Best of SA 2007

People and Politics 

There’s a joke about cities in Texas that comes courtesy of environmental lawyer Enrique Valdivia (president of the two big Edwards Aquifer protection groups in town, as well as other nice-guy distinctions).

“Dallas is the Little New York, Houston is the Little LA, and San Antonio is the Big Poteet.”

(The Current would like to add that it’s fitting we pay tribute to our town’s politics and people in our annual Best Of issue, the same month Poteet goes big with its yearly bhangra to the strawberry harvest.)

Where else but the Big Poteet, err, San Antonio, can Cornerstone Pastor John Hagee and Missions baseball co-mascot Henry the Puffy Taco lead us in such different acts of faith and devotion, yet be held in equally high esteem? (Puffy, we pre-apologize for the comparison to the televangelist who rejects climate change.)

Where else can extended families partake in the American pastime of running for political office by invoking teflon surnames (resistant to sex and bribery scandals), or by adding a Spanish surname only when it’s time to appear on a ballot (in order to assume one’s rightful place among Mexican-American Princes and Princesses)?    

Where else can you find plentiful autographed copies of a former mayor and current county judge’s insider take on local governance (Nelson Wolff’s Mayor: An Inside View of San Antonio Politics, 1981-1995, published in 1997 and referenced as recently as this month in our daily paper) and yet, be SOL trying to find a bookstore copy of the seminal outsider’s take on the Hispanic majority being governed? (What, you’ve never read Rodolfo Rosales’s The Illusion of Inclusion: the Untold Political Story of San Antonio, “the first in-depth history of the Chicano community’s struggle”?)

It’s a character-driven city, with the feeling of a parish. And your best chance at understanding the culture here is taking a look at the people.

— Keli Dailey



Henry Bonilla
Best Voter Smackdown

The People vs. Henry Bonilla
Platform: Playstation
Product Review: Bonilla Smackdown!
The Amazing Smackdown of Henry Bonilla!

Elections are a ritual attack on those in power and finally, after 14 years in the House of Reps, Republican and San Antonio native Henry Bonilla got rimrocked!

And if last November’s congressional district 23 race were a Playstation game, here’s how I’d describe it.

“Those refs on the Supreme Court declared Bonilla’s district unconstitutionally designed in June, dropkicked the CD-23 primaries, and called for a multi-player open election, unleashing a cast of beta-stars — six Democrats and one independent — to grapple with the incumbent in a handicap match. Together the challengers kept Bonilla in a semi-chokehold on November 7 and sent him to a runoff survival match with a brawler redistricted out of CD-28, Ciro Rodriguez. This is where the true showmanship came in. Bonilla bounced off the turnbuckle and started pounding through campaign cash ($3 million at its peak). But he chose a fighting style unappealing to voters (framing Rodriguez as a terrorist sympathizer in attack ads). Rodriguez’s finishing move was a surprise visit from former President Bill Clinton, making Bonilla’s tag-team with the Latino George P. Bush (nephew of W) seem totally candy-assed. The outcome of the match was pretty much determined by GOP apathy, ‘cause the runoff happened in December, after the Democratic tsunami gave Republican domination over Washington the three-count.”

— Keli Dailey


Best Place to Rub Elbows with City-rati
Mama’s Café 5
100 N. Main Ave., 354-2233, Mamascafe.net

There’s the handsome deputy city manager, Jelynne LeBlanc Burley, the highest ranking African American on City staff. (Remember back in October when all the fuss was about Sheryl Sculley not having enough diversity within her executive staff, even though 22 of her 38 top appointments at the time were minorities?) There’s Greg Rothe, director of San Antonio River Authority. And me, catching a bite with District 8’s Art Hall, to see if the term-limited councilman who led the prayer at last year’s Texas Democratic Convention has a lead on a new political office.

Lawyers, judges, sheriffs, and the rest of the City Hall glitterati come through Mama’s Café number 5 on Main, diagonal from Council Chambers, at some point, Hall says. This particular arm of the San Antonio-based restaurants keeps straight-edge hours — 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. And despite having a TV tuned to FOX News recently, the place has a homey, checkered-tablecloth-and-old-scuffed-wooden-floors folksy feel.

“It’s low-key and you don’t have to feel fancy,” says Hall, who has the entire suit ensemble on, except for the coat. “I’m a hole-in-the-wall guy.”

Known for its fried mushrooms … but Hall recommends the extra-glazey chocolate cake: “They’ll heat it up for you.” Also check out China Latina on South Alamo if you want to stalk San Quilmas stars.

—Keli Dailey


Hungriest Texas Death-Row Inmate
Steve Woods, #999427

Line up all 200-plus inmates on Texas death row and you can pick out Steve Woods immediately: he’s the 27-year-old punk rocker with the mohawk, the one who looks like he’s about to faint from starvation.

According to his Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmate profile, Steven Woods and a co-defendant were convicted of an especially brutal drug-related double murder in Denton County in 2001, nicknamed the “Colony Slayings.” Sources close to Woods say he’s currently in a crucial point in his appeals, and therefore they’ve been asked not to speak about his innocence claim.

While the crime is deplorable, Woods has turned himself into a world-class hunger-striker, fighting for human rights and dignity in the form of better conditions on the row, which currently houses 38 offenders from Bexar County.

Slate.com’s Explainer says history’s most famous hunger-striker, Mahatma Gandhi, never lasted beyond three weeks. In the last six months, Woods topped him twice, first fasting for 27 days (82 meals missed) in October and November, and then for at least another 22 days (details are sketchy) in January. All the while, Woods kept a candid, and surprisingly lucid, journal, published online at AnarchyinChains.com.

Other hunger-strikers included Reginald Blanton, Patrick Knight, Ryan Dickson, Daryl Wheatfall, Justen Hall, Richard Cobb, Travis Runnels, and Kevin Watts. Many are members of the Death Row Inner-communalist Vanguard Movement, or D.R.I.V.E. (Drivemovement.org), “a group of passionate prisoner activists who have put aside all minor barriers of ethnicity, creed, color, and beliefs, to focus on the injustices forced upon us by this system.”

— Dave Maass


Best City Hall Clown Show
(Tie) Jack Finger
James Myart

Our first nominee was Jack Finger, whose bigotry is unappealing, but he’s still just so damned funny. Besides breaking up the back-patting with his public-comment outbursts, Finger, we admit, is also a damned fine paperchaser.

But we couldn’t find out enough about Finger on the internet to profile him, and Lord knows it’s just not right to interview a guy for the “Best Clown Show” prize. He oughta be allowed to plead the Fifth. That’s our constitutional justification; mostly we’re just worried we’ll burst into unholy flames under his righteous glare if we spoke face-to-face.

So we decided to declare a tie, as previewed in the April 11 crossword puzzle:

Hella hilarious, anti-abortion, gay-hating clown Jack “Christ’s Suckerpunch” Finger.

Hella hilarious, pro-black, cop-hating, attorney clown James “Avenging Disco Godfather” Myart.

We know Myart can give as good as he gets, so we don’t mind bringing up, yet again, his spill down the City Hall steps last December, while cuffed for overdoing an anti-police-brutality press stunt. If we can ever get Myart and Finger within 10 feet of one another, we’ll give them a prize to share: our leftover gubernatorial Kinky Friedman talking doll, as close to a political-clown trophy as it gets.

— Dave Maass


Worst Public Project
Forced on San Antonio
(Tie) Main Plaza Redevelopment Project
Trans-Texas Corridor

There’s an idea guy at work who’s always selling the boss on these big, cumbersome projects (building a fire pond for whirligig beetles! Widening every city alley by 2 feet for Mini Cooper traffic!) that you get no say in, that end up on your bloated work calendar, and that pose as many challenges for you as pulling a goat on a rope. Damn that idea guy!

In the case of the $10-million Main Plaza makeover that will close two major downtown streets, that idea guy is Mayor Phil Hardberger (or Father David Garcia of San Fernando Cathedral, who’s been pushing for a nice front yard since 1995). Poet and Southtown resident Naomi Shihab Nye says the project will “savag`e` the flow of downtown,” adding that “It’s a huge ego trip for San Fernando Cathedral and I don’t think it’s beneficial.”

In the case of the $184-billion (by conservative TxDOT estimates) Trans-Texas Corridor, a leg of which will go through San Antonio as an alternate to I-35, it’s more of a cabal of Republican idea guys (Perry, Krusee, Williamson, Goldman Sachs) who try and distract Texas drivers (look at the congestion monkey!) from the fact that privatizing toll roads is going to make someone (not taxpayers) a lot of money.

SA Toll Party’s Terri Hall, who describes herself as a conservative Republican, says she’s at war with the Rockefeller wing of her own party. The TTC only perpetuates the stereotype that the GOP only looks out for the fat cats, she said.

— Keli Dailey

 



Senator Leticia Van de Putte
Best Attorney General Stop-gap
Senator Leticia Van de Putte

Stop-gap n. That which closes or fills up an opening or gap

Democratic Senator Leticia Van de Putte presides over District 26, an area of San Antonio that includes our Current office and 221,542 households across Bexar County (2000 Census figures).

She’s an advocate for consumers, vets, and kids when it comes to forcing our lethargic attorney general to clarify the law. See her request for an AG opinion last year on whether Texas veterans could get education benefits if they weren’t yet U.S. citizens when they joined the military (Greg Abbott said no: Van de Putte recently filed SB 89 to undo citizen-only military support); whether your driver’s license can be recorded every time you buy Sudafed or other over-the-counter drugs used for meth (Abbott said yes); whether an auto dealership that sent out car keys to 10,000 people, promising one would start a “prize vehicle” — though none did, but hey! While you’re down here folks, take a look at our used cars — was legal (Abbott said yes).

We like that she keeps the AG a generalist (he’d prefer to focus only on cyber crimes). We also like that back in 1997, when she was a state representative, Van de Putte led the attack to strip child-support collection duties from the AG’s office. They’re still collecting, and more efficiently than in the old days, when more than a million Texas kids were shunned by their deadbeat child-support evaders.

— Keli Dailey


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