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THE POCKET COUNCILMAN

Most likely to impede — despite his economic size

I voted Roger Flores “Most Likely to Succeed” — essentially anyway, when I voted for him in the 2003 council race (he ran for reelection unopposed in 2005). In return, he threw me under the bus, nominating my husband for the post of District 1 Zoning Commissioner, ensuring that every first and third Tuesday of the month the kids and I would be dining alone.

I’m not the only COSA resident who feels like Flores bites the hand that feeds him. He’s earned enemies on almost every issue of note that’s touched his district in the past four years, from the Blanco-Fulton roundabout to City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s first aborted job offer to Main Plaza. The question shadowing Flores’s legacy (and any future run, which he has consistently refused to rule out) is this: Is he unpopular for the right reasons — standing up to a ready-fire-aim Hardberger crew during his second term? Or the wrong ones — using the appearance of process to force unpopular decisions on the constituents of District 1, where Flores and family own property, including a River Walk restaurant?

Flores, an A&M grad, hometown businessman, and legacy councilman, should have been part of the Young Dems “in” crowd at City Hall: Chip Haass, Art Hall, Richard Perez. Instead, Flores played the ambivalent outsider, holding neighborhood meetings that crystallized opposition to the mayor’s Main Plaza redevelopment plan, in the end casting one of two lone votes against the project. He’s also been something of an enigma on two more of Hizzoner’s pet issues: He opposed the idea of trying to repeal term limits during Hardberger’s first term — reasoning that approximately half the same characters were around the last time voters rejected the idea — and protecting the river from over-development.

Well, we thought protecting the city’s main waterway was one of the mayor’s great passions until the May 30 votes to neuter the Historic and Design Review Commission and form the River Commission, whose job description includes promoting a “business-friendly” environment.

If neighborhoods feel the effects of a weakened HDRC, Flores may emerge a hero in retrospect — although he also managed in his final hours to throw one of his infamous mixed signals (reminding us of our second-favorite nickname: Roger Dodger). On his last day on the dais, Flores alone dissented from the mayor-backed plan to trim the HDRC to 11 at-large members, which could position him for a populist challenge to Hardberger annointee Richard “bag-man” Perez in ’09. On the other hand, he also voted for the River Commission. Parse that, potential donors and voters.

— Elaine Wolff

 


CHERRY-POPPED
The first time is always a pain in the Haass

Chip Haass credits the miracle of bureaucratic error for his 2003 District 10 victory over Republican John Clamp. At age 25, Haass was also running against Keith Toney, that is, until less than two months before the election when the Bexar County Elections office announced they’d goofed: Toney’s apartment complex was actually in Distict 2.

“Keith Toney’s a stud,” Haass says. “Had Keith Toney lived in District 10, I would never have gotten elected. We were both Democrats, we were both educators, we were both articulate. That was our greatest strength in going up against John Clamp, who kind of bumbled around. We would’ve split the vote right in half and John would’ve walked easily to election.”

Thanks to the error, the young idealist found himself sitting between Julian Castro and Patti Radle, weighting the council heavily towards what Roddy Stinson called the “liberal wing of the Democratic party,” while struggling to faithfully represent a largely conservative constituency.

“A month after I got elected I was already being called a sellout by folks,” Haass says. “It’s like they want you to be this extremely liberal Democrat because that’s maybe what I personally believe, but I had to constantly balance that with my constituency. I was taking the best of what I know and trying to convince people of my ideas on issues, but if on the final analysis I couldn’t convince my constituency of what I thought should be done, it was incumbent upon me to vote the way they wanted me to.”

It was a tedious four years for Chip: Putting in 70 hours per week to beat the learning curve, taking out loans to pay the bills while holding the pittance-pay position, putting up with Ken Rodriguez on his little whorehouse-spotting ride-a-longs, the stress bringing back his migraine headaches ... and no girlfriend, either. (He’s got one now, though, so all you Express-News ladies waiting for the hunk to cease being a conflict-of-interest, you’re just too late.)

Haass (who rolls his sleeves Howard Dean-style) has his heart set on helping out the Dems in New Hampshire before enrolling in St. Mary’s law school in the fall .... assuming he’s not tapped for a larger campaign post ...

Right now, though, the power brokers aren’t returning his calls, and that’s yet another harsh lesson for the young politician: It kinda sucks to be a constituent.

— Dave Maass


PATTI RADLE, COUNCILMEMBER MOST LIKELY TO CONTINUE DOING GREAT THINGS (AT A SLOWER PACE)
To hell with living in life’s fast lane, I’m pulling over today

Let us redirect your sadness over the loss of David Chase’s television thug Tony Soprano (whose series-finale survival you probably preferred over the Sunday-night demonstration of Darwin’s natural law, i.e. Los Espurs vs. El Este). Mourn instead for the minor celebrity who brightened the small screen for two council terms — please tell me you’ve seen the purple lady Patti Radle on Viva District 5! (the only watchable TVSA 21 council program) which dared venture into her council district’s streets (and Mexican restaurants) while her precious municipal peers enjoyed studio A/C and canned talk. (Make sure you’ve jerry-rigged some kind of remote-control-changing device If you’re ever in a body cast ’cause District 9’s dry The Wolff Track is coming back for another season.)

Showing branding finesse, Radle emblazoned all of her City Council materials with “Viva District 5!” — a rallying cry, a state of mind, a gringa’s unabashed appreciation for the largely Latino Westside she’s lived and volunteered among since 1969, and a phrase that came courtesy of Radle’s Council Advisory Panel, a San Quilmas Cabinet of regular citizens tapped to weigh in on her policymaking.    

Most people applaud Radle for what she did psychologically for the West Side — even a critic of the City’s role in addressing the asbestos-contaminated Big Tex Grain Co. site next to Blue Star, and the City’s insistence on building the Eagleland Hike and Bike Trail adjacent to it admits Radle empowered residents. After a train derailed behind Brackenridge High School she brought in railroad authorities to hear community concerns. She found long-lost bond monies intended to renovate Roosevelt Park. She talked about philos and agape, love for your neighbors and God.

The last dance: Patti Radle and Henry Rodriguez at her farewell party. Photo by Keli Dailey.

To hear the daily’s Bruce Davidson tell it, the theology-studies graduate and Philly native is the most Christ-like councilperson we’ve ever had. To that, I’d like to add she’s about the only SA politico to lend herself sufficiently to a  game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon:

Patti Radle, mother of Faith Radle, who manages Girl in a Coma, the SA band who were in Jammin’: Girl in a Coma Meets Joan Jett, the Runaways former singer who was in Light of Day with Michael Rooker, who was in JFK with Kevin Bacon.

But magical thinking will not keep Radle on council, she’s craving some non-public time, she told the Current. But maybe she wasn’t ready to leave: “It would’ve been very very helpful to have another couple a years to finish up some of the projects,” she said. “I’ve got people panicked that their project can’t be done, even now as I’m going out I’m asking Public Works ‘Where’s that memo on streets?’ And I’m trying to get them locked `down`.”

Our ever-practical (despite the handlebar moustache) mayor showed up to her recent end-of-term party at the Say Sí Gallery, aka “A Celebration of Peace, Hope, and Love,” to infuse her vecinos and well-wishers with a sense of dread: Mayor Hardberger said the compassionate Patti Radle is the poster child for shredding term limits (uh-oh, he’s stumping for the next ballot issue). Then Radle’s staff gave her a purple bicycle.

 

Hear Patti and her husband Rod singing “Exiting the Fast Lane.”  And you can see them both still at their Inner City Development program.

— Keli Dailey

 


THE MAN WHO STRONG-ARMED SCULLEY
Richard Perez reminisces on his Pink Panther days at City Hall

No matter which way you bend it, Councilman Richard Perez is an arm-twister. We’re not speaking metaphorically; this is not a nudge for his battles with City-employee unions over collective bargaining. We mean it quite literally, and you can ask City Manager Sheryl Sculley. The District 4 landscaper nearly broke her arm.

After coming in second to Phil Cortez in the general election, Perez beat Cortez in the runoff for the seat defiled by outgoing councilman Kike Martin’s bribery scandal.

“The cynicism, you could cut it with a knife,” Perez says. “I would say this all the time: ‘I don’t have a master plan for District 4. I’m not going to say we’re going to build a big-box store here, and a park there, and houses over here. That’s not my deal. My deal is ... I will always be there to answer your calls. You might not get the response you want to hear, but I will be there to assist you.’”

One day Mayor Ed Garza called; he’d bungled the dismissal of City Manager Terry Brechtel and needed Perez as a wingman to court her replacement, then Phoenix’s assistant city manager. In the end, Garza couldn’t corral the votes to approve her six-figure salary, and the media went nuts when her name fell off the table.

Enter Mayor Hardberger, the consensus dynamo, who wanted a second shot. But before reconsidering the offer, Sculley wanted to have one-on-one arm-twisting talks of her own with each councilmember. Perez was the fixer.

“It was kind of a fun, exciting time,” Perez recalls. “I felt sort of like a spy, you know, hiding in the shadows and stuff.”

Of course, he’s more Clouseau than Danger Man: he circled and circled the airport, but couldn’t find her.

“Then I finally see her coming, so I pull up, stop, and open the minivan’s door. I grabbed her arm, literally yanked her into the van, and she’s like ‘Whoa! Ow!’ I kind of like pulled on her fingers really hard.”

(It should be noted that former Councilman Julian Castro once told the Express-News that Sculley’s “handshake is stronger than 80 percent of the guys I know.”)

“Maybe I was taking it a little bit to the extreme, but I was so afraid someone would see and just kill the deal,” Perez says, although he’s unclear why.

There’s no need for Sculley to scrawl K.I.T. in the margin next to Perez’s yearbook photograph: The strong-armer’s not going anywhere anytime soon, term limits be damned. There’s still the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which may have its rules Hardbergerized to allow Perez to stay, and then there’s the 2009 mayorship. Perez says he’ll go for it if his landscaping business can cover another four years of weekly paychecks, since the mayor’s job pays a piddling $3,000 plus an Andrew Jackson per meeting.

— Dave Maass

Roger Flores Chip Haass Patti Radle Art Hall Richard Perez

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO, ART?
Most likely to break through the municipal ceiling

Democratic operative Judy Hall, at the AlamObama presidential blockwalking kickoff on Saturday, tells Art Hall (no relation) that she’ll help him, too, when he decides to run for mayor or state or federal office like he’s been talking. But make it soon. After a Hill Country accident in which her BMW’s crash system was smart enough to drop her fuel tank and deflate the tires to keep her and her husband from sailing into a ravine, Judy’s talking like she’s on borrowed time. So hurry up and run for something else, she tells our own Barack.

There I said it. And with a straight face. When a local ACLU boardmember suggested that Eastside-discord heir Tommy Calvert Jr. was San Antonio’s Barack Obama I fell out my chair and told her she was my nominee for the laughing academy.

Comparatively speaking, Art Hall has wayyy less visibility and even community-organizing cred than the senator from Illinois — who’ll be bringing his Obamamania, at long last, to San Antonio on June 24. But they’re both Harvard-educated Democrats who can win over moderate Republicans (though City elections are nonpartisan, Hall twice won his predominantly Republican District 8, as his website points out). They’re both of mixed-race parentage, though the Mighty Drop means in America they’re black men — and like Obama, Hall challenges our perception of what political seats African-Americans can hold: Hall was the first African-American on our City Council not representing District 2.

At the AlamObama pep rally: Art Hall. Photo by Keli Dailey.

And in a very Obamaesque way, people are drawn to him because they want to feel the love … seriously, since meeting our young councilman and associate Baptist minister at the Texas Democratic Convention last year (where he was giving the Invocation and being introduced to a statewide audience; see “Making the party 3,” June 14-20, 2006) I’ve been something of an enthusiast, and not because he’s been trying to set me up with his brother. Hall is ambitious without being frat-daddy assertive. He’s South Texas civil (I’ve seen him give affectionate hug greetings to everyone from City staff to the Castro twins’ mother). I’ve seen him happily give a decent Spanish interview to a TV reporter who ambushed him in City Hall over the lack of diversity in the city manager’s executive staff. Then there was all that praise for his tag-team with the mayor on City response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Hall wants to catapult into higher office but doesn’t consider himself a political person, he said. “I consider myself as a person who’s trying to do good and contribute and serve.”

The real question is what kind of training and credentials one gets from serving in our council-manager form of government (where the city manager acts as CEO and the council as her board of directors, says UTSA professor Rodolfo Rosales).

Which is probably why no one from our city council — with Henry B. Gonzalez, Ruth McClendon, and Nelson Wolff being the exceptions — have won higher offices. (Hey! Henry Cisneros was appointed by Bill Clinton to HUD; and landed back in the private sector with a mighty thud).

—Keli Dailey


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