Lands Commissioner candidate Jay Kleberg weighs in on Alamo redevelopment

Facing a runoff for the Democratic nomination for Texas lands commissioner, Jay Kleberg waded into the politically charged waters of the Alamo redevelopment plan, saying he wanted to make the site a tribute to all Texans who made history there, including Indigenous groups and civil rights activists.

Kleberg is in a runoff on May 24 against San Antonio clinical therapist Sandragrace Martinez, who finished first of four Democrats in the March 1 primary.

The winner will face one of two Republicans also vying for the role that oversees the state’s land and disaster recovery funds and has administrative authority over the Alamo. The position is currently held by Republican George P. Bush, who is running for attorney general in the GOP runoff against incumbent Ken Paxton.

“We need to make sure that the Alamo and the telling of its history doesn’t just focus on 1836, but also goes back thousands of years and what happened at that site,” Kleberg told the San Antonio Report at a rally at Cinco de Mayo. for the Democratic candidates in Roosevelt Park on Thursday.

Kleberg said he hoped to incorporate the stories of “indigenous groups that lived there,” as well as elements of the San Antonio civil rights movement that performed at Alamo Plaza. The Woolworth Building lunch counter, which will be part of a new Alamo museum and visitor center, was among the first to integrate serving black customers in March 1960.

“Not a lot of people know that,” Kleberg said, “but it’s part of that story there in the square.”

Jay Kleberg is running to become the next Texas land commissioner. Credit: Courtesy/Campaign Jay Kleberg

The Alamo site’s most recent redevelopment initiative has been underway since 2014. But the collaboration between the City of San Antonio, the General Land Office and the nonprofit Alamo Trust has been thrust into the political spotlight. in 2020 when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick objected to many of the ideas put forward in the evolving plans.

Patrick sided with protesters who opposed a plan to move the Cenotaph, a 1930s monument dedicated to Alamo defenders, and the Texas Historical Commission ultimately denied the city’s request to move it 500 feet south. And in July 2021, Patrick told officials at the Bullock Texas State History Museum to end a book roundtable, Forget the Alamowhich re-examines the history of the site and the role of slavery in the Texas War of Independence.

The way forward has been a point of contention for candidates from both parties for the post of Lands Commissioner, who presented a wide range of ideas ahead of the March primary.

“One of the things I’m focused on is making sure the community leads first” on the Alamo renovation, Kleberg said, referring to plans put forward by the city and a citizens’ advisory committee. .

Kleberg, an environmentalist and heir to King Ranch, announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination in November 2021. He spent about $680,000 on that race and finished second in the primary with 26% of the vote to 32% for Martinez.

Martinez, who raised and spent significantly less on the race, took an even bigger lead at his Bexar County home, 44% to Kleberg’s 22%. A third Democrat, Austin community organizer Jinny Suh, got 437 fewer votes than Kleberg, who also lives in Austin.

At Thursday’s rally of party supporters, many in the crowd seemed unfamiliar with Martinez, who ran for city council in 2017 under a different name. She finished seventh out of 10 and got 642 votes.

“Is this a Bexar County Democratic Party seminar or rally?” she joked, seeking to energize the crowd before launching into a campaign speech about her roots in San Antonio and her Mexican immigrant parents.

“We took a lot of those tickets back, and it was about time,” Martinez said, referring to the Hispanic contestants. She called the Texas Land Office “a good old boys club” and drew cheers for criticizing the Supreme Court’s reported plans to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Martinez did not respond to interview requests via the phone number and email address listed on his website.

Kleberg sought the Republican nomination for a seat in the state legislature in 2010, finishing second among three candidates.

He worked to win liberal allies ahead of his Democratic run-off against Martinez, boasting AFL-CIO, Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood endorsements.

“We’re just trying to build a broad campaign to really get through this second round,” he said of the effort.

Kleberg previously ran a nonprofit aimed at raising funds to preserve public lands and primarily campaigns for her work on environmental issues.

As land commissioner, he said he hoped to expand renewable energy production on the General Land Office’s 30 million acres, which are currently dominated by oil and gas production.

“If we do it right, we can actually create jobs and we can be at the forefront of a low-emissions future,” he said of the office.

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