San Antonio City Council District 3 runoff features familiar South Side names

Phyllis Viagran, Tomas Uresti face off to replace term-limited Rebecca Viagran

District 3 voters in San Antonio will have two familiar names to choose from for their next representative on the City Council.

SAN ANTONIO – District 3 voters in San Antonio will have two familiar names to choose from for their next representative on the city council.

The current councilwoman, Rebecca Viagran, has reached her four-term limit, leaving the seat open. Competing to replace her on the council is her sister, Phyllis Viagran, and Tomas Uresti, a former Harlandale ISD school board trustee and state representative for District 118.

For her part, Phyllis Viagran said she had never really planned to run for office. However, seeing the progress her sister made and the commitment of both her and the other five women on city council inspired her.

“I thought, ‘I could be there and I can help,’” Viagran said.

While Phyllis Viagran said she and her sister, the current councilwoman, have similar work ethics, they bring different work backgrounds to the table.

Phyllis Viagran has held a variety of jobs, including as an elementary school teacher, a civilian employee for the San Antonio Police Department, a membership coordinator for Visit San Antonio, and most recently has been working part-time with Senior Planet teaching seniors how to use new technology.

“And I have the experience and the work ethic and the relationships to get into city hall, start working day one and making sure we don’t lose the momentum that we’ve had within the district,” she said.

Her top issues in the campaign include fully funding senior services, getting a public safety substation into the district, infrastructure - including broadband internet - and getting people back to work.

“So this SA Ready to Work plan needs to be ready to go. And we need to make sure that we’re meeting with the residents and understanding what sort of services they need to get back to work,” Phyllis Viagran said.

Her opponent, Tomas Uresti, is eager to get back to work, too - in the role of an elected official.

Though he currently runs the coffee shop, Corner Coffee, with his wife, Uresti also previously served 13 years on the Harlandale ISD Board of Trustees, state representative for District 118 for one term in 2017-2019, and four years on the Bexar County Appraisal District board of directors.

With Rebecca Viagran leaving the council seat open, Uresti said he saw a chance to give back.

“With the pandemic - as much help as businesses and the community is going to need, they’re going to need some strong leadership,” Uresti said. “So I figured, well, since we’re going to need somebody really strong to be able to get us through this, I figured with the experience that I have, I would be the one to be able to do it.”

Uresti is focused on being accessible, if elected as councilman, and the “resolvement” on the pandemic.

So, we need to get the children back in our schools. We need to get all businesses back open - hopefully to full capacity - and to be able to get those that want it to be able to get their vaccination at the same time,” Uresti said.

Uresti sees his experience in politics as separating him from Phyllis Viagran, as well as being “the only property taxpayer” in the race, a categorization his opponent disputes.

Phyllis Viagran’s home is a family property, she said, and is still under her mother’s name - a common arrangement on the South Side, she said. Her parents bought the home in the 1960s, she said, and now its hers, while her mother lives one house down.

“I do pay taxes,” Phyllis Viagran said. “My mother still writes the check because it is like a family legacy home. So, yes, I do understand the burdens that homeowners have and legacy homeowners have.”

And while Uresti touts his experience as a strength, Phyllis Viagran classifies the race as a career politician versus someone that wants to serve the district.”

“This district has had career politicians before,” Phyllis Viagran said, “and they don’t want to go there again.”

Uresti, though, is quick to point out that there’s no pay for being a school board member, and the pay for a state representative was only a few hundred dollars a month, plus a per diem.

Being a career politician where you’re getting paid is one thing,” Uresti said. “When you’re a career politician serving the community, not getting paid, that’s a good thing to be, you know?”

And while both have name recognition working for them, Uresti could face it working against him as well. Uresti agrees that his brother, former State Sen. Carlos Uresti’s, legal problems likely played into him losing the Democratic primary for the District 118 seat in 2018.

Uresti said at the time he thinks people were confused and mistook him for his brother, who was facing multiple indictments for fraud and money laundering charges. However, he does not believe that will be an issue this time around.

“I think at that time it was still fresh, and it was on people’s minds, and it upset a lot of people. But I think that’s gone away now, or a lot of it has,” Uresti said.

The District 3 race is one of five council races going to a runoff election on June 5. Early voting began Monday and will run through Tuesday, Jun. 1, with the exception of Sunday, May 30 and Monday, May 31.

You can read more about how Viagran, Uresti, and other candidates in the Jun. 5 runoff responded to questionnaires about their stances HERE.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.