Leticia Van de Putte, Ivy Taylor Advance to Runoff in San Antonio Mayor’s Race

Leticia Van de Putte conducts a post-election interview with Univision after her victory speech.
Christopher Hooks
Leticia Van de Putte conducts a post-election interview with Univision after her victory speech.

Update: Congratulations, San Antonio—It’s a runoff!

As most predicted, the four-way electoral brawl to become mayor of the Alamo City has shrunk to two members. Leticia Van de Putte took 30.4 percent of the vote, followed by current mayor Ivy Taylor, who took 28.4 percent. Edged out are the runoff are Mike Villarreal, with 26 percent, and Tommy Adkisson, who took just 9.7 percent.

Though Taylor seems to have kept pace with Van de Putte through the first round of voting, she’s the underdog in the runoff. It’s much more likely that Villarreal and Adkisson voters will find a home with Van de Putte camp than Taylor.

It’s a major turnabout for Van de Putte, who got trounced in the 2014 lieutenant governor contest and resigned her seat just a few months ago. As the mayor of San Antonio, Van de Putte would again be a visible and important part of the state Democratic party hierarchy.

But in a victory-ish speech in which she appeared with her family, Van de Putte acknowledged that there’s a “lot of work left to do.” She’d need to win the support of Villarreal and Adkisson supporters after a campaign in which Van de Putte and former state Rep. Villarreal were frequently at each other’s throats. In her speech, Van de Putte called Adkisson “a dear friend” but said only that Villarreal had run “a tough campaign.” She thanked them both for their “tenacity.”

In talking to reporters afterward, she was more effusive. Adkisson had “the heart of a warrior,” she said, and Villarreal ran “an amazing campaign. Relentless, energetic, focused. I’ve got to take my hat off to him.” She said she’d be aggressive about courting both of them and their supporters.

When asked for the primary difference between herself and Taylor, VDP touted her experience in the Legislature. “If there was a major issue, I was usually in the center of it,” she said, adding that she has “the ability to work with people with very different political positions.”

Taylor, the de facto GOP candidate in the non-partisan race, faces an uphill climb. But in her speech Saturday night, she touted the passage of a ballot measure giving City Council members and the mayor a salary for the first time in the city’s history—before, they were paid a small stipend per meeting.

Another ballot measure that passed would require a vote before a streetcar or light rail system is built—a proxy vote of sorts on former Mayor Julian Castro’s plan to build a streetcar system, killed by Ivy Taylor just hours after Castro left for D.C.

Original story: On Saturday, voters in San Antonio will go to the polls to elect a new mayor—the beginning of the end of a seemingly endless series of cascading elections triggered by the departure of former Mayor Julian Castro last year to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The result probably won’t be determined tonight—with four major candidates, a runoff is almost inevitable—but tonight’s vote count isn’t just important for the residents of San Antonio, the nation’s seventh-largest city. Much like the upcoming mayoral election in Houston, slated for November, the election in San Antonio provides an opportunity to take stock of Democratic politics in the state as we head toward 2016.

The contenders are a diverse bunch. There’s former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, last year’s Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Most observers feel VDP, as she’s known, is assured a spot in the runoff.

As one of the party’s standard-bearers in 2014—and for her role in Wendy Davis’ 2013 filibuster—VDP has had an almost mythic status among the state’s liberals. As Dan Patrick’s opponent, she was an underdog. An excellent retail politician, she roamed the state with not enough money and not enough free airtime to counter her opponent and went down hard with the rest of the ticket.

But in the mayor’s race, she holds the opposite position. With a huge financial advantage and the status of the presumptive favorite, she’s been able to bludgeon her opponents—particularly former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, who is attempting to fight his way to a spot in the runoff. Van de Putte dumped oodles of leftover money from her statewide race into the fund for her mayoral run, leaving some observers to wonder if that was her plan all along. And despite that, she’s struggled, firing most of her campaign staff in February and bringing in hired gun Christian Archer to lead a turnaround.

Lately, Van de Putte has gone for Villarreal’s jugular, using remarkably strong language to decry Villarreal as a many-faced “backroom dealmaker” and “corporate crony” who is bought and paid for by monied interests that would destroy San Antonio. It makes the language Van de Putte used against Patrick last year look like mash notes.

Villarreal and VDP have some history—the latter opposed the former when he ran for VDP’s old house district in 1999. But the level of vitriol between the two now has been pretty remarkable. And it’s somewhat surprising to lege-watchers, who remembered Villarreal as a decent guy and policy-minded rep. who was pretty well respected by his Democratic colleagues, Van de Putte included.

But the more likely candidate for the second slot in the runoff is current San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, appointed to the job by the City Council after Castro’s departure. A socially conservative African-American woman who was born in Brooklyn, Taylor has made her mark on the city during her brief tenure—she helped cancel one of Castro’s prestige projects, a proposed streetcar system. She earned some opprobrium for calling the effort to protect the city’s LGBT communities with a non-discrimination ordinance a “waste of time.”

Of the four major contenders, she’s essentially the de facto GOP candidate—she can count among her supporters men like Red McCombs, a perennial top-dollar Republican donor. She stands to benefit from GOP votes while the Democratic vote is fractioned. In a low-turnout scenario—San Antonio has seen more than its fair share of special elections lately, and the city’s voters might just be fatigued—Taylor could outperform.

In one recent state senate special election in San Antonio, the more conservative Democratic candidate, Jose Menendez, won out over progressive Trey Martinez Fischer, thanks in part to a flood of votes from Republicans on Menendez’s behalf. If Taylor does well tomorrow, expect more head-scratching about Democratic turnout problems.

There’s also Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, but few expect him to win a runoff spot at this point.

Christopher Hooks is a freelance journalist in Austin.

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Published at 5:31 pm CST
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