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Don Wa lde n Council’s racial stand-off blamed S.A. bond issue goes down, 3 to 2 By Don Walden San Antonio The results of San Antonio’s March 4 bond election confirmed what most people who follow politics in Texas’ second largest city have known for some time that the city council’s one black and five Mexican-American members are at a stand-off with the anglo population here. Voters who rejected by a three-to-two margin a $98.4 million bond issue were apparently venting their anger at the council, the first in the city’s history under the control of racial minorities. After the six-member chicano and black majority brushed aside objections to the bond package, the group’s opponents took direct aim at the seven ballot propositions and tried, with evident success, to turn the election into a city-wide referendum on the record of the six. Even Mayor Lila Cockrell urged San Antonians to vote no. Cockrell originally supported the bonds and promised to work for their approval when campaigning for reelection last year. She had been among the nine-vote council majority that referred the bond issue to the voters in the first place. Her subsequent withdrawal of support had nothing to do with the merits of the projects the bonds were intended to capitalize. On Thursday, Feb. 9, the council adopted a budget for an $18.3 million federal grant, but reduced an appropriation recommended by city manager Tom Huebner for development of downtown housing and deleted $1.5 million that Huebner wanted to put toward the purchase of land lying in the path of a proposed system of boulevards around the central business district. The federal money went instead to parks and street improvements, flood control efforts, and other neighborhood projects. In what Cockrell called “a raw power play,” the group beat back several amendments to restore funds for Huebner’s recommendations. The next day, the mayor and the other anglos on the council said the six had “shattered” the community’s confidence in the council to the point that voters would not be asked to support the bonds. Cockrell then suggested that the election be delayed until confidence could be restored. A flurry of weekend meetings failed to produce a resolution of the matterthe latest in a long line of intra-council squabbles and on Feb. 12, Cockrell retaliated by advising San Antonians to reject the bonds the council majority was keen to see approved. Thereafter, the real debate focused not on the advisability of passing the seven propositions but on the performance of the divided council. Bond proponents charged that the opposition of the mayor and her allies amounted to a barely concealed, racially motivated attack directed at the six councilmen and the progress minorities have made in San Antonio over the past several years. Councilman Henry Cisneros, a MexicanAmerican leader and a possible mayoral candidate, said the goal of those fighting the bond propositions was to “put the Mexicans in their place.” Cockrell gave short shrift to that argument. She took pains to make no references to the racial composition of the council and said she preferred to think the split on the 11-member body was caused by economic and geographic differencesher six adversaries represent poor areas on the south side of town. But there is some evidence that the electorate saw the bond fight as a social issue, pure and simple. Although votes on several important questions have been cast independently of race, the history of the current council has been largely written along color lines. The U.S. Justice Department forced San Antonio to adopt singlemember council districts after the city diluted Mexican-American influence by annexing large outlying areas of anglo population. This council, the first elected by district instead of at-large, was also the first to come under the control of the city’s minorities. The council has not hesitated to address race-related questions head on. For example, an ordinance requiring the city’s utility boards to seat one anglo, one black, and one Mexican-American member each is under consideration. In fact, a recurring criticism of the council has been that it too willingly permits ethnic considerations to govern the allocation of city resources. All of these upheavals have stirred resentment among the city’s anglos, whose feelings clearly spilled over into the bond campaign. Ever since taking office, the council has been dismissed as irresponsible by leaders in white neighborhoods. On the last day of the campaign, councilman Rudy Ortiz claimed that the wholesale charges of “irresponsibility” made by bond opponents were actually “veiled racist attacks.” Generally, support for the bonds followed a racial and geographic pattern. Districts predominantly black and brown Councilman Cisneros on a street that would have been paved had the bonds passed. favored the bonds, while anglo areas voted them down. Several anglo establishment organizationsthe Chamber of Commerce, the Taxpayer’s League, and builder and professional associations led the opposition. Proponents were minority-controlled organizations such as the Mexican Chamber of Commerce, C.O.P.S. \(Communities Organized for Public Service, a predominantly idents Organized for Better and Beautiful Environmental Development \(a civic groups, and several labor unions. Whether voting was racially influenced or not, the election result has intensified feelings on both sides that city politics has become a matter of race. The implications of the impasse are not clear. It may mean Cisneros will have to shelve his mayoral ambitions. But the mayor’s office in San Antonio’s council-manager government is weak, and whoever has the most votes on the council can enjoy more influence than the mayor. The council stand-off may harden the minorities into a cohesive coalition. They have not forged such a coalition thus far, despite the widespread perception that they have acted like one. On the other hand, circumstances may now compel the six to work with their five anglo colleagues. There was some indication, even before the defeat of their bond proposal, that they recognized the need to secure anglo cooperation. For her part, Mayor Cockrell announced after the election that she would extend a “hand of friendship” to the bond proponents. Don Walden covers city hall for the San Antonio Light. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11