrada
Mayor Ivy Taylor

It's two weeks before Christmas Day, and I'm sitting across from Ivy Ruth Taylor in the mayoral office at City Hall. Her necklace bends with the weight of a golden cross, fashionably framed by a black and white scarf tied in a single knot. I recall my last sit-down with the former District 2 city councilwoman—a brisk morning in 2011 at the Eastside Landmark Cafe, the second-story sunlit room filled with the smell of fresh biscuits. Taylor was a lecturer at UTSA teaching urban planning and urban management. How fortunate, I thought, that those students had the opportunity to learn from an instructor with working knowledge of the industry. Last July, when she was appointed interim mayor, my thoughts returned to her students. But, then again, would she still be holding down a teaching job as mayor of the seventh-largest city in the nation?

"[The City's] still not paying me, Jade," she says with a smile and slow shake of the head. "So I have to have a job." She was, however, given a course release. "They said, 'Oh, since you're the mayor, you only have to teach two classes.'"

Taylor hasn't felt the burden one might expect of carrying on her predecessor's signature projects; most were already underway or completed, she says. But she would like to build upon the Castrovian initiatives of which she approved (the streetcar plan was not among them) and make improvements to the governance system in general. In this way, she does feel "the weight of the compressed time frame." Taylor's term expires May 31.

"It's tiring, but it's fun," she says. Of course, she's had to take the good with the inevitable. After the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Taylor posted her response on social media and received some heated reactions. "Some folks just didn't feel comfortable with me speaking about it," she says.

Taylor has had plenty of work to do in the short time allotted to her, including dealing with new ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft and the opposition they've drawn from the city's taxi industry. "I'm 44, so I'm kind of limited in my foray into new technology. There's a lot of people who are still going to use taxis is my point," she says. "We'll continue to have these challenges as people figure out how to harness new technologies."

Are you running in the mayoral election? I ask.

"You see, there was no transition there!" she says to her Communications Officer Cary Clack with a laugh. "There was no buildup at all!"

After a short pause she says, "I don't know."

"When I put my name out there for this position, what I wanted to bring for the council and for the city was someone who was going to be focused on the job and the tough issues that we have without the distraction of a political campaign."

But the February 28 filing deadline is looming. And she's been warned by insiders that if she waits that long, most of the local campaign money will already be pledged to other candidates. But as her five-year track record on City Council has proven, Taylor isn't one to do what others expect.

"This is not something I aspired to do or be," she says. "I'm an urban planner who is very interested in inner-city redevelopment and, at the end of the day, creating ladders of opportunity, especially for disadvantaged individuals." If she can serve her community in this way, she says, she would be content with her career, whether she's in an elected position or not.

This self-described "accidental politician" can also serve memorable quotes—which could be an asset or a liability on the campaign trail.

When I tell her that I wrote, "We got the right sister" on my Facebook page the day of her appointment, she acknowledges the reference with a hearty chuckle. Within the online LGBT community, her original statement, which was attached to her vote against expanding the Non-Discrimination Ordinance to include sexual identity and orientation, went viral.

"'You got the wrong sister' ... really spoke to the fact that regardless what the issue is, I think people nowadays expect political correctness, and that is very frustrating to me," she says. "I had been told that, 'You're black, it would look bad for you if you don't vote this way.' And I didn't like that at all. This is supposed to be nonpartisan government, right?"

Following up on a promise she made during the appointment process, Taylor has formed an LGBT citizen advisory group to help create a process for addressing complaints filed under the updated NDO.

She remembers the vote as challenging. "I did the best that I could do given the information that I had. And [with] my personal beliefs and convictions ... I didn't see a path at that time. I believe in equality, [but] those issues—however [LGBT people] live their lifestyle—that shouldn't come into [a] public forum as far as whether I'm going to vote for you."

If Taylor does decide to run, she has an advantage—or perhaps another potential liability: Voters have had a taste of her at the helm.

"Yeah," she says with smile, "you know what you would get with me."

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