How 1 Texas Woman Is Breaking Political Barriers

Ivy R. Taylor on rising to the task without losing sight of her mission

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Photo by Kevin Dome

As a San Antonio councilwoman fighting for affordable housing, Ivy R. Taylor was appointed mayor in 2014, when her prede­cessor left to work for President Obama. She won a second term in 2015, making San Antonio the first major U.S. city to elect a black woman to office. Taylor, 46, talked to Real Simple about rising to the task without losing sight of her mission.

What was your upbringing in New York like?

My parents were mem­bers of a Pentecostal Holiness Church, and most of our lives revolved around the church. I couldn’t wear pants, jewelry, or makeup. Dating was out, and [my younger sister and I] couldn’t even go to the movies. I read a lot of books. When I was in middle school, I discovered Gone With the Wind, and I think I read it 20 times, to the point where my dad took it and hid it. It’s a family joke, but it’s still a sore spot with me.

What sort of work did your parents do?

My dad was a printing pressman. He may have gone up to 9th or 10th grade. My mom worked as a bank teller when I was very young, then worked at the church, volunteering.

You ended up at Yale.

My mom kept pressing me to apply there, and I didn’t know why. Later I found out that when she graduated from her segregated high school in Wilming­ ton, North Carolina, in 1963 without a chance of going to college, the valedictorian from her class went to Yale.

Were you interested in politics as a kid?

I never had any inter­est in politics. My inter­est in politics is still limited. In college, I focused on American studies. I really didn’t give a lot of thought to how that would trans­late into a career. I felt so much pressure in high school to focus on grades that in college I was just into learning for learning’s sake.

You worked in New York after college.

I floundered for four years with jobs I hated. Then I decided I wanted to study urban planning. I first came to San Antonio for a sum­ mer internship with the San Antonio Affordable Housing Association during graduate school.

That’s when you met your husband.

Yes. I sat behind [Rod­ney] in church, and we started talking at the end of the ser­vice. I moved to San Antonio after graduate school and got a job working for the city. Rodney and I got mar­ried and had a baby. Then I worked for a nonprofit for about five years.

What brought you to the city council?

Some community members asked me to run. I thought I could get things done in relation to inner­city redevelopment.

When the mayor’s spot opened up, you raised your hand. The city council voted.

The moment I remem­ber feeling most ner­vous in the past two years was when it became apparent that I was going to get it.

You weren’t planning to run for reelection?

I don’t relish the cam­paigning side of things. But when I saw some of the folks running,I thought I could bring more to the table.

What’s it like to be in a meeting with you?

I don’t mind sharing a few jokes and laughing. In the work we do, the stakes are high and it can be pretty intense.

What have you learned in this role?

There are always going to be naysayers. Once you get where you think you have a reasonable compromise or deci­sion, you have to tune out the noise. You just have to articulate your position and move for­ward. Then sometimes you go home and whine to the husband about the people who don’t understand what you’re doing. Other than that, it’s just focusing on what you can do and knowing that you can’t make everybody happy.

What are you proudest of?

Being a mom is pretty awesome. My daughter is 12 now. I guess this mayor thing is a pretty big deal, too. It serves as a point of pride for our city, especially considering the demo­graphics. [San Anto­nio’s population is about 60 percent Latino and less than 10 percent black.] I also hope it’s inspiring for young people, especially young minorities.

Talk about work-life balance a bit.

My husband [who works in real estate] is extremely supportive of me being in this role. I couldn’t do it if he didn’t have that atti­tude. I miss a lot of time with my daughter, but I also have experi­ences with her that are extraordinary. She came with me when I went with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on a trade mission to Spain. I think that will always be something that she’ll remember.

How do you relax?

I still love to read. Now I tend to read books about cities or biogra­phies. It always relates back to work.

What’s the thread that runs through your career?

I’ve stayed focused on making cities better places and creating opportunities for peo­ple, and it just hap­pened to carry me to the mayor’s office.

What’s your takeaway from that?

Pursue your passion, not a position. That will take you where you need to go.