Friday, May 29, 2015

Voters feel good about city's initiatives | Last Word

As San Antonians decide over the next two weeks whom to choose as our next mayor, it’s worth taking a closer look at what voters said in the first round.

First, some numbers:

Of 10 council incumbents running for re-election, nine won with totals ranging from 57 percent all the way up to 81 percent. 

The average was 70 percent.

The one council incumbent who didn’t win outright, District 7’s Cris Medina, was highly publicized as being under investigation for corruption by the FBI and the San Antonio Police Department.

Yet even he led a field of five with 47 percent of the vote.

In the mayor’s race, the only well-known candidate running a “back-to-basics” campaign against City Hall and City Manager Sheryl Scully, former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, took all of 10 percent.

Meanwhile, voters reauthorized modest taxes on themselves to provide millions for aquifer protection and linear parks by landslide votes of 78 and 75 percent respectively.

Perhaps most significantly, after 60 years of paying council members $20 a week, with the mayor getting an insulting $3,000 annual bonus, San Antonians voted to pay their elected officials a living wage of just under $46,000 annually for council members and just over $61,000 for the mayor.

Nervousness caused the council to change the original proposition.

It would have set the council members’ pay as San Antonio’s median annual income – thereby keeping up with inflation and economic growth.

But apparently some feet got cold and the council set the current median salary without the growth trigger.

So council members can expect an annual effective pay cut until they gather the nerve to go to the voters again.

With passage by a 55-45 margin, it appears the original proposal would have won.

This vote says something about the city and its voters.

Both are maturing.

It helps that there haven’t been any indictments since 2003, the year before the last vote on council pay was held, only to lose 2-1.

At that time two councilmen and one former councilman were convicted of bribery.

Meanwhile, a bitter battle was being fought over the proposed PGA Village golf course and hotel development over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

But there is more to gaining citizen confidence than avoiding scandal and controversy.

Recent mayors especially engaged in city building initiatives.

They have extended the River Walk from Brackenridge Park all the way down to the last of the Spanish missions on the South Side.

With voter approval they have grown the city’s park system, including the massive Hardberger Park on the North Side and the creek-side linear parks that will eventually ring the city.

They have initiated the aggressive redevelopment of downtown, and persuaded voters to approve a model pre-kindergarten initiative.

They have, in other words, moved the city from its old reputation as “the Big Cotulla” toward an identity as an ambitious modern city.

Together with a healthy economy, the result is that San Antonio is one of the fastest growing big cities in the country.

One objection to this rosy analysis is that the pathetic voter turnout of 7.2 percent shows more apathy than anything else.

There is, to be sure, no shortage of apathy.

But the turnout also shows a lack of anger – often a significant spur to turnout.

By getting County Judge Nelson Wolff to join her in pulling the plug on VIA’s expensive and poorly thought-out streetcar project, Mayor Ivy Taylor calmed the storm it was causing.

Taylor is using that smart decision to appeal to the city’s more conservative North Side voters.

But whoever is elected June 13, Taylor or former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, should remember the real message of this election:

San Antonians are happy with the progressive city-building efforts of the past few mayors and want to continue the momentum.

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