With a shade canopy and cushioned rubber mats, from top to bottom, the playground at Lion’s Field Park is a great place for parents with young children to enjoy and make memories. On this spring afternoon mayoral candidate Manuel Medina is spending some quality time with his wife and two girls, 3-year-old Sara Sophia and 7-year-old Michelle Mari.
Medina said this location brings back memories because the Ranch Motel, nearby on Broadway, is where his journey in San Antonio started.
That's when I got here, 20 years ago after U-T. That's where I lived with my brother," he said.
In 1996, Medina was in San Antonio volunteering for the Victor Morales Senate campaign. The upstart Democrat won the party's nomination by driving his pick-up truck across the state. But he lacked the wheels to defeat Republican Senator Phil Gramm in the general election. It appears Medina learned a few things from Morales about how to be a charismatic, plucky challenger.
Since then, Medina has gone on to be a successful entrepreneur, an international political consultant and then the head of the local Democratic Party. “People ask me that I live in the Dominion, but I tell them 'But, I wasn’t born in the Dominion.'"
Medina was born far south of the Dominion's luxury -- in Mexico. "But at the age of 3, my mom and I crossed the border -- maybe, swam a little -- in the McAllen then came to San Antonio and El Paso, Los Angeles, then eventually, made my way back," he said.
“Let me give a perfect example, perfect example. They say Manuel Medina lied. Why? Because he said he lived in San Antonio for 20 years. And look, he worked for 11 years in Mexico. He couldn't have lived here. What's the truth?"
Yes. For 11 years I went down to Mexico once a month maybe, once a week to teach a class. I was a visiting professor. That same night, maybe the next day, I'd drive back," he said.
Medina says he was also married and divorced in Mexico. And he ran for political office in Mexico.
“Bottom line is. Yes. In 2005 I ran for office and that's because I went there on January it was a two month sprint that at the end of the day I lost,” he said.
In 2012 Medina ran for and became the chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party.
“I ran, knocked on doors, made the calls and got elected the first time with 24,000 votes. The second time with 40,000 votes; this last time I got elected was 80,000 votes,” he said.
Medina said he won without the support of establishment democrats. And he’s breaking from them again as he runs for mayor which is a traditionally nonpartisan election. Medina is reaching out to local conservatives by criticizing the $850 million dollar city bond that’s also on the May 6th ballot.
“Well, I'm voting 'no.' And I'm sharing my concerns that the bond is maxing out the city's credit card under our current financial structure in terms of what's coming in and what's going out,” he said.
City leaders say the city’s credit rating remains a "triple triple A" – the highest possible score.
As we talk, the sound of Broadway’s traffic is noticeable. The corridor is booming . And there’s $42 million dollars in the bond package to transform the street into a multi-use boulevard. Medina calls that a giveaway to special interests along with the UTSA athletics center and a land bridge at Hardberger Park.
“I really believe that giving away $200 million in this bond is a shame and an insult to the real needs that we have all across town on the North Side, South Side, East Side or West Side,” he said.
Medina blames this on City Manager Sheryl Scully. He says his No. 1 priority is firing Scully.
"May 6th new mayor -May 7th new city manager," he said.
On reflection Medina conceded the mayor does not have the power to fire the city manager. That takes a majority of City Council.
“I made it a No. 1 priority in my platform and if I win then that's what the voters want. Then I'll invest all my political capital to make sure we get six votes on council," he said.
And as Medina rejoins his family to enjoy the city park – he notes that soon Lion’s Field will be overwhelmed with campaign signs and early voters deciding his political future.