The Council was considering the Toyota-driven annexation plan known as "the Southside Initiative." Residents stepped up to complain that their neighborhoods had been denied basic services for years. They worried that annexation would further stretch the city's already thin resources. To no one's surprise, the Council approved the annexation plan with little debate.
To live on the South and Southwest Sides of San Antonio means to grow accustomed to disappointment, to know your trail of municipal letdowns like the lines on your face. Streets don't get
|An Air Force KC-10 refueling tanker sits on the ground at Boeing's maintenence facility at Kelly USA while a T-43A takes to the air. Kelly USA and Lackland AFB, which retains control of the runways at Kelly, are situated in Districts 4and 5. The economic and environmental impact of the bases continues to be a hot-button issue for voters. Photo by Mark Greenberg|
"The South Side is always on the low end of the totem pole," says local businessman - and District 4 candidate - Joe Montoya. "Why is it that you go down Zarzamora and it's like a shanty town down there? The street is all messed up. You go to the North Side and drive down any street and you won't find what you find on the South Side."
In light of this ignominious history, it's sadly fitting that when a series of corruption scandals rocked the council last year, District 4 took the hardest hit. Only a few days after District 4 residents saw their current Councilman, Enrique "Kike" Martin, whisked away in handcuffs by FBI agents, they had to endure the image of Martin's mentor, and council predecessor, Raul Prado, indicted by the district attorney on a series of corruption charges.
David Fernandez hates to say he told you so. Actually, he loves to say he told you so. Fernandez, a pencil-thin firebrand who served as Prado's aide and subsequently lost to Martin for the vacant council seat in 2001, had been on a rampage against both men for years. He says as early as 1999 he approached the FBI with stories of bribery and money laundering involving Prado, Martin and other members of the South Side political machine disparagingly known as "the family."
Last March, he filed a nine-count complaint against Martin with the city's Ethics Review Board. The board determined that his allegations were frivolous and recommended that the city fine Fernandez $200. When the case came before the City Council in September, a defiant Fernandez took a verbal flogging from District 10's David Carpenter, who successfully urged the Council to hike Fernandez's fine to $500, just to teach him a lesson.
Fernandez never flinched. He insisted that he would be proven right, and now that both Martin and Prado are staring down the barrels of potential prison time, he can't resist trumpeting his willingness to tangle with City Hall.
"You might recognize me. I'm the person that fought for you against the City Council last year," Fernandez tells an elderly woman who sits outside her home near the intersection of S.W. Military and Zarzamora. Sure enough, most residents do recognize Fernandez.
Fernandez is 36, but when he blockwalks in jeans and his campaign T-shirt, he could easily pass for 18. Slender and diminutive, with short, dark hair and wire-rim glasses, he conveys the kind of ease with campaigning that you would expect from someone making his third run at the same office. Feisty and frequently abrasive when he goes face to face with his competitors, he's chatty and engaging with residents, winning them over with the notion that if he's a pitbull, at least he'll be a pitbull on their behalf.
Seven years ago, he was a customer-service rep for USAA, with no political background, when he read some articles about South Side politics and decided to spend the $1,000 burning a hole in his bank account on a City Council run. So Fernandez bought $1,000 worth of bumper stickers and launched a shoestring campaign. He received a paltry 156 votes, but his initiative made enough of an impression on Prado to earn Fernandez an offer to work on the councilman's staff.
At the time, Martin was a part-time assistant to Prado, someone who, according to Fernandez, "handled the stuff I gave him to work on." Fernandez says he gradually began to butt heads with Prado - and Martin - over what he viewed as the councilman's unethical practices.
"At South San, there was a school-board member who didn't see eye-to-eye with Prado," says Fernandez. "There was already $60,000 set aside for curbs and sidewalks for that neighborhood so kids could walk to school. Prado decided to pull that money away from that neighborhood, because he didn't like that school-board member."
After some heated exchanges with Prado, Fernandez left the councilman's staff, and says he was politically ostracized by "the family." He took on Martin in 2001, losing badly, and having his reputation sullied by a drunk driving arrest that February. With a characteristic underdog bravado that occasionally carries the whiff of paranoia, he suggests that his political opponents set up his arrest.
If Fernandez thrives on confrontation, his most formidable rival, Phil Cortez, comes across as a smooth diplomat. Remarkably focused and assured for a 24-year-old, Cortez is the political equivalent of the kid who spends his days playing air guitar in front of the mirror, dreaming of someday standing onstage at Madison Square Garden.
At his campaign office on a busy Friday afternoon, Cortez warmly greets an old friend, at one point saying, "This is what I've dreamed about for years. Can you believe it's happening?"
In 1997, as the vice-president of the student body at Palo Alto College, he met newly elected councilman Ed Garza, and told him that he aspired to represent District 4 someday. He wondered if Garza would help him get started in government. Garza brought Cortez on board as an intern, and later that year made him an assistant. When Garza was elected mayor in 2001, Cortez became his chief of staff.
Cortez will be tough to beat in District 4, primarily because his financial muscle outclasses the rest of the field. Between January 1 and March 25 alone, he raised nearly $22,000 and spent all but $1,000 of it. By comparison, Fernandez raised $4,200 during the same period, spending less than $1,400. The district's other contenders - Montoya, former Laredo Assistant City Manager Richard Perez and artist John Freeman - are getting by primarily on their own money, with only a little help from their friends.
Aware that Cortez is the clear frontrunner, his adversaries rarely waste an opportunity to shoot holes in his résumé. Their attacks usually center on two points: He is too young, and
|David Fernandez hates to say he told you so. Actually, he loves to say he told you so.|
"One of the candidates is just a child, says the 53-year-old Montoya. "I have two children that are older than Phil. How can we trust our city to a guy who hasn't even worked yet? He has no idea what it's like to be out there in the platform of life."
Perez - who has a master's degree in public administration from the University of Kansas - makes a less specific, but equally damning observation about the race. "They're all fine individuals," he says of his opponents, "but there's a real lack of skill, depth, and life experience."
On the wall of his campaign office, Cortez displays a framed picture of John and Jackie Kennedy campaigning at an Oregon diner in 1959. Kennedy, like Cortez, had to contend with doubters who warned voters not to "send a boy to do a man's job."
Cortez counters: "I believe - and a lot of my neighborhood leaders believe - that my age is just a number, because I have over five-and-a-half years experience working with the mayor and the city council. I'm the only candidate who can address their issues on a detailed level. I would have done this at age 18 if they would have let me. It's just something I've wanted to do my whole life."
On the issue of campaign contributions, Cortez rejects the notion that money always comes with strings attached. "Obviously, my vote is not for sale," he says. "These people have gotten to know me over the years. They've given me money. They know me as an honest, open-minded individual.
"They believe in my vision for District 4. So when they give me contributions, it's not because they expect anything in return, it's because they've known me over the years as a level-headed guy and they believe in my candidacy." •DISTRICT 4 STATS
• District 4 brushes against Marbach Road to the north, reaches far south outside Loop 410 to Applewhite Road, and extends as far west as Ray Ellison Drive and to the east, Commercial Drive. It includes Lackland Air Force Base and Kelly USA.
• While David Fernandez has collected just $4,200 in campaign contributions - none of it more than $200 - and Joe Montoya has taken no money from outside sources, Phil Cortez is raking in the bucks - $21, 975 as of April 5. This includes hefty contributions from Gene Powell ($1,000), Michael DeLeon ($1,000), William Ellis ($1,000), and many $500 contributions from developers and real estate interests.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.