His Son’s Generation Drives Mayor Ron Nirenberg in Creating Public Policy

I talked with San Antonio’s Mayor Ron Nirenberg to ask him a little bit about his education; his thoughts about parenting in San Antonio; and how parents can remain civically engaged. Read it all below.
QueMeansWhat: As a Summa Cum Laude graduate from Trinity and a Magna Cum Laude graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, It’s obvious that it was important for you to do well. Where did that spirit come from?

Mayor Ron Nirenberg: As a freshman in high school and I had not really learned a good academic work ethic and my English teacher sat me down and had me think about what I wanted to do in life and encouraged me to buckle up and start working hard – essentially make my own destiny. That was the point I decided to work hard and get organized to do well in school.
My grandfathers were my heroes. I wanted to go back to the East Coast to spend more time with them. I wanted to attend a small liberal arts school like the ones I had seen on tv. After I had been accepted to a couple of schools over there, my dad introduced me to Trinity University which is a similar school and he knew I’d save money and probably get a better weekend. We came to visit one weekend and I fell in love with it. It was exactly what I was looking for. In four years at Trinity University, I also fell in love with San Antonio essentially never left except for graduate school. 
QMW: What is your advice to students in college or about to go to college?
Nirenberg: My practical advice to when you see credit card enrollment tables, just keep walking. The challenge I see with most people is that it’s their first time out on their own and making their own purchasing decisions. I was raised with strong fiscal discipline. As I’ve gone through my own life with Erika (his wife), we’ve made a choice to get rid of any debt we’ve had and that included student loans and credit card debt. If it hadn’t not been for the fact that we were without heavy burdens of debt, we wouldn’t have been able to choose the career paths that we have — specifically my career of public service. I started not when I retired but in the prime of my work career. Erika had a strong career and we had no debt. It was freedom financially to make decisions to pursue things we love in life. Other advice I’d give people in school that was empressed on me by my parents is to find what your love to do. Find your passion and the money will come. You will never work a day in your life if you do what you love to do. I’ve folllowed that mantra and ended up with freedom to explore my own hobbies. 
QMW: Specifically for parents in San Antonio, is there anything you think parents haven’t heard about what’s happening in our city right now?
Nirenberg: It’s clear that San Antonio is and remains one of the fastest growing cities in America. That poses challenges for the next generation and makes it extremely critical that leaders in this generation make the right decisions to accommodate that growth. What drives me in public policy is being cognizant of my son and his generation. I’ve lived by the mantra that we don’t inherit the world from our fathers but we are borrowing it from our children. I’ve tried to take that vision into office and we’ve created an agenda based on that. We’re making investments in education and modern mobility that’s durable. We’re protecting the green spaces. We are looking beyond instant gratification to making policy is truly wise from us in the long run.
QMW: Name something that you have done as Mayor to support the parents of San Antonio.
Nirenberg: We worked diligently to change the way we allocate resources in the city from the politically expedient way which is to cut it up and give everyone the same amount. We’ve now established equity as the frame in which we now allocate resources to overcome historically inequities. We want to ensure that no matter which area of town you live in you will receive great services and infrastructure. Another thing we’ve done is establish the Mayor’s Housing Task Force which is a national model and is rooted in compassion. On my first day of office we signed the City Charter for Compassion so that everything we do and every policy initiative is rooted in compassion. It’s about people first. The Mayor’s Housing Task Force Report is our first-ever effort to protect housing affordability for the long run so that today’s and future San Antonioans can live in dignity, safely and affordably. If we are not proactive, we will find ourselves like the next San Fransisco, Seattle or Austin or any big city that’s facing a housing crisis.
QMW: How do you encourage parents to get civically engaged?
Nirenberg: Most obviously would be to go vote and take your kids. When I worked at Annenberg Public Policy Center, we found that the most powerful motivator to get someone to vote was the shaming that parents had from their children who were learning about politics in school. Kids were learning about politics were informing their parents about elections. Also, join a PTA. Get involved in your neighborhood associations which is the hardest and most local form of government.  One other thing I’d say is to talk to people. Walk across the street and talk to your neighbor. The most important form of civic engagement is meeting and engaging with neighbors. It’s the kind of personal discourse that we lack in a society that’s increasingly only engaged online in echo chambers.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and his family have ‘No Sitting Saturdays” to get out and explore a different part of San Antonio; go have lunch at a new place; and just be out among a different aspect of the community regularly. They are also avid movie-goers.