Here comes the judge

Judge Phil Hardberger

Phil Hardberger aims to sail into mayor's office

Phil Hardberger's life has been an adventure, whether by land, by sea, in the sky, or in the courtroom. He has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, raced a sailboat from Galveston to Veracruz (winning first place), flown a single-engine airplane from San Antonio to Paris, and sued the Honda Motor Co. over dangerous three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles - and won the case.

During the last few months, he and his wife, Linda, have worked their way from Chesapeake Bay to Chicago's shoreline on Lake Michigan, on their 40-foot boat, Aimless. But the retired 4th Court of Appeals Chief Justice plans to delay navigating the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. Instead, he will test San Antonio's political waters and, if the voters elect him to the mayor's office; his next adventures will unfold from an office on the first floor in City Hall.

In light of recent developments, in which current Mayor Ed Garza has pitted his clout against City Manager Terry Brechtel, a seemingly unadventurous tenure in the mayor's office could indeed turn into a harrowing experience, one that Hardberger believes that he has the sand to succeed.

"On running for mayor, I had a hard time making my mind up," said Hardberger last week after the Aimless docked in Chicago and before he and Linda were to attend a Chicago Bears football game against the New Orleans Saints. "This wasn't something I was absolutely driven to do, but I do not feel the city is being run as well as I'd like to see it run ... the city is careening from one problem to another."

Hardberger was born in 1934 in a cotton gin weighing house where his family lived and worked in Morton, Texas. His life almost ended in that same cotton gin four years later when he fell into a burning waste pit. But he survived to grow up in O'Donnell, 45 miles south of Lubbock. He attended Baylor University in Waco, where he earned a bachelor's degree while he worked as a reporter for the Waco Tribune.

Hardberger served in the U.S. Air Force, with a stint at Lackland. His first marriage ended as his tour ended, and Hardberger moved on to earn a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He edited a magazine in Mexico City as John F. Kennedy campaigned for president. He served as executive secretary of the Peace Corps under Sargent Shriver. In 1965, Hardberger graduated, resigned his high-level job with the Peace Corps, and flew off to Paris, where he worked for MGM on the film, Grand Prix.

After receiving a law degree from Georgetown University, Hardberger returned to Texas in 1967 to serve a three-year apprenticeship in Odessa with his law mentor, Warren Burnett. By January 1970, Linda and Phil Hardberger had moved to San Antonio, where he continued his long career in legal practice, first as an attorney, then as justice, then chief justice, of the 4th Court of Appeals.

"This wasn't something I was absolutely driven to do, but I do not feel the city is being run as well as I'd like to see it run."

— Mayoral candidate Phil Hardberger

District 9 Councilman, Carroll Schubert, one of three candidates running against Hardberger, says that serving in a public office such as council or mayor is "quite a bit different from being a judge."

"A lot of people would like to be on a boat, sailing around for six months," Schubert says. "I'm down here every day, that's my job. Serving on the City Council does make a difference. We're in a budget cycle right now, and I would not send a new lawyer to try a case, it is better to have experience on the City Council."

Hardberger says he will return to San Antonio in mid-September, with plenty of lead time going into the May 2005 municipal election.

On specific issues, Hardberger says protecting the Edwards Aquifer is a priority, in terms of water quality and development of new water sources. He supports a policy to continue purchasing land over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, such as is being proposed through the Aquifer Protection Initiative.

The development community has seen the bad side of Hardberger; in the 1980s, he sued developers of a Housing and Urban Development-backed plan to build a 100,000-population San Antonio Ranch Town project over the Edwards Aquifer. The case was ultimately lost, but developers were stalled long enough for a savings and loan collapse, and environmental groups and the state joined together to purchase the property, which today is known as Government Canyon.

Another of Hardberger's major issues would be the development of more park space in San Antonio, and he is interested in preserving the city's trees. "Desert cities spend millions to plant trees. We have them naturally, and we can't cut them down fast enough. We need another true park, not another vacant lot, but a real park. My big effort would be to get a really nice, big park. Linear parks are not a substitute. The best cities in the world have a lot of green space." •

By Michael Cary

Scroll to read more San Antonio News articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

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