Susie Byrd and County Judge Veronica Escobar have been playfully referred to by veteran local journalist David Crowder as, “that dangerous political sister duo,” and not without merit. They are formidable, and cliquish and when they’re in the room together, there’s a very Mean Girls vibe going on.
Having spent the better part of my childhood and adolescence on the receiving end of that vibe, I grant a wide birth when the two of them are at The Tap together.
Vibe to the side, she’s soft spoken and easy with a smile. Tall, and athletic, with a deep tan, and hazel eyes, she’s a former high school championship soccer player. She found herself involved in an on-field fight a few years ago playing on a local Parks & Rec team, and the Times dubbed her “Susie the Brawler” for the week. That competitive spirit suits her to politics, and who knows, maybe on-field delegation helped prepare her for the shitstorm she was soon to face.
Before I met Susie the political animal, I knew Susie as Bobby Byrd’s daughter, who worked at the family publishing house, and who was never without her kids at the coffee shops.
“I was not born here. We got here when I was in second grade. So I’ve been here since then… I grew up in District 2. I grew up in Manhattan Heights, went to Crockett Elementary, Bassett Middle School, and Austin High School.
“I started 2005. That’s when I ran, so 2005. I’ve been serving now, this will be the end of my seventh year. I have one more year left in my term.
“Well, a couple of things, [I wanted to accomplish]. One, a big part of it is Downtown redevelopment, very much related so sort of improving the quality of life in the whole community. Both the economic sort of status of the city, but also sort of what I think drive people to cities, which is our revitalized downtowns and great neighborhoods and fun places to be. That was a big priority. And really investing more in older neighborhoods, [rather] than in building out the new neighborhoods.
“Yeah, we [ran together]. Beto was interested in running but he felt like you couldn’t accomplish much just on your own, but it would be good to have people who have the same ideas working on the same issues, so he asked me and he asked Steve and we all ran together.
“I’m a Democrat in value. I don’t necessarily think that party politics is particularly helpful in moving an agenda forward. Just having worked in El Paso . I think that ideas are more important than party, but I very closely identify with the values of the Democratic Party. And you know, I don’t know. People have described me as a Progressive Democrat, but for me that stuff- if you get captured by that stuff it doesn’t necessarily help you- it doesn’t move your agenda forward. I’m all about El Paso- that’s my deal…
“Veronica (Escobar- County Judge), Steve, Beto and I really came to government from a really different perspective. Demanding that government works for the people instead of for a handful of people, and we really looked at the issues of corruption that have plagued our community for a long time. And then I think because we wanted to do something different, sort of transformative change for El Paso…
“[District 2] it’s a mix. It looks like El Paso. It’s probably about 80% Hispanic. It’s everybody. It’s just a real mix of folk…mostly low income but even then there’s a range in there of folks. It kind of depends which part of District 2, as you go farther Northeast, it’s a little more diverse in terms of racial background and ethnic background…
“This issue is distressing me so much. I feel like that vote that was taken last year is very much out of sync with who El Paso really is. Whether it’s because it’s poorly worded, or because the easy language of family values, but I think the base value that I learned growing up in the neighborhoods I grew up in was everybody is welcome. Everyone is treated equal and that’s a value that I learned and understood growing up in the neighborhoods that I grew up in. And so it seemed pretty natural when we looked into the issue of domestic partners it’s not a big issue at all. It seemed pretty straight forward that it would be something that people would feel supportive of. And I think- my sense is it’s confusing to a lot of people, given our cultural background- that the language and all of the sort of politics around gay rights is not necessarily a comfortable conversation for a lot of people. But if you talk about it in sort of terms-Greg down the street whose been living with Paul for 20 years, who’s an active member of the neighborhood association shouldn’t he be able to provide for Greg in the same way that I provide for my husband. And people are like- oh, yeah. Of course…
“A lot of people, especially Catholics are not comfortable with the language of gay rights, but they’re not uncomfortable with gay people. Because they have family members or neighbors or friends…
“That’s the neighborhood I grew up in. That’s the city I understand. That’s why I’ve been really troubled by people like Tom Brown that have sort of gained political muscle through this process. He’s pretty much out-of –step with what the political values of this community are.
“Here’s the big deal also, and I don’t know how to resolve this. I was actually, I’m glad that the Mayor won, because I think that was a really important case and it had really important implications for how you conduct these types of things, but I still feel like there’s this unanswered political question: what are the values of this community?
“In some ways I felt like a repudiation of the recalls through the election process would have been a clear sign like, the community’s not going to put up with this. It’s kind of really intolerance for other people because of their sexual orientation…but I felt like being able to defeat the recall would have sent a clear- here’s what our communty’s really about and so one of the things I’ve thought about putting forward a city charter amendment.
“Hopefully that will go forward in November. I don’t know if I’ll have the support of the council, cause I have a feeling everyone’s really gun shy on this issue, but that would just be a broad anti discrimination clause…My instinct was to do it at the same time as the ordinance. I really felt like it was important to have a competing idea in the election process, and also a charter amendment would have more legal validity because it can only be changed by the vote of the people, other than an ordinance, but I was kind of convinced out of it because every time you open up the city charter, you can only go in another two years. You can only change it every two years. And I should have just done it. You learn.”