Election coverage Win or lose, they'll always drink booze

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Hardberger's cash bar triumphs over Castro's beer kegs

"I want to be home by midnight," Elections Administrator Cliff Borofsky quipped as he slapped copies of the early voting totals from Tuesday's mayoral race onto the counter.

The numbers did not bode well for District 7 Councilman Julián Castro, who was in a do-or-die struggle with former Judge Phil Hardberger in the 2005 mayoral election.

Early in the evening, mayoral candidate Julian Castro was behind 16 percentage points, but later narrowed the gap to three. Although he garnered more votes on Election Day, Phil Hardberger won early voting to take the mayoral's race 51 percent to Castro's 48 percent. (Photos by Melissa Santos)

The early voting totals were ready within five minutes after the 7 p.m. poll closing late Tuesday afternoon. Castro was down by more than 16 percentage points with more 690 early votes cast.

It was chicken tenders, chips, salsa, cheese fondue, and a cash bar at the Lone Star Pavilion in Sunset Station, Hardberger's choice for what would turn out to be a victory party. The price of a bottle of Budweiser at the bar was $4.50 `Editor's note: Just piss in a bottle and charge me $3.`, which made one wonder if Hardberger was still raising funds to pay for his successful mayoral race.

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"It looks promising," Hardberger political operative J.J. Saulino said as former mayor Howard Peak and other supporters arrived at the scene about 7:30 p.m. "We weren't expecting that big of a lead. Julián made up six points on election day (May 7), but it will be tough to make up 16 points."

District 9 Councilman Kevin Wolff arrived at Sunset Station about that time, offering a view into the looking glass to see who will rise to the surface as a Hardberger ally in future City Council debates.

It was campaign T-shirts, pizza boxes, and a couple of beer kegs at Castro's campaign headquarters on Broadway. The crowd seemed a bit subdued as they danced to Tejano music and waited for Castro to periodically take the stage to encourage his followers. "Stick around, the night is still going. We're coming back."

Castro had just tallied 10,000 votes counted toward his run for the alcalde's seat on the Council dais. It was later revealed that surge in numbers was accounted for by voters in District 7, his home turf. But only 14 percent of the votes were counted.

Mayoral candidate Phil Hardberger embraces a supporter at Sunset Station on election night. He won the race by a margin of three percentage points, defeating two-term City Councilman Julian Castro. (Photos by Melissa Santos)

The 30-year-old mayoral candidate later reported his tally had gone to 52 percent with 26 percent of the votes accounted. As Jay Perez and his band took the stage, one elderly man sat on a folding metal chair with a Castro yard sign wedged between his shoes. One hand clutched the top edge of the sign close to his chest, and he leaned forward slightly. His posture seemed hopeful, as if he could wish Castro into the mayor's office.

"We're still going up," Castro's twin brother Joaquin announced at 9:40 p.m. as more votes were coming in. "Do you feel the momentum?"

"Around 10 p.m., Castro took the stage in time for the evening newscast. "We don't know what's going to happen. Stick around."

"I got great vibes all day," he added as he stood in front of half-dozen TV cameras as an enthusiastic crowd shouted his name.

Back at the county elections office, there were still three precinct boxes en route. "Hunter's Green," Borofsky said. The North Side votes were still coming in from Oak Meadow Elementary.

County Judge Nelson Wolff stopped by to check on the election totals and tapped out a number on his cell telephone. "This reminds me of the horse and buggy days," he said in the elevator as he headed over to Hardberger's victory party. It was not clear what he meant, but one supposed he was talking about the county's use of paper ballots in the municipal election, not about the time during Mayor Bryan Callaghan's heyday when an errant mule bolted into the mesquite and chaparral with bags full of campaign cash.

By midnight, Phil wasn't coming out to see if he cast a shadow on City Hall until all the votes were counted. He was holed up in a hotel across the street, partying with his friends and supporters.

The speakers played "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones, then "Running Down a Dream" by Tom Petty as Hardberger ran a victory lap onto the center stage.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," he said to the well-dressed crowd of supporters, which included a mixed bag of North Side wheelers and dealers and remnants of the old West Side Good Government League.

"He was one tough damn scrapper," Hardberger said of his opponent. "And I'm glad it's over. It was a hard-fought fight."

By Michael Cary

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