The incumbent leads the herd in one-horse mayoral race

"It is certainly an extraordinary time for San Antonio," Garza continued, relating the importance of Toyota's decision to build Tundra trucks to the city's economic well-being. By the time the March 19 candidates' filing deadline rolled around, Garza had repolished his slightly tarnished reputation, and he appears to be a shoe-in. If it weren't for several contested City Council races and two additional mayoral candidates, San Antonians

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Hundreds of "Ed Garza for Mayor" signs sit unused behind Garza's campaign headquarters on Broadway. Photo by Mark Greenberg
could save the cost of an election if City Council declared Garza the winner for his second term.

Despite his apparent impending coronation, Garza's first-term ride was rough. The PGA development blew up in his face after he and the current City Council ignored at least 80,000 petition-signing opponents of the golfopolis, (in contrast, Garza received only 59,000 votes in the 2001 election). Elected officials passed a switcheroo that allowed the PGA to be built over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone - with some hefty financial perks for the developers. Yet lately, Garza is on the bad side of developers, who, mad about his favorable stand on a more stringent tree ordinance, have added a few expletives to Garza's name. Yet, Toyota redeemed Garza, and became a formidable feather in the mayor's political cap.

Still, for democracy's sake, no candidate should run unopposed; two San Antonians will appear on the ballot, if only to provide a protest vote for the anti-Garza contingent.

Michael Idrogo, who was the first mayoral candidate to pay a $100 filing fee in February, ran against Garza in 2001, but there is neither a yard sign nor other evidence that he is actively campaigning for public office. Since he didn't list a telephone number when he filed at City Hall, the only way to attempt to reach him is to visit his two-story home in Monte Vista. No Idrogo. One can only surmise that Idrogo, who listed his occupation as a former navy commander, has been recalled into service and is "sailing, sailing, over the ocean blue." Whether you're at the helm of a super-secret submarine plumbing the depths of the Persian Gulf or humming a jolly sea chantey at the wheel of a Caribbean cruise ship, orders are orders, and you gotta do your duty when duty calls. So, captain, batten the hatches, weigh the anchor, and hoist your sails, as the mayor's race steers a steady course to Mayor Ed Garza's re-election: We'll keep the lighthouse lenses shined and watch for your ghostly campaign to appear on the horizon.

Shirley Thompson waited until the day before the filing deadline to throw her $100 onto the City Clerk's countertop and get her name listed on the May 3 ballot. She and 9 other candidates opposed Garza in 2001; she received 1.88 percent of the vote.

Thompson said she hopes the media will not diss her this time around, and is willing to participate in any debates the mayor is planning to conduct between himself, and, well, himself.

"The premise is that if you don't have a following, there is no coverage," Thompson laments. "Why would anyone with no money and no campaign organization consider running for Mayor of San Antonio? That's the question I'm sure will be asked by at least one media person. Most of the others won't bother to ask anything because I don't have money or an organization."

Thompson, who lives in District 7, said she is politically active, although she has not served in an elected office. She claims affiliations with the Coalition to Strengthen Families and the Christian Coalition, and has worked with the state's Republican Executive Committee.

"My political life started when I tried to find out why government works," she says, adding that her goals include establishing integrity in San Antonio politics, weeding out the names of dead voters on the city's voting lists, and reinstilling faith in people that their votes are legitimate.

She contends that the City should change its ethics code to require immediate reporting of campaign contributions, and believes that candidates who refuse to reveal who is bankrolling their campaigns should not receive votes. "We need full public disclosure of government spending

"By doing away with term limits and paying a full wage, you would transfer power back to elected officials and away from the city manager and bureaucracy."

Larry Hufford, St. Mary's University professor
in a way people can readily understand, how much money we have, where is it going and account for why we're spending those dollars in that way. For me that is a function of government."

Thompson and Garza agree on one point: removing term limits. She says the current system, which allows Council and the Mayor to serve only two 2-year terms, in her opinion sets up a system where an outgoing incumbent hand-picks their successors. "The frustration most people (candidates) have with government is the promises they make. I promise to abide by the city charter, and I believe people would be pleased," Thompson explains. "The public deserves to know who they are and what their plans are. I welcome the opportunity to let people know government is not the answer to problems, but is part of the equation."

It may be a moot question, but why does Ed Garza want to be mayor for a second term?

"I love my job first and foremost," he replied in an interview last week. "It is a wonderful opportunity to be mayor of a city that I have a passion for, and truly love. There is a tremendous momentum in our city, and it will require continuity, strong leadership and the ability to bring our community together on big opportunities." The Toyota announcement is cause for continued celebration, which has boosted his economic development goals. Garza seeks balanced growth on the South Side, (although his annexation of parts of the South Side peeved residents in that area) which would relieve congestion in the North Side.

Since Garza earned a bachelor's, then a master's, degree from Texas A&M University and entered a career as a land planner, it was a natural move for him during his 2001 mayoral campaign to champion neighborhood ecology, education, job training and environmental issues.

He earned his political insider wings by working as an aide to former Councilwoman Yolanda Vera and to State Senator Mario Gallegos of Houston. In 1997, he was elected City Councilman after incumbent Bob Ross exhausted his ration of term limits, and was re-elected to serve his district in 1999. Mayor Howard Peak termed out in 2001, and Garza stepped up to take the helm of city government.

Going into his second term as mayor of San Antonio, Garza has collected opposition - PGA opponents have a long memory - but he has also fallen under the critical eye of Bob Martin, president of the Homeowner Taxpayer Association, which was instrumental in placing term limits for City Council in the City Charter.

Martin says his group was fearful that the issues of term limits and salaries would surface when the Mayor's Committee on Integrity and Trust in Local Government debated and recommended changes within City Hall to counter charges of bribery and corruption. "Our main concern was they would try to use the forum to try to overturn the 1991 term limits. We asked them not to do that, and sure enough they did. They used it as a catalyst

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Mayor Ed Garza officiates as supporters of the late Cesar Chavez address City Council following the Mayor's proclamation of the annual Cesar Chavez March. Photo by Mark Greenberg
for watering down term limits. Since term limits went into effect, there hasn't been a single tax rate increase. Before that, the city regularly increased tax rates; it curbed city spending, and that's good."

Martin agrees that the mayor and council members should get an increase in pay, but not much. "The $20 per meeting (for council members) was set in 1952, and that should be adjusted for inflation. It should be brought up to a couple of hundred to $300 per meeting attended," Martin explains. "That would be appropriate. The City Council is shooting to become professional politicians and get on the city payroll. There is a difference between payroll and a per diem amount, but they would all want employee benefits. The City Council should be setting policy, not using the office as a full-time campaign to go for another office."

Garza said in his State of the City address that elected officials should be paid salaries to avoid having to depend on lobbyists for campaign contributions, but opinions differ on what those salaries should be. District 5 City Council candidate Patti Radle suggested paying the mayor and council members a "living wage," and pointed out that city officials have set that amount at about $8.75 per hour.

Larry Hufford, political science professor at St. Mary's University, named amounts that likely would liven the pockets of City Hall politicos and possibly encourage them to do honorable things. "I certainly believe the charter needs to change to do away with term limits and to provide a full-time income for those serving on the council," Hufford says. "While they serve on the council they should be required not to have another paying job. I would pay each council person $50,000 per year, and pay the mayor $75,000, or the equivalent to the county judge, up in the $90,000 range. By doing away with term limits and paying a full wage, you would transfer power back to elected officials and away from the city manager and bureaucracy."

Martin says the most despicable thing City Council and Garza did within the last two years was to circumvent the 80,000 voters who wanted to vote on the PGA project. "I hope this May there is some payback for that," he remarks. It was an outrage and every citizen should vote to get rid

To see who has filed for the mayoral and council races, go to Candidates List, here at the San Antonio Current website.
of those people that didn't follow the City Charter to allow for an initiative and referendum. HTA's problem with that was the $40 to $60 million that is going to developers to build the golf course. It is a $40 million-plus tax abatement, and citizens are paying the taxes."

HTA members are concerned about many other items the city has rubber-stamped in the name of progress, but one that really sticks in Martin's craw is a planned public expenditure of about $26 million to build an 8.5-mile long railroad spur to service Toyota's manufacturing plant. "After they are done, Burlington Northern will have the spur. I haven't heard of any public meetings, and they don't want citizen interference in the process of building the spur," he adds. "We don't know if they will take bids or hand it over to friends.That's a huge cookie jar with no oversight, and without any public visibility they could rob us blind. They intend to keep everything secret, and it sure does make you want to ask questions.

"I'm glad Toyota's coming, but we shouldn't give governmental entities a blank check to spend money like a drunken sailor. HTA is for progress too, but we don't have to take the food out of the mouths of senior citizens and those on fixed incomes to have progress."

During his January address, Garza said that San Antonio should take a hard look at changing city government. "It is a system that was designed in 1951 ... In looking to modernize city government, there can be no sacred cows. We've already started the process, transferring the audit function to provide for greater public accountability ... Now it is time to do much more. Term limits must be modified and City Council members must be paid for their service. Only then can we escape from what others have called 'Amateur Hour' at City Hall."

He acknowledged that many were skeptical when he appointed the ethics committee. "They believe ordinary people don't have a voice in city government. They believe there will always be two cities ... the developers and the environmentalists ... the haves and the have-nots ... the North Side and everyone else. I don't believe that ... I truly believe that it is the breadth and diversity of our city that actually gives us our strength."

As Garza enters his - for the moment, final - second term as mayor and fights for his vision of San Antonio's future, he might bear in mind the other famous quote from A Tale of Two Cities: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

We're not suggesting that Garza carry his head to the guillotine after he serves his next term as Mayor of San Antonio. But rather, he should bear in mind only the noblest of causes in the interest of the citizens who vote him into office. •

More by Michael Cary



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