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State Rep. Mike Villarreal speaks to LGBT constituents at a Town Hall meeting he convened in 2008.

Mayoral race: Villarreal has name recognition in LGBT community
QSanAntonio, May 30, 2014

When State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) announced last week that he would be running for mayor, political activists in the LGBT community were surprised and heartened by his decision especially since he's been a strong ally from the time he was first elected.

In 2000, a group organized by attorney Mark Phariss called Friends of Mike supported Villarreal's first run for the Texas House. Phariss, who now lives in Plano, is one of the plaintiffs in the Texas marriage equality lawsuit. He told QSanAntonio that Villarreal's candidacy for mayor is a positive development.

"I am elated that Mike is running for Mayor of San Antonio. Mike is as gifted, inclusive and visionary as the departing Julian Castro. I have never regretted my support for Mike when he first ran, and he has definitely been a valuable ally to the LGBT community," he said.

During his tenure, Villarreal has been honored with the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Award, the Equality Texas Advocate Award and the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio's Political Advocacy Award.

In 2005, Villarreal was one of only 29 Democratic House members to vote "no" on HJR6 which put a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality on the ballot. The marriage ban passed with 76 percent of the vote. It was recently struck down by federal District Judge Orlando Garcia and awaits a hearing in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Villarreal has consistently authored legislation calling for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state's nondiscrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations.

In December 2012, he filed a bill, HB238, which would ban employment discrimination for LGBTs. On the day the bill was announced, Villarreal said in a statement, "An overwhelming majority of Texans believe that everyone should be judged on their capabilities and job performance. Hardworking, high-performing employees should not be fired just because they are gay or transgender." Villarreal has filed this type of pro-LGBT legislation during each regular session since 2003.

Like similar bills Villarreal put forward in previous sessions of the Republican-controlled legislature, HB238 never made it out of committee.

During the city's protracted battle to pass the nondiscrimination ordinance, Villarreal led the charge to get every Bexar County Democratic State House member to sign a letter of support that was sent to the San Antonio City Council.

"I believe in the basic fundamental tenets of our country," Villarreal told QSanAntonio in a recent interview. "I am shaped by where I've lived. San Antonio is a city that has always cheered for the underdog -- for people who are being left out or marginalized. Fair play and equality transcend all groups."

Rep. Mike Villarreal accepts the Political Advocacy Award from the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio in 2006.

A decision to run

Villarreal says he's running for mayor because, "We are a city on the rise and I want to keep that momentum going. San Antonio is a city with humble beginnings and unlimited possibilities. It's an exciting time to live here."

He says he wants to be the kind of mayor who supports the efforts of the thousands of San Antonians who work to make the city a better place to live.

Villarreal describes the city's Pre-K for SA program as a long-term investment in people. "I have always believed in building prosperity and freedom through education."

During his time in the legislature he focused on many of the issues faced by Texas' schoolchildren including reducing the "over-emphasis" on standardized testing.

He is a supporter of SA2020 and the Decade of Downtown. "I live in Southtown and I get it," he says. "I want to make sure every neighborhood experiences the quality of life that's being created downtown."

One thing Villarreal says he'd like to do is to continue using projects like the San Antonio River expansions and creek way improvements to create a "lattice of linear parks that circle and cut across the city" so bike riders would have the ability to traverse town without having to worry about automobile traffic.

He cites the Toyota "multiplier effect," solar energy manufacturing, technology startups and workforce development as ways of keeping the city's momentum going.

One criticism Villarreal has faced is that he will be running for mayor during the time when he has to be in Austin working in the legislature.

"I think it's impractical to be in two places at once. We are still at an early stage, awaiting Mayor Castro's confirmation to President Obama's cabinet. A transition will take place, but I'm not sure when. I'll eventually step down to run for mayor," he says.

One newspaper columnist, Gilbert Garcia of the San Antonio Express-News, suggested that City Councilman Diego Bernal would be a great replacement for Villarreal in the legislature. However, Bernal has also expressed interest in running for mayor.

"I would welcome his run for State Rep should he decide to do so," says Villarreal. "I think Councilman Bernal would be a great representative."

Villarreal will face a crowded field of opponents in the mayoral race. They include not only Bernal, but council members Ray Lopez, Ron Nirenberg, Ivy Taylor, Rey Saldana, Ron Nirenberg, Joe Krier, and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce president Richard Perez among others.

The Express-News ran an informal straw poll asking readers to cast their votes for who they would like to see as mayor. Villarreal came out on top -- something he regards as a good omen.

"It's an affirmation of my decision," he says. "As I call around, I'm feeling a lot of love for this new adventure. In the 15 years I've been in the legislature, I've worked with almost every city leader. This has allowed me to study the issues and more importantly, to establish a working relationship with the folks who are working to move the city forward. With this experience, I can hit the ground running on my first day as mayor."

Texas ENDA bill filed by Rep. Mike Villarreal
QSanAntonio.com, December 6, 2012
On December 3, State Representative Mike Villarreal of San Antonio filed legislation to amend the Texas Labor Code to provide equal employment protections for gay and transgender employees.

Why I'm running for mayor of San Antonio
By Mike Villarreal, TribTalk.com, May 27, 2014
After San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro was selected to serve as the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, I indicated my interest in becoming the city’s next mayor. The Texas Tribune asked me to explain my interest in leading the city where I grew up.