2009 Candidate Q&A

Dear Readers:

For your enhanced voting pleasure, please find linked below excerpts from 25 mayoral and council candidate questionnaires, administered by the Current to every 2009 council contender we could find (you can lead a politician to fodder, but you can’t make him/her think; not everyone was found, and not everyone we reached participated). You’ll find complete responses (unedited for grammar, syntax, or bat-shit craziness) by clicking on underlined names. The Mayoral candidates follow; you can find each district's candidates in the See Also box at the end of this story.


Dear candidates who aren’t included here: We tried very hard to reach everyone by email or phone. Some of you we outright bugged. If you somehow didn’t receive a questionnaire, or failed to return it to us by the print deadline (extended twice, incidentally), it’s still not too late. Email [email protected], and we’ll get you a questionnaire, or accept your tardy reply, and post it in its entirety online, linked by district, along with your competitors’.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro, 34, is a Harvard Law School graduate, a civil-litigation attorney, and a former two-term Councilmember for District 7. This is his second mayoral bid, following a narrow defeat to Phil Hardberger in 2005. He’s been criticized for earning a fat referral fee from super-trial lawyer and Dem power donor Mikal Watts. He’s married to Erica Lira Castro; they have one child.

Castro supports Mission Verde as well as eco-friendly transportation initiatives including Bus Rapid Transit, light rail, and expanded bike lanes. He favors keeping current water-development options including desalination, recycling, and conservation, on the table, and would only support the expansion of the digital-billboard pilot program if old billboards were removed from the same thoroughfares where new signs are installed.

1. Expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear plant San Antonio must enhance its energy portfolio to meet the needs of our growing city. I toured the South Texas Nuclear Project with CPS Energy officials and came away impressed. However, I am reserving judgment on whether to invest in two new reactors until CPS Energy provides its capital cost analysis in the fall. I fully support CPS’s push for energy conservation and investment in solar and wind energy.

6. Economic development Top priority will be to create jobs and keep San Antonio competitive in today’s global economy. I will work to attract and retain jobs by leveraging San Antonio’s industry clusters in biosciences and healthcare, military, information security, automotive manufacturing, and hospitality. I will also focus the city’s efforts to invest in effective job training initiatives that prepare San Antonians for jobs in growing industries. In addition, I will push to establish stronger tax incentives and information resources for locally owned small businesses. As Mayor, I will also lead an effort to collaborate with school districts, colleges and universities to set high achievement goals for academic excellence. I will do this by supplementing their work through use of the City’s library system, After School Challenge initiative, the Education Partnership, and Head Start. San Antonio will aggressively pursue new business and grow local jobs, and I am committed to keeping our city business friendly.

7. The City Auditor and transparency Having a strong, independent auditor is in the public’s best interest. Ideally, San Antonio would have a well-qualified auditor elected at large. Within the current appointed system, however, we must ensure the auditor has the latitude to conduct thorough independent audits.

11. The Parade Ordinance The right of free speech and to peaceable assemble are fundamental to who we are as Americans. I believe the City of San Antonio should revisit its Parade Ordinance to significantly lower permit fees and provide for greater consistency on how event applicants are handled.

12. Publicly owned parks and spaces We cannot measure the value of our public, cultural or historic spaces simply in dollars and cents. They have a value apart from, whether they make a profit for the City of San Antonio. The City should partner with private sector and non-profits to enhance their profitability but these community assets should not be sold.   

Trish DeBerry-Mejia

Trish DeBerry-Mejia, 44, is one of the partners in influential San Antonio-based public-relations firm Guerra DeBerry Coody. She’s best known hereabouts for selling the 2007 $550 million bond program, the 2008 venue-tax extension, and last November’s loosening of our strict term limits. The latter drew heated criticism when DeBerry-Mejia entered the race, because, if elected, she’ll be the first mayor to potentially benefit from the new limits: four two-year terms. DeBerry-Mejia grew up in SA and graduated from Trinity University. She’s married to Carlos Mejia; they have two children.

DeBerry-Mejia “sees little merit” in expanding the digital-billboard pilot program, opposes an elected city auditor because she fears it would further politicize the position and disqualify out-of-town candidates, and approves of SAWS’ plans to pursue desalination in our drought-prone environment. She favors CPS Energy’s pursuit of two additional nuclear-power reactors on the grounds that they’ll reduce CO2 pollution and that the Feds will ultimately be responsible for disposing of nuclear waste. She gave such a refreshingly detailed response to Number 6, that it’s the only one reprinted here.

6. Economic development San Antonio has six economic development sectors. They include:

Aerospace/Advanced Manufacturing with an economic impact of $3.8 B (2007) Many nationally recognized businesses have operations in and associated with Port San Antonio. We need to do all we can to develop the former Kelly AFB (Port San Antonio) as a hub for aerospace and advanced manufacturing jobs.

Information and Technology with an economic impact of $5.3 B Perhaps one of our sleeping giants. Many of the successful local companies have come from the technology transfer of ideas/concepts developed by military retirees. We need to do more to assist UTSA in the development of its Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security. 

Department of Defense with an economic impact of $13.3 B (2006) The military has always had a presence in San Antonio.  It is credited with creating a middle class with its civil service jobs post-WWII. Although the decision to close Kelly was met with resistance, it now affords us the greatest opportunities for future job growth and economic diversification. Likewise, the decision to locate all medical military training facilities at Ft. Sam Houston will go a long way toward further developing the healthcare/bioscience cluster. We must do everything we can to protect these military missions.  

Healthcare/bioscience with an economic impact of $13.7 B (2004) There is no other cluster within our economy which has more potential than healthcare/bioscience.  The partners in this arena alone point to a very successful future. These partners include:  Southwest Research Institute, Texas Research Park, UT Health Science Center, U.S. Military Medical Training facilities. By harnessing all the potential synergy each partner creates, we are capable of achieving tremendous job creation and economic diversification.

Construction with an economic impact of $19.4 B (2005) The construction industry is an ancillary economy. In order for residential, commercial and government activity to occur we have to have a robust, vibrant economy. Having said that, I am committed to ensuring the city leads the way in creating jobs through necessary capital improvement projects. With an exemplary bond rating, now is the time to launch aggressive, necessary public works projects for the betterment of our community.

Financial Services with an economic impact of $20.5 B (2004) San Antonio’s area banks — Broadway and Frost, among them — very wisely decided not to engage in the predatory sub-prime lending practices which have gripped communities nationwide.  As a result, we have a healthy lending community. Additionally, San Antonio Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union and a host of others all provide our citizens with credit/lending opportunities. Additionally, Southwest Business Corporation and USAA are large, successful businesses who employ many people in the community.  Although this sector may not be as strong as it once was, the local leadership in this area provides San Antonio with a wonderful opportunity to generate additional economic development.  

Our economic development process is severely splintered among too many government and non-profit community partners. We need to speak with one voice and pursue opportunities with a single strategy. That strategy then needs to be shared with our regional partners — Austin, lower Rio Grande Valley, etc. — as we look to regionalization of our economy. 

Once elected I would bring together all the local leading partners in the six primary economic sectors and task them with devising a comprehensive strategy within 90 days that would maximize opportunities, protect existing jobs and pursue additional employers. The plan would be implemented within 45 days and quantifiable results would be expected within six to nine months.   

As a small business owner, I am proud to be a part of the local small business fabric. Approximately 80 percent of economic development is borne by small businesses.  In order to succeed, small businesses need improved access to capital. As mayor, I will champion establishing public/private partnerships with area banks to make funding/credit available to area small businesses. A key path to economic recovery is through the success of our small businesses. I will champion their causes through programs to improve access to capital, ensuring municipal bond programs have small business procurement goals, and strengthening the ability for all businesses to compete in our free market. 

And filling out the Mayoral Slate...

Diane Cibrian

Diane Cibrian, 43, has worked as a consultant on public-policy issues for the California State Legislature, the United States Commission on International Economic Development, and various civic organizations. She is currently serving her first term as Councilmember for District 8. She has been accused of improperly influencing Zoning Commission business `see “Boundary issues,” February 4, 2009`, and under public pressure admitted to staying at the condo of a developer who received favorable treatment from the City. Cibrian did not return a questionnaire.

Sheila McNeil

Sheila D. McNeil, 50, has a Master’s degree in Public Administration. She’s a lifelong Eastside resident who has worked as a legislative assistant and describes herself as a professor/consultant. She has represented District 2 on the City Council for the last four years, where she initiated a controversial plan to sell Healy-Murphy Park after a lobbyist and campaign donor inquired about it on behalf of a hotel developer. `See “Prospect park,” January 7, 2009.` McNeil did not return a questionnaire.

Lauro Bustamante

Bustamante is a 58-year-old attorney who says no to nuclear power. He adds that he’ll be an aggressive advocate for clean energy as well as high-speed light rail connecting San Antonio with Austin, Dallas, and Houston. He cites education as a priority and says that the public-education system must be improved to prevent young families from moving out of the city.

Julie Iris Oldham

Seventy-four-year-old retiree Julie Iris Oldham’s community involvement has earned her the nickname “Mama Bexar.” She’s been active working with the homeless at her Mama Bexar Resource Center, is the co-founder of the Texas Women’s Business Association, and says she’s been investigating political corruption at all levels in Texas. She has a private-investigator’s license and is a member of Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers. She ran for mayor in 2007 and finished third with three percent of the vote. Mama Bexar did not return a questionnaire.

Michael “Commander” Idrogo

Idrogo, 49 by election day, is a “Navy commander veteran of foreign wars,” and claims big-time connections to the Italian fashion industry that would enable him to bring major fashion shows and boutiques to San Antonio. He favors CPS nuclear expansion plans due to his experience on what he says were safe nuclear-powered subs. He says budget cuts would begin with the City Manager’s salary, and feels the well-known candidates are “mere puppets of old political horse traders.”

Napoleon Madrid

Thirty-four-year-old Napoleon Madrid is self-employed, listing himself as CEO of United Americans, a nonprofit that provides the unemployed with internships for career development. Madrid has lived in the city for 18 years and says he is in the process of employing millions of Americans by establishing micro manufacturing plants in different cities. The self-proclaimed inventor says he excels at science and has plans for various energy projects, including “Atlantis,” a “fully submerged unit that generates electricity,” micro energy transformers, solar trees, solar windows, and self-motion turbines.

Rhett Smith

The 58-year-old Smith is a Navy vet who has worked in private security for 26 years. He says the city and county have not addressed the issue of hazardous materials and that he will ask for re-evaluation of emergency preparedness. He says he will be a primary advocate for children in the community and will require a children’s impact statement with each and every city endeavor/council action. He would begin budget cuts with the City Manager’s salary.

The Current’s 2009 Candidate Questionnaire

1. Do you support the addition of two new nuclear power plants to the South Texas Project to meet our future energy needs? If not, please describe the alternatives you favor. If so, please explain your position or philosophy on the long-term storage of nuclear-fuel waste.

2. Do you support Mayor Hardberger’s Mission Verde initiative in its entirety? If so, what do you see as the most critical steps council must take to implement it successfully? If not, do you support any of its provisions, and why (not)?

3. What is the right mix of public-transit options for San Antonio’s future, and what do you think is the best method to fund/maintain each element?

4. If San Antonio faces a budget shortfall, where would you be willing to make budget cuts?

5. What are your top spending priorities for the HOT tax? Would you support a recommendation to use some of those funds to expand the Convention Center?

6. Please briefly describe your conception of San Antonio’s economy, its strengths and weaknesses, and what you would do to build on the former and address the latter?

7. Keeping in mind the playground scandal, the Healy-Murphy Park sale, and the El Mercado flap, how would you increase accountability and transparency at City Hall? Specifically, would you change the role or method of choosing a City Auditor, and his/her scope of authority?

8. Do you support extending the digital-billboard pilot program? If so, what restrictions, if any, would you recommend on their placement and use?

9. Do you support SAWS’ current plans to secure San Antonio’s water supply? If so, please explain why. If not, please explain what you believe they should be doing differently.

10. Please briefly describe how you financially support yourself. How will you balance your work demands with your council responsibilities? Do you foresee any conflicts of interest between your profession (or former profession, if you’re retired) and a position on council? If so, how will you handle these?

11. What is your opinion regarding the Parade Ordinance that is the subject of the Free Speech Coalition lawsuit? Specifically, what fees, if any, should the city charge for parade permits? Should they distinguish between types of applicants and events, and if so, how and by whom should those decisions be made?

12. Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces such as golf courses, libraries, parks, and El Mercado. Should these entities break even, make a profit, or be viewed as investments with tangible returns? Please propose a solution for the issues surrounding either Healy-Murphy Park, El Mercado, or La Villita. 

13. If we’ve failed to raise a question or issue that you feel represents your values and priorities as a candidate, please discuss it here.

For the May 9 Election

Last day to register to vote: April 9
Early voting: April 27-May 5
Election day: May 9

For the pretty-much-inevitable June 13 Runoff

Last day to register to vote: May 14

Early voting: June 1-9

Election day: June 13

Your one-stop shop for registration, precinct and early-voting info, ballots, etc.:

Scroll to read more San Antonio News articles


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.