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San Antonio council campaign rhetoric mirrors national tone

Former Mayor Henry Cisneros says he's not seen words like 'socialist' and 'Marxist' thrown around in local races before.

SAN ANTONIO — As election day draws near, former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros says this year's campaign season has been unique: Buzzwords dominate discourse once centered on substance. 

"I'm sorry to see we're moving more toward council races where people are identified by and run by their partisan identities," he said. 

San Antonio's city charter says candidates cannot run for office as Republicans, Democrats, or members of any political party. Instead, they run as unaffiliated citizens united by their residence in the nation's seventh-largest city. 

But this year, partisan political rhetoric is bleeding into two local races, in particular. 

In District 9, Patrick Von Dohlen has frequently attempted to label incumbent north-side councilman John Courage a "socialist." And in District 5, Rudy Lopez has linked opponent Teri Castillo to socialism and Marxism in campaign fliers. 

"In part, it's a sign of our times because we're getting more divided and partisan as a country," Cisneros says, contending San Antonio has thrived under nonpartisan governance. 

Cisneros, who served as the city's first Latino mayor and eventually as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, says social media and campaign finance are partly to blame.

"There's no Democrat or Republican way to pick up the garbage," he says. "There's no Democrat or Republican way to fix the streets." 

Cisneros says he fears the introduction of partisan rhetoric during campaign season will breed content, once the election is over.  

"Now, you're having national issues intrude into local decisions," he says. "I would hate to see outsiders beginning to decide questions on a partisan basis, as opposed to merits of what's good for governance of the city." 

Voting begins at 7 a.m. on Saturday, June 5.