On Wednesday, March 25, UTSA, Time Warner Cable and the San Antonio Express News presented a debate featuring the four major candidates in San Antonio’s mayoral race: former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkinson, current mayor Ivy Taylor, former state Senator Leticia van De Putte and former state representative Mike Villareal.

The debate was held in the H-E-B University Center Ballroom and sponsored by the UTSA’s Alumni Association, College of Public Policy and Student Government Association.

The debate covered a wide range of topics affecting the city, including voter engagement, gun control, transportation, low-income university students and incentivizing students in San Antonio to stay in the Alamo City after graduating.

Although the event was open to the public and students were encouraged to attend, countless chairs were left empty.

It was in this setting that the candidates were asked how they would reach out to San Antonio’s disenfranchised voting population — including young people who feel disillusioned with politics. Villareal promised that his administration would include young people, adding that “new blood to city politics will help us in the long run.”

Van de Putte cited her purportedly active and robust social media campaign as evidence of understanding the younger voting population and expressed the importance of their engagement.

“When you don’t vote, you’re being played by the people who do go vote,” Van de Putte said.

Adkinson and Taylor commented on being visible and active in community engagement events, and Taylor stressed the importance of ongoing political engagement, not just during election season.

The issue of gun control was one of several asked by the audience, which seemed more concerned with issues regarding students than were the panelists who assisted in moderating the debate. The candidates unanimously agreed that campus carry is not in the best interest of college students. Villareal noted that such measures would increase the need for more security on campuses, and therefore increase the cost of higher education.

Another question posed by the audience asked the candidates for their solution on providing low-income students with a college degree.

Adkinson emphasized that solutions should come from the education community, while Taylor stressed the integral role scholarships play in making education available to low-income students. Van de Putte mentioned that community colleges and universities should synchronize so that students aren’t wasting their time and money on credits that don’t transfer.

Villareal was the only candidate to mention early college high school programs, stating that they “make so much sense.” Villarreal also remarked on the high demand for technical certifications in the workforce.

When asked how they planned on ensuring that college students educated in San Antonio stay in the Alamo City to contribute to the local economy, the candidates agreed that young people want to work in a city with ample job opportunities and one that also has vibrant cultural offerings.

Adkinson emphasized the role of strong neighborhoods and said that San Antonio is the epicenter of Texas history, but that the city needs to act with specific intent so that it is a “nice place to live.”

Mayor Ivy Taylor emphasized the importance of economic opportunity, saying, “At the top of the list is retaining and expanding businesses and growing jobs here so that when you get that degree that there is a job out there that you would be able to obtain.”

Villareal discussed the need for a “talent pipeline,” citing fields like Aircloud computing that are “scrounging” for qualified workers. He also reaffirmed his commitment to preserving the quality of life in San Antonio and to a linear park system.

The candidates were also asked their position on transportation issues, namely rail projects and how accessible the city should be toward ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Villarreal and Van de Putte both expressed disappointment with the way the downtown streetcar project was handled, noting that it was a government acting alone and without enough input from voters.

Taylor stood by her decision to suspend the streetcar project, adding that when determining mass-transit solutions in San Antonio, too much attention is paid to those without cars. Removing vehicles from congested streets would alleviate the headaches felt by many San Antonio drivers, Taylor suggested.

Adkinson attributed a number of San Antonio’s transportation issues to a lack of investment by the state legislature. According to Adkinson, rejuvenating urban corridors such as Wurzbach and Fredericksburg would result in more drivers choosing those routes instead of traveling on already congested highways.

When the topic shifted to Uber and Lyft, Taylor’s opponents gave some scathing critiques of how the interim mayor handled San Antonio’s relationship with ride sharing companies.

“Every other Texas city has figured this out,” Villarreal said, claiming that San Antonio needs to be a 21st Century city, and adding that Uber would have helped a city that already struggles with drunk drivers.

“We should be about embracing technology and innovation, and it should be across the board,” Villarreal said. “Uber and Lyft, when I am mayor, will be back in San Antonio.”

Van de Putte also framed the ride sharing debate as an issue of embracing technology and innovation.

“Real leadership requires that you get to the table first and that you look at what is happening in other communities,” Van de Putte said before adding that Google Fiber’s decision not to expand its high speed internet to San Antonio was yet another example of San Antonio falling behind other cities. “We cannot continue to fall behind. Our citizens deserve to go forward.”

Although Adkinson also criticized the leadership at city hall for failing to retain Uber, he stated that the process of drafting, amending and passing the ordinance was too rushed and did not allow enough time for feedback and collaboration.

“The road to progress is always under construction,” Adkinson said.

Taylor, however, defended her stance on ride sharing companies.

“Real leadership requires doing what’s right and not just what’s politically expedient and not making empty promises that are not based on the facts at hand,” Taylor said. Taylor stated that public safety is her primary concern as mayor, and that the required background checks were a common sense measure.

“It is my hope and my desire that these companies will be here in the future,” Taylor added.

Early voting begins April 27 and ends May 5, while Election Day is May 9. In addition to mayor, San Antonio voters will also be electing all ten members of City Council.

Related Stories

More from Matthew Duarte, News Editor; Caroline Traylor, News Assistant

Editorial Board

At the University of Missouri, real change happened — but only when loss of university revenue was threatened. Missouri student…

More In News

Alejandro Lopez Co-News Editor

UTSA fraternities and sororities collected clothing donations for Sigma Pi’s 8th annual clothing drive on April 7 at Aspen Heights.…