A lobbyist by any other name

By Gilbert Garcia

Say this for local attorney and all-round political shaker Gerardo Menchaca: When he strikes, he rarely leaves fingerprints behind.

Menchaca registered with the City as a lobbyist in June, 2007, and even though he's no longer registered, he continues to behave much like a lobbyist. Last month, Menchaca, working on behalf of CPS Energy, coordinated a one-day trip for SA councilmembers to the South Texas Project's nuclear facility near Bay City, with the hope of persuading local elected officials to embrace a plan to build two new nuclear reactors on the site.

On Friday, March 13, six passengers made the flight from San Antonio to the nuclear plant: Councilmembers Lourdes Galvan and Philip Cortez; two of Galvan's assistants; Mike Kotara, CPS executive vice president of energy development; and Menchaca. A City Hall source says Menchaca aggressively and persistently pushed other councilmembers to go as well.

Galvan told QueQue she was initially reluctant to tour the nuclear site but added, “I wanted to educate myself and make sure that when the topic comes up this fall, I'm well informed.”

Galvan said she hasn't decided whether to back the expansion of the nuclear facility, because she maintains worries about the treatment of radioactive waste and possible cost overruns for the project.

While it's easy to understand why Galvan and Cortez would want to view the site, the big question is why Menchaca, a private attorney, is arranging trips on behalf of CPS for the purpose of influencing local politicians. CPS spokesperson Theresa Cortez would only say that Menchaca “helped with scheduling,” and CPS Government Relations Analyst John Leal, who worked with Menchaca to coordinate the trip, refused to comment on Menchaca. No one at CPS would answer questions about whether Menchaca received any pay from the agency, a scenario that could possibly put him in violation of City ethics rules.

“The guy walks as many fine lines as he can to enable the candidates that he wants to succeed, for his own personal stake,” says a City Hall source who's dealt with Menchaca. “That's basically the nature of what lobbyists do. But you've got to file `with the City`.”

Menchaca's nebulous role in City politics is particularly important because of his close relationship with mayoral frontrunner Julian Castro. Menchaca served as deputy campaign manager for Castro's 2005 mayoral campaign, and has also contributed to Castro's current effort. On October 17, 2008, the Castro campaign paid Menchaca $3,000 for “consulting,” and exactly a year earlier they paid him $6,000 for “campaign services.”

It's worth pondering what role Menchaca might play in persuading a Mayor Castro on the hot-button, highly divisive nuclear-power issue, and whether Menchaca is the kind of connection that Castro should maintain.

Menchaca did not respond to the Current's repeated requests for an interview.

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