The city of San Antonio’s efforts to stop politics from redrawing precincts had been a mostly drama-free affair — until a conservative activist’s home ended up outside the boundaries of one of the last political districts of the city.
On Monday, the city’s Independent Redistricting Commission voted unanimously to shut down Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association President Patty Gibbons’ latest attempt to stop a proposed city council map that would move her home out of of the district she ran unsuccessfully to represent in 2017.
The decision clears one of the biggest remaining hurdles for the commission as it seeks to redraw the council districts that will be used in next spring’s municipal elections. No changes were made to the proposed map during Monday’s meeting at the Northwest Senior Center, although map drawing material was brought in to potentially address concerns, including Gibbons’ competing proposal.
“We have made significant progress in addressing what has been a very serious concern of the communities that came to this meeting,” said Bonnie Prosser Elder, one of two appointees by Mayor Ron Nirenberg to the committee.
Two more meetings remain to address remaining concerns, including some unresolved disputes related to changes in District 6. Jordan Ghawi, who represents District 1 on the committee, said he would present a motion to accept the cards in their current form at the next meeting on May 10 if the remaining conflicts have not been resolved.
Gibbons and his allies dominated the first half of Monday’s meeting, including written and in-person requests to support his proposed map that kept Greater Harmony Hills in District 9. Gibbons is a self-proclaimed conservative who finished fifth in a 2017 race to represent that district, garnering 7.42% of the vote.
She went to great lengths to revise the committee’s proposal, including working with a demographer to create an alternative map. Gibbons did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening. She did not attend Monday night’s redistricting meeting.
“We will have to recruit good candidates [to run in District 1]said Dawn Baamonde, a Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association board member who fought the changes alongside Gibbons, in an interview after the meeting. Baamonde arrived at Monday night’s meeting with hundreds of signatures that other neighborhood leaders had collected in support of Gibbons’ proposed map.
Although District 9 leans conservative in national elections, its current representation on the council is John Courage, who has identified himself in previous campaigns as a Democrat, and plans to seek another two-year term when re-elected to the next spring.
Gibbons Ward 3063 backed President Joe Biden with 55% of his vote in 2020. It’s one of four wards in Courage District set to move to the much bluer District 1 as part of of an effort to redistribute the city’s growing population among its 10 municipalities.
San Antonio has grown by more than 100,000 people since the previous 2010 census, and District 9 is among those that must lose residents to keep the districts roughly the same size.
“Ms. Gibbons’ ability to effectively create a kingdom of Greater Harmony Hills allows her to act as if she represents a sizable voting population… she doesn’t,” Whispering Oaks resident Ann Marie Nikolich wrote. , in a statement against Gibbons. ‘ plan which was read aloud at Monday’s meeting.
Gibbons is well known for her aggressive approach to local politics.
After her bid for council failed, Courage appointed her former political nemesis to the Zoning Commission, where she fought to protect private properties from oversight by the Historic Design Review Board. Courage opted not to renew his term when it ended in 2021, he told the San Antonio report, following complaints about his approach from other board members.
Gibbons, once president and CEO of a surveying and mapping company, then turned her full attention to the redistricting process.
“Communities of Interest” are part of the Voting Rights Act, and [under the new maps] we don’t have a community of interest,” Gibbons said of his efforts to keep his neighborhood from being moved to District 1. “We don’t really have a ‘community of interest’ with a life urban type.
After months of lobbying to keep his neighborhood in District 9 during the public consultation process, Gibbons’ suggestions were not included in the committee’s proposal due to concerns from the city’s legal team. Comments left on the redistricting website called his efforts racially motivated – which Gibbons says is not true.
“We’re going to get our heads chopped off, but that’s okay,” Gibbons said of that opposition at a rally of conservative activists at the Republican Bexar County seat last month.
On April 20, leaders of the redistricting commission presented their proposal to the city council, which hailed the plan as an example of how communities can prevent the redistricting process from turning into a partisan war.
Undeterred, Gibbons returned to work on a new plan, which she used to rally neighborhood support and reopen the map-drawing process with the committee.
“Once all the boundaries of the map were moved everywhere, I think that window opened up,” Gibbons told other conservative activists of his plan to create the new map. “That’s when we worked with our own demographer and found these two precincts, one in District 9 and one in District 10. [ to move into District 1].”
On the Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association website, Gibbons asked neighbors to submit comments about why they don’t want to be moved to District 1 on a page titled “SAVE US.”
When Gibbons presented her new plan to the commission on April 23, she was surrounded by allies who stood up to defend her new map and uphold her good intentions. One of them identified himself as a “tree-hugger”.
Gerri Peters, another supporter who serves as Republican precinct speaker in 3063, emphatically reminded the public that she is Hispanic
“We are finally getting a senior center which is needed for our area and we have a thriving community. Please allow us to stay where we are,” Peters implored the commission.
Their pleas brought the committee back to the drawing board Monday night.
“I named two people from my neighborhood who each live on either side of [Highway] 281, so I thought you get slightly different views,” Courage said of the redistricting commission.
“I told them, you just have to listen to the evidence and make whatever decision you think is the right one, because I’m trying to keep politics out of that,” he said of the decision to hear from Gibbons and his allies.
Still, leaders of the redistricting effort bristled at his approach.
“It’s pretty obvious that Hollis [Grizzard Jr.] and I, as representatives of District 8, have been placed in an extremely difficult position in which we must ask our committee, the Committee of the Whole, to consider two competing and diametrically opposed options,” said Larry Lamborn, the one of two people named by Courage for the Committee.
But that deliberation came to an abrupt halt moments later. when Laura Garza, a District 7 representative, made a motion to take no action on Gibbons’ plan.
Fifteen committee members voted in favor of the motion, none voted against.