Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility A dozen candidates hope to replace San Antonio Councilwoman Viagrán in District 3 | #vacation | #seniors | #elderly – Active Lifestyle Media

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VacationA dozen candidates hope to replace San Antonio Councilwoman Viagrán in District 3 | #vacation | #seniors | #elderly

A dozen candidates hope to replace San Antonio Councilwoman Viagrán in District 3 | #vacation | #seniors | #elderly

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A dozen candidates are running to represent San Antonio City Council’s District 3 — the city’s largest, spanning 84 square miles on the South and Southeast sides.

It’s an area hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, one that struggles with aging housing stock and infrastructure, homelessness and lack of Wi-Fi access in many locations.

The winner of the May 1 election will replace Councilwoman Rebecca Viagrán, who will vacate the seat due to term limits. Early voting ends April 27.

Two candidates with prominent political last names, Tomás Uresti and Phyllis Viagrán, stand out in a field of lesser known competitors.

Uresti, 60, a former Texas state representative and Harlandale Independent School District board president, is the brother of Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti and former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, who is serving 12 years in federal prison for 11 felonies stemming from an investment fraud scandal.

Viagrán, 48, is the incumbent’s sister. She previously worked at Visit San Antonio as a membership service coordinator, but was furloughed last May because of the pandemic and now helps train seniors to use digital devices and platforms through Older Adults Technology Services’ Senior Planet program.

Other candidates include Rodolfo “Rudy” Lopez, 44, who owns Lopez Entertainment, which has five event venues; Mark Arthur Vargas Jr., 24, a former college and career readiness counselor at Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering, a job he gave up to campaign full time; Rafael C. Vela, 28, a Culinary Institute of America student and cook at the institute’s Savor restaurant; and Angela Cardona, 45, who works in community relations and is an assistant to the CEO at the AVANCE Inc. national office.

Also running are Ted Gonzalez, 63, a sales manager at Global Exchange Vacation Club; Katherine Herrera-Garza, 31, a business development representative and a Republican Party precinct chair; Stephen “Steve” Valdez, 52, communications director for the Mission Open Air Market; and Marcello Martinez, 49, an architect who served on the city’s planning commission for eight years.

Two candidates, Walter Murray, 57, the owner of Media Experts Advertising, and Diana Flores Uriegas, 61, declined to be interviewed.

Uresti, who owns a coffee shop on Pleasanton Road, wants to focus on job creation to get District 3 residents back to work. He said the city should be reaching out to people, especially those without internet, to tell them how to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“I’m the only candidate … that’s ever held office or ever been elected to office,” he said. “I’ll be able to hit the ground running and not have to be trained for the first four years in how to do this job.”

The city needs to find a way to ease traffic congestion at Goliad Road and Military Drive, Uresti said. He also complained about a lack of response from the current councilwoman’s office — a common refrain from many other candidates in the race.

Rebecca Viagrán said she has been responsive and accessible to residents during her eight years as councilwoman. Before the pandemic hit, she regularly met with constituents in her field office on Fridays.

Phyllis Viagrán was born and raised in District 3. She denied an opponent’s claim that she doesn’t live in the district and said she lives in the house where she grew up, owned by her mother.

Viagrán is focused on bringing more high-speed internet and digital literacy to the district. She wants the San Antonio Police Department to open a substation there and wants to reduce homelessness and get people back to work. She also plans to hold town halls to get district residents engaged in the issues once the pandemic passes.

“I have the working relationships and the knowledge of how this city works,” Viagrán said. “I’m fully aware that this is a city manager-led city. As I listen to my opponents, I don’t think they realize that.

“Because of my work experience, I have those relationships with key city staffers … and the current City Council,” she said.

Lopez is a lifelong San Antonio resident who has lived for eight years in District 3, where he owns a home.

During the pandemic, Lopez turned his event venues into places where families could hold funeral visitation services and rosaries for their loved ones at a lower cost and with greater social distancing than funeral homes could offer.

Lopez complained about a lack of communication from the incumbent’s office. He wants to bring in more economic development, improve sidewalks, spruce up parks, offer incentives for more affordable single-family housing, establish a police substation in District 3 and help the homeless.

Lopez said he lost everything during the economic crash of 2008 but rebuilt a successful business of about 40 employees. “You have to have suffered to know how to bounce back,” he said.

Vargas, who previously served on the San Antonio Youth Commission, said he wants to address inequities in District 3, partly by launching citywide Wi-Fi and turning parks into Wi-Fi hot spots, aiding small businesses and helping those who lost jobs during the pandemic find work. More district residents need to be vaccinated, he said.

“We’ve been disproportionately affected by COVID,” Vargas said. “We’ve had some of the most deaths in the city — we’ve had some of the most cases in the city.”

Vargas also wants a police substation and more grocery stores in District 3. He doesn’t own a home and lives with his parents.

“It’s important that we look for more ways to find money outside of just putting the bill to our property owners,” Vargas said.

Vela has lived in District 3 for more than three years, renting space in a friend’s home. A Navy veteran, he grew up in Converse and San Antonio.

Vela wants to provide more affordable housing, bring abandoned buildings up to code, make streets and sidewalks safe for the disabled and provide financial aid to small businesses. He is concerned the public is relying too much on unemployment benefits.

“That’s where we bounce back — is getting jobs, is working, is making commerce and building capital,” Vela said. “What we need to do is just stop unemployment already. There’s jobs out there. People are hiring. I see ‘Now Hiring’ signs all around.”

Cardona has owned her house in the Highland Park neighborhood for 20 years and is a past president and vice president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association.

She is a former zoning planner for the city and also used to work in the District 3 City Council office as an aide to both Rebecca Viagrán and former Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna.

Cardona wants to focus on improving the district’s health, safety, infrastructure and aging neighborhoods.

“I hope to earn (residents’) respect by being the council member that’s going to show up to those tough conversations,” Cardona said.

Gonzalez said he has been involved in South Side activities for more than 30 years. He denied an opponent’s allegation that he doesn’t live in District 3, saying he moved to the North Side for several years when one of his children, who is dyslexic, needed educational services that the Harlandale school district couldn’t offer.

Gonzalez said he moved back to District 3 in 2017 and lives in a house inherited from his in-laws in 2019. He described himself as politically conservative and pledged to get along and work with other elected officials if elected — “That has never happened,” he said.

Many District 3 streets still don’t have curbs, and Gonzalez would make building them a priority if elected.

Herrera-Garza grew up in District 3 and moved back with her family four years ago. Her husband, George Garza, ran unsuccessfully for the Texas House in District 119 last year. They are negotiating to buy the home they rent.

Herrera-Garza wants to improve infrastructure, address homelessness and curb crime. She also aims to bring quality job opportunities, job training and a police substation to District 3.

“I am the everyday citizen,” she said. “I don’t have political ties. I don’t owe anyone anything. I just want to get into city hall and do what’s right for the community and put the community first. We see far too often developers taking advantage of disenfranchised parts of town. And I don’t want to let that happen to District 3.”

Valdez was born and raised on the South Side. He and his family live in a house they rent from his wife’s mother. He is a former journalist and author of a book on planning quinceañeras.

Valdez is passionate about bringing city bus service to and from the Toyota plant after finding out no such VIA route existed. “This is not about Toyota,” he said. “This is about the people that I live near. They’re entitled to access to those jobs.”

Valdez wants to bring internet access to more seniors, address veterans’ issues and is concerned about developers and property owners exempt from paying property taxes.

“What makes me different is my ability to always listen, even if we don’t agree,” he said.

Martinez said people have asked him for years to run for City Council. The former planning commissioner is doing so now because his daughters are grown. He has lived in District 3 for nearly 15 years, owns his home and has seven employees at his architecture firm.

Martinez said he’s bridged many difficult conversations between developers and concerned residents. He has served on the Alamo Plaza Citizens Advisory Committee, the San Antonio Water System’s rate advisory committee and the Westside Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board.

Improving infrastructure, closing the digital divide and education gaps caused by the pandemic and tackling the root causes of homelessness are priorities, Martinez said. “I’m strongly in favor of complete streets and mass transit,” he added.

Murray emailed a written list of goals, such as prioritizing public safety, efficiently using property tax dollars and continuing to improve streets.

Three candidates divulged past arrests. Valdez was arrested twice in the 1990s on reckless conduct and criminal mischief charges, misdemeanors that were dismissed, and evading arrest, for which he successfully completed deferred adjudication to avoid a conviction.

Lopez said he was arrested more than 25 years ago for misdemeanor possession of marijuana up to 2 ounces. He said he successfully completed deferred adjudication.

Cardona was arrested in 2014 for theft $1,500 to $20,000-welfare fraud, public records show. She attributed the arrest to a clerical error. That charge was dismissed, records show.

pohare@express-news.net | Twitter: Peggy_OHare

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