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Mario Bravo, San Antonio's District 1 Councilperson
Episode 4123rd September 2021 • The Alamo Hour • Justin Hill
00:00:00 00:58:46

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Mario Bravo unseated an entrenched incumbent City Councilperson to become the new District 1 representative. He has a history that includes working fishing boats out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Now, he is dedicated to improving San Antonio for all.


Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you'll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique, and the best-kept secret in Texas. We're glad that you're here.

All right, welcome to The Alamo Hour. Today's guest is Councilman Mario Bravo. Mario is District 1 Council Person for the city of San Antonio, recently elected. District 1 is basically everything you see on a map in the middle of San Antonio, from Southtown all the way up to about 410, a little bit on other sides, but between 281 and I-10. He ran on the issues of public safety, healthy community, and economic redevelopment. He unseated an entrenched incumbent, who, if he had won, would maybe have been the longest-serving council person in San Antonio history, is that right?

Mario Bravo: I'm not sure, but yes.

Justin: Something along those lines. It would have been a very long run.

Mario: I think that's probably right because we had just recently gone from four years to eight years for term limits.

Justin: Oh, okay. Yes, yes.

Mario: He would have been at about eight and a half years.

Justin: There are two four-year terms now for y'all, right?

Mario: Four two-year terms now.

Justin: Oh, yes, because four two-year terms would make a whole lot more sense. I remember thinking how strange it was the way we did it. Mario has been involved in activism in San Antonio for a long time. We'll talk to him about that. We asked him to come on to talk to us about his most recent election, challenges for the city, and now is a very challenging time, so this is very [unintelligible 00:01:42], I think, and a little bit about who he is. I got to know Mario, when he decided to run for this District 1 seat, I reached out to him and said, "I think it's time for a change. I'd like to get to know you."

Mario is very passionate about our city and his district. Before this, we were talking that when you're passionate about something, it doesn't feel like work and he's really enjoying it. Mario, I sort of start all these with a little bit of getting to know some strange questions. What are your favorite places to eat and drink right now in town? Let's do District 1, District 1 where's your favorite place to have a bite and have a drink right now?

Mario: Oh, there's quite a few, but Liberty Bar's one for sure. I'm a big fan of Curry Boys on North St. Mary's Strip. I like to get the much [unintelligible 00:02:31] tacos from Garcia's.

Justin: I just heard Curry Boys BBQ, right?

Mario: Right. It's barbecue, but it's like barbecue chicken and brisket, but with Curry, and it's amazing.

Justin: No, it was fantastic. It was all very spicy though. Just heed the warning. I haven't been to Liberty Bar in a little while, but I used to be known to go there on occasion. Favorite hidden gems in District 1 of San Antonio, maybe places people didn't know or haven't been within your District.

Mario: Hidden gems.

Justin: You have a lot of stuff in your district, so this should be an easy one.

Mario: Well, I'm just trying to think of what's hidden? I guess not everybody knows about Sanchos and how great their michelada and their Bloody Marys are.

Justin: I was going to go with the Japanese Tea Garden, but we'll stick to the drinking thing. I'm okay with that. Sanchos is good and it's very fairly priced, which I also appreciate, and District 1 has some places that are not fairly priced. What was the surprise hardest part of running a campaign? This wasn't your first, so you have some experience.

Mario: It wasn't my first. It was a little bit surprising to see a lot of, quote-unquote, "people from the left," progressives that piled on against me in the runoff. That was a little bit surprising.

Justin: Why do you think that is?

Mario: Because I think I have strong progressive credentials and a record of working in the community, and so that was surprising to me.

Justin: You think they were just so aligned with Trevino at that point, they didn't care?

Mario: I think that they bought into Trevino's rhetoric over his vote record. That's my best guess, I don't honestly know.

Justin: He spent a long time and I'm sure he had some successes. I had a personal story and politics are local. You need your city councilman one time and if they don't help you out, you think they're not very responsive. That was my experience, so I can't talk to his voting record. I could just talk to my one anecdotal moment. Do you have any odd hobbies?

Mario: I wouldn't say odd hobbies. I like to sail.

Justin: I think that's an odd hobby for San Antonio.

Mario: Yes, a little bit.

Justin: Not a lot of people sail around here.

Mario: When I was growing up here in San Antonio, my neighbor's dad, one of my little brother's best friends, his dad built a 60-foot sailboat in his backyard and it was legendary. I thought about that a lot. Then I taught at a leadership program for middle school kids in DC ones, and every week we'd get a new group of kids, and then we would take them to go see the documentary about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his whole adventure in sailing. It was just a dream. When I finished grad school, I had no money, no job. A friend of mine presented an opportunity to get a sailboat. I was like, "I can't pay you because I have no money and no job." Then I got a job, and we worked out an arrangement for payments. I'd never been on a sailboat before, and I started learning to sail, and I've been learning the hard way.

Justin: Okay, where have you sailed.

Mario: Lake Travis.

Justin: Okay, there's actually a lot of sailboats out there.

Mario: There are.

Justin: Have you ever been on a Raser? Not the scooter.

Mario: Yes.

Justin: That was the funniest Olympic event--

Mario: Is it Raser or Laser?

Justin: Ooh. I don't really know. Laser?

Mario: Yes. The little teeny ones?

Justin: Yes. It was the funniest Olympic event I saw this year.

Mario: Very reactive, slippery little boats. They are lots of fun.

Justin: Everybody was everywhere. There are two people on course, everybody else was lost.

Mario: My boat's very different from that, but they're both fun in different ways.

Justin: I wanted it set to Benny Hill music. I thought that would have been really comical. Just the one where they chase everybody around.

Mario: I can see that.

Justin: Did the 60-foot boat built in somebody's backyard, was it sea-worthy?

Mario: He sails it all over the world. The guy's retired and he sails it all over the world

Justin: Built his own sailboat?

Mario: Yes. Mine is not sea-worthy like that. My boat's older than me. You can buy old boats cheap and then you've spent a lot of time and money keeping them up.

Justin: Hardberger has a really impressive sailing history too, I think.

Mario: I've heard, I'd love to go sailing with him. I bet I could learn a lot from him.

Justin: There's a videographer who does court reporting here named Terry Lindemann. You can't see it, but he gave me a Big Bend photo he took as an office warming gift. He was hired by one of the Maloney's and Hardberger at different times to be part of their competition sailing teams. He didn't have his own boat, but he's just done it enough that he got sucked up to do that.

Mario: They could hire me to wash their boat, probably. I don't think they would hire me to--

Justin: I think they go out and race in the Pacific and real big races. Favorite fiesta event?

Mario: Favorite fiesta event? I like just going out among the people and just wandering, and checking out the different foods that you can get, and being able to get the [unintelligible 00:07:45]. There's not a lot of times and not a lot of good places. If somebody knows a good place to get [unintelligible 00:07:49], I would love to hear about it.

Justin: It sounds like you like NIOSA is what it sounds like.

Mario: Yes.

Justin: That sounds like lots of people and lots of food. You said that one of the things you did after graduating high school was work on an Alaskan fishing boat, I think, if I heard that correctly, right?

Mario: Indeed

Justin: Scariest moment?

Mario: Scariest moment?

Justin: Because it's one of the deadliest jobs in America.

Mario: All the terrible accidents that you hear, a lot of times they're crabbing boats where somebody takes a boat that's too small for the kind of weather and the kind of sea conditions you're going to experience, and too small of a crew, and they work too long of hours and then big accidents happen or you have the boat overloaded with seafood and weight and then you hit a big storm. Our boat was 240 feet long. It was six stories tall, double steel holes, every door sealed down like on a submarine with the wheel. We felt like it was what the Titanic wanted to be. However, when we hit rough weather coming back, I started to realize, "You know what? If mother nature is going to take you out, mother nature is going to take care out."

Justin: Sure, and in the North Sea, the waves are shorter. They're higher and shorter. I'm sure the physics teacher could tell me this again, but up there as you get closer, the waves get tighter.

Mario: I did not know that, but I experienced that. At one moment, you're on the back of the boat and it's like being on top of a mountain and you can see forever, and the next thing you know, it looks like there's a mountain descending on you.

Justin: What were y'all fishing for?

Mario: We were fishing for pollack when I was out there. It's a basic white fish, like the fish filet sandwiches from Long John Silver's, or McDonald's, or fish sticks, a lot of the fish sticks you know are pollack.

Justin: I think it's the certified environmentally friendly alternative to cod, is how it was described to me at a restaurant one time.

Mario: Possibly. What struck me when I was out there is that I didn't realize the extent to which we were going to be overfishing when I got the job. Then I get out there and what struck me is everybody in the industry was talking about the industry as though they weren't a part of it. All the things that were wrong and all the things people needed to do. We went to Russia. You sign a contract for a certain number of fishing trips and they don't tell you when you sign up, but they make you sign a contract for more fishing trips than you can possibly fit in a US fishing season, then you find out, "Oh, I'm going to Russia."

Justin: Is that right?

Mario: Yes. We go to Russia and there were no fish in Russia. We were catching baby fish, and I thought, "Why are we doing this? If we catch all the baby fish this year, first of all, you can't do anything with them."

Justin: You were keeping them.

Mario: Yes. Then we're not going to have big fish next year. That's all there was.

Justin: How many days were you at sea?

Mario: I think maybe 40 days.

Justin: Long enough to know.

Mario: It was worth the adventure, not the money.

Justin: 40 days, you were like Noah, I think, right? 40 days, 40 nights?

Mario: I'm not sure.

Justin: My mom worked in a cannery on Kodiak Island. She always tells the stories about how the fish were frozen when they were brought and one of her jobs was-- I don't know either. Everybody had a job. One cut their head off, one did this thing. She said you would leave and your fingers would be frozen just solid because that's all you've been doing.

Mario: Oh, my knuckles got really swollen because it was a 16-hour shift, and every four hours you get a 15-minute break. I guess your hands would get cold. You'd take a break and then you'd come back and your hands weren't warmed up again, and all of a sudden, everything's frozen.

Justin: Was it with nets? Is that how you catch a pollack?

Mario: Yes. We were dragging huge nets. We could bring in up to 75 tons per net and we had machinery that would do everything that people working with your mother did, by hand. You would put them in these slots on a conveyor belt.

Justin: They were cleaned on the boat.

Mario: We did it all. It was a factory trawler, factory dragger, so we'd drag nets and process the fish. There were machines that would saw cut the heads off, slice the belly open, whisk out the guts, filet them, descale them. Then you just take these clean filets and you're layering them into a basket. It's on a scale. Once you get to 17 pounds, they go into a little box and they get flash frozen. You can freeze, I think, 1 ton of fish or 2 tons of fish in 15 minutes.

Justin: Did you eat a lot of pollack while you were out there?

Mario: No, we ate really well on that boat. Really, really well.

Justin: I guess you catch other things that aren't part of the season.

Mario: No, you're not allowed to.

Justin: You just throw them back.

Mario: Yes, because you don't want to get busted.

Justin: What if they're dead? Still, throw them back?

Mario: You got to get rid of it all, yes, because you can't be accidentally targeting the wrong fish, I guess, and you don't want to get fined or lose your boat.

Justin: I was in Mexico fishing marlin, and long story short, it was terrible, but we finally catch one marlin and they said, "Well, you can't keep it. It's illegal to keep it if it's a viable fish and then a guy hits it in the head with a hammer and says, "It's not viable anymore." I thought, "What in the hell?" I didn't know if y'all had some loopholes like that.

Mario: No, we didn't have anything like that. If they accidentally pulled on a shark or something like that, a big one, they'd try and get it off the boat quickly so they could live if they could.

Justin: Did you catch things like that?

Mario: Yes, we caught the wrong things now and then. It was one of the more modern fishing boats. We had radar or sonar that could tell you what fish were down there, and so we were targeting our schools of fish but also we would track the other boats. We knew which currents your boat fished on which day so that we wouldn't go and follow you in those currents as well.

Justin: There's so much money to go out. You better make it pretty sophisticated, I would assume.

Mario: It was a $40 million boat.

Justin: How many people were on the crew?

Mario: Anywhere from like maybe 100 to 120 at a time.

Justin: Full bunkhouses and everything? You and your brother?

Mario: Yes.

Justin: What was the longest amount of time y'all were out at one time.

Mario: Maybe three weeks at a time, two to three weeks.

Justin: That's a while and y'all went out of.

Mario: Dutch Harbor.

Justin: Which is where all the boats on the show go out of. I could talk to you about fishing because it's real interesting. Easy question. Tell us about District 1. What is it? Who are the people? Who lives there?

Mario: District 1 is unique because District 1 borders every single other city council district, it's the only one that does that. We're like the middle of the pie. It's like I say, people, typically, you cut a papaya into wedges, but if there was a centerpiece, that's District 1. It's unique in that way. It's unique in that it has so much of Downtown. That makes it a little bit different. Then you've got some competing interest with development. There's Downtown development or just density development versus people wanting to preserve the character of their neighborhoods, not wanting more traffic in their neighborhoods. Just wanting to keep things the way they are.

Justin: It's everything Downtown that the normal person thinks is Downtown. It's I-10 all the way to 281.

Mario: Yes, for the most part, it's everything that people consider Downtown.

Justin: Economically, almost every economic class is contained within your district, right?

Mario: That is true as well.

Justin: You have some very nice neighborhoods. You've got some of the really nice condos all the way to some of the older neighborhoods that have been known for having downtrodden economically areas, and some of the areas that have been forgotten and taken advantage of probably.

Mario: Absolutely. I like to tell people, people in low-income neighborhoods, they pay taxes too.

Justin: They vote. If they vote more, we get people that pay attention to them more, which is a good thing. You're in an interesting time, I think, for San Antonio as well because Mayor Castro, he was the decade of Downtown or...