Garcia: Former band director hopes to orchestrate upset in North Side council race

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City Councilman John Courage faces a conservative challenger in Jarrett Lipman for the GOP-leaning District 9 seat.

City Councilman John Courage faces a conservative challenger in Jarrett Lipman for the GOP-leaning District 9 seat.

Kin Man Hui, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

SAN ANTONIO — There’s always some element of personal sacrifice involved in launching a political campaign, but Jarrett Lipman’s sacrifices are bigger than most.

Lipman, 37, a longtime music educator who is challenging John Courage for the District 9 City Council seat on the North Side, owns a home in Timberwood Park, north of the city.

Last year, in order to be eligible for the council race, he moved out of the Timberwood Park home — whose value has been assessed at $500,000 by the Bexar Appraisal District — and relocated to a Stone Oak apartment complex within the District 9 boundaries. He also took a property-tax hit by removing his homestead exemption on the property he owns.

A month ago, Lipman resigned his position as band director at Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson High School, where he has taught for 15 years and received acclaim and awards for his work.

He also loaned his campaign $20,000 from his own personal funds.

What prompted this first-time candidate to put so much on the line for a City Council race? Lipman cites his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When things shut down, our marching band was one of the only ones that continued,” Lipman said Tuesday. “We were able to show that we could handle a crisis and rise to the challenge. I felt like there was a lot of criticism and pushback of our (NEISD) school district and our campus from our public officials.

“I understand the need for public safety. I also understand that the community members are very resilient and very resourceful and so I felt very disheartened and frustrated that I felt like we weren’t being supported in trying to have in-person school and in-person extracurriculars.”

While the voices of criticism did not include the council incumbent whom Lipman hopes to unseat, the former band director nonetheless said he felt let down by Courage.

“The councilman tends to stay pretty quiet on areas that are controversial,” Lipman said. “I know he doesn’t like to rock the boat. I felt like we would have benefited if he had stood up for us and come out to visit. I just feel like not taking a position is also taking a position.”

Courage’s council tenure has been one of the most remarkable developments in San Antonio municipal politics since the city adopted single-member districts in 1977.

In case you missed it: How mail voting carried John Courage to a third term on City Council

District 9 is the most politically conservative district in the city. It’s the only San Antonio council district that Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz carried over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in the 2018 midterms.

But Courage, an unabashed liberal Democrat who had unsuccessfully challenged Lamar Smith for Congress and Donna Campbell for Texas Senate, broke through a field of 10 council candidates in 2017 to emerge victorious.

After cynics dismissed his win as a fluke, Courage convinced District 9 voters to give him two more terms in office. He achieved that success by emphasizing constituent services and deemphasizing political ideology.

Courage’s persistent nemesis has been Patrick Von Dohlen, a right-wing culture warrior, anti-abortion activist and fervent opponent of LGBTQ rights.

They tangled in each of the past three election cycles, with Von Dohlen taking Courage to a runoff in 2021.

This time around, however, Von Dohlen is sitting out the District 9 race.

Lipman likely will pick up much of Von Dohlen’s support. Lipman has been courting GOP voters at various events, including a Bexar County Republican Club luncheon and a gathering of the San Antonio Republican Women.

“I’m very proud to be a Republican,” Lipman said.

At the same time, he emphasized that he doesn’t want to “make my race about partisan issues.”

He plans to emphasize public safety, the accessibility of city services and a commitment to investing in infrastructure.

He responded to the recent announcement that CPS Energy will shut down its coal-fired Spruce 1 plant in 2028 by tweeting, “This seems premature and reckless.”

More from Gilbert Garcia: Marc Whyte wins the endorsement of seven former District 10 councilmembers

He also slammed the Justice Charter Coalition’s ballot proposition, which would decriminalize abortion and cannabis in San Antonio, ban choke-holds and no-knock warrants by San Antonio Police Department and create the position of a city justice director. City Attorney Andy Segovia has stated that most of the proposition’s provisions would be legally unenforceable.

Courage joined fellow North Side Council members Manny Pelaez and Clayton Perry in leaving the dais when the council went through the formality of approving the proposition’s place on the May 6 ballot.

Lipman, however, argues that Courage should have gone further in expressing opposition to the proposed charter amendment.

“I would have voted against it,” Lipman said. “If it’s a formality vote, then vote your district.”

If Lipman falls short in May, it won’t be for a lack of energy or commitment. His former band students can attest to that.| Twitter: @gilgamesh470