Coming home to roost
By 8:30 Saturday morning, the dining room at the Luby’s on N.E. Loop 410 was already full of the party faithful. It was the first meeting of the North East Bexar County Democrats following the March 2 primary, and the first order of business after the usual agenda protocol was Dan Ramos, new Party Chair.
As folks filled their coffee cups, checked the precinct map, and snacked on pastries, immediate past chair and County Clerk candidate Carla Vela settled into a seat, defiant red nails clutching a plate bearing a large cinnamon roll. Judge Michael Mery — one of several incumbents who unexpectedly lost to a primary challenger — shook hands and patiently heard out various theories about this surprising state of affairs. Northeast Dem Chair Scott Nelson introduced the VIPs, which included a dozen officeholders and candidates, and told the crowd they needed to focus on Democratic turnout, which was notably lower than Republican numbers. Mery gave a brief farewell speech before departing for a Lenten retreat, and was met with a heartfelt standing ovation.
Then Ramos, a small bear of a man with a full beard, took the mic. Ramos beat Dem fixture and longtime Henry Cisneros aide Choco Meza 59 percent to 41 percent, and he was not there to offer balm to a party burned by last fall’s theft of more than $200,000 in 2008 primary funds owed to the County. (Disgraced Treasurer Dwayne Adams, a Vela pal and would-be business partner, is suspected of taking the money.)
“We’re going to see if what `County Judge` Nelson Wolff said on the steps of the courthouse is true,” the former Kelly Air Force Base machinist and union organizer said, alluding to a promise by Democratic officials to raise funds to fill the hole left by the theft. “I heard he made that pledge because he didn’t think I was going to win.”
In fact, the Express-News reported the next day that Wolff says the deal is on hold. On Tuesday, the Judge told the QueQue he’ll meet with Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, and others later this week to discuss what to do about the three-part plan Meza had proposed, but they have fundamental concerns that need to be addressed before they could move ahead, including Ramos’s vision on issues such as the joint primary, which the new party chair has opposed in the past.
“What we’re going to have to get straight is financial management,” Wolff added. “Who can come in that we have confidence they can manage the money?”
Perhaps anticipating a continuation of hostilities, Ramos assured the crowd Saturday: “There’s plenty of money in Bexar County. What there has not been is integrity and trustworthiness.”
Ramos had visited the party offices last week, he added, and heard that precinct packets not picked up after the primary election would be tossed, “a third-degree felony.” Taking another shot at the party leaders he believes have it in for him, he reminded the members that “Your County Executive Committee is the only authority that runs the party. … I’m just your servant.”
Vela snorted quietly into her coffee.
When a party member questioned the significance of the precinct paperwork and Ramos’s interpretation of the election law, he retorted, “I’m not going to quibble with you. … That’s why we had a lot of problems under your `tenure`.”
A gasp and loud murmurs of disapproval filled the room, and Ramos departed.
As the meeting turned to relatively mundane business — will Bill White’s campaign take over the lease payments for the San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition offices? — one elected official lamented Ramos’s debut. “He insulted a longtime Party volunteer, and then left,” she said, shaking her head, incredulous. But, she added, she’s not sure the Party matters like it used to. “Candidates really have to do it for themselves.”
Ramos takes office May 3. Online: Ramos wants to settle old scores, party leaders say local chapters may need to step up.
One week after a local transgendered woman, described in the arrest warrant as a “Latin Male,” walked into the South Frio police substation alleging she had been raped by a San Antonio Police officer, SAPD Chief Bill McManus and two officers met with members of the San Antonio Gender Association and pledged to take swift action on the case and work to prevent future assaults.
However, there was little talk about expanding transgender sensitivity training to veteran officers at the Thursday-night meeting. Currently, only incoming SAPD cadets receive the four-hour training on transgender issues. After nearly three years of quarterly trainings by the all-volunteer Police Officers Training Committee, only one session for more senior officers has been held. That meeting exposed innate prejudices among officers, according to training committee member (and occasional contributing Current photographer) Antonia Padilla, which she attributes to negative interactions with transgender individuals on the job that are likely exacerbated by a lack of exposure to individuals who express their gender in nontraditional ways. “Those prejudices typically aren’t found among the younger cadets,” she added.
The trainings include a definition of terms, brainstorming about stereotypes, and breakout discussion groups. “It’s in these small discussion groups that the tensions in the veteran officers became apparent,” Padilla said. “Most everyone expressed some sort of, ‘Hey, we’ve been cops for years, and we know what it’s about. We have to deal with it on a daily basis. It’s not pretty, and we don’t like it. We just wish it would go away,’ is basically what they were saying.” One officer in particular kept referring to transgendered individuals as a “subset,” Padilla said. “He was saying subset like every 30 seconds. ‘Oh, you’re in a subset this and you’re subset.’ I felt, and this is just my opinion, I felt instead of saying subset he really wanted to say sub-human. I really had to sit on my hands with that guy.”
“Just the very fact they feel that way when dealing with someone is going to cause them to have less empathy, or even no empathy, and to feel like they don’t really matter, they’re not important, and we don’t have to offer them the same level of civil protections … We’ll just treat them as less than human and it’s OK and nobody’s gonna care,” Padilla said.
Officer Craig Nash, arrested on charges of sexual assault and official oppression in the alleged rape, is a seven-year veteran of the force. Nash was arrested the same day a transgendered woman walked into the Frio Street substation at 4:20 a.m. February 25 saying she had been abducted by an SAPD officer and raped, according to Nash’s arrest-warrant affidavit. She told an officer on duty that her assailant, later identified as Nash, “wasn’t going to get away with this” and “she ‘had cum up her butt’ which would prove her truthfulness.”
The victim said Nash handcuffed her and took her to an unknown location, where he demanded a blowjob. She complied. Then she said he raped her while in uniform. After the alleged incident, the woman took the bus to the South Frio substation to make her complaint and was quickly taken to Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital for an examination. At the hospital, “suspected DNA” was collected from the victim’s body and clothing. A search of GPS logs confirmed the vehicle assigned to Nash was in the area reported.
An SAPD media officer requested the Current submit its questions about last week’s meeting in writing, but a promised interview didn’t materialize before press deadline Tuesday. Reverend Mick Hinson of Metropolitan Community Church, which hosted the forum, said he hoped the trainings would one day expand to all SAPD officers and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department. Hinson serves on the forum, but he did not want to comment on the classes for publication out of fear that potential negative public reaction would jeopardize their continuation. The Current agreed at the start of the trainings in 2007 not to profile the program in our Gay Pride issue in response to the same concerns.
The most pressing question we asked of SAPD involved what commitment they would put toward expanding the trainings. We got bureaucratic rambling in return. A: “The State mandates certain portions of SAPD’s in-service training, SAPD strives to provide the best possible training for it’s officer’s and cadets, this would include bringing in a member from the transgender community to help us with this aspect.” We’re taking that as an Ask Again Later.
Train in vain?
A Current reporter drove to a City Hall hearing downtown last week, and in the process ended up getting a speeding ticket and running out of gas on the freeway. A convenient public-transit system might have saved a fine and a headache. Moreover, there might have been more members of the public present at the sparsely attended meeting — the topic of which was, in fact, San Antonio’s proposed light-rail streetcar project, presented to Mayor Julián Castro and the City Council by VIA Metropolitan Transit CEO Keith Parker.
Officials are bidding for stimulus funding deployed in the 2010 federal budget. Specifically, VIA is soliciting a $25-million contribution from the Department of Transportation toward the construction of the first length of a modern mass-transit system. `Download the pdf presentation, including proposed routes, here.` It’s a long shot: 60 cities with $800 million in combined proposals are vying for a share of a $130-million funding pot.
We can all agree San Antonio desperately needs an efficient way to shuttle around its burgeoning population. According to the Census Bureau, in 2008 only 3.5 percent of workers used public transportation to get to their place of employment. That compares with numbers such as 11.2 percent in Los Angeles, 12.2 percent in Miami, 18.1 percent in Seattle, 31.9 percent in San Francisco, and 36.9 percent in Washington DC. Designing an effective system here, though, presents a monumental civil-engineering conundrum: The far-flung city covers an area of more than 400 square miles, and residential patterns make it by far the least dense large metropolitan area in the U.S.
Building a rail system from scratch is incredibly expensive. Just the first two miles of the VIA streetcar line, if it goes ahead as planned, would cost an estimated $90 million, and the federal government would only pick up 28 percent of the tab. Another $20 million would come from VIA, and roughly $35 million would be funded in equal parts from the city and county coffers, with $10 million from the private sector. In future phases, VIA wants to extend the rails to a 10-mile north-south downtown trunk and build out an 8-mile east-west axis.
Planning has been conducted with a negligent lack of transparency. Parker assured council members that staffers were regularly meeting with public interest groups — but who and when? In fact, no formal comment mechanism was created for route input. A VIA spokesperson admitted to the Current that a closed-door committee had drawn the route map using old demographic and transit studies. With a $45-million-per-mile price tag, you’d think fresh studies would be in order.
The City and County are now awaiting the VIA “complete economic impact” study, due no later than June 30. In order for the two governments to move ahead on financing the streetcar plan, they require the results of this study (presumably supporting the timeline and $90-million budget), concrete investment commitments from the private sector, and, most importantly, a federal decision to award San Antonio (one of the nation’s cities least in need of economic and employment stimulus) a $25-million grant toward the project.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff says that a light rail would be “an immensely important project,” and notes that polls show that roughly two-thirds of county residents favor some type of streetcar system. But will the public support this project once the final specs and costs come to light? “Who the hell knows?” he says frankly.
Leaving $ on the table
What’s a billion dollars of free social services worth? Apparently, not the carefully cultivated anti-Washington rugged-individual political image of Governor Rick Perry. Less than one week away from Censusmania, the state’s true hair-care magnate has failed to make any motion to ensure Texas’ consistently undercounted population is accurately recorded. State Representative Mike Villarreal wrote to Perry four months ago urging him to “ensure our state government is taking every appropriate step to ensure the highest possible level of participation by Texas residents” in the Census. Response? Dialtone. As the second-highest undercounted state of the 2000 Census, Texas may be about to flub its chance not only to rake in hundreds of millions in taxes we have already paid, but also increase the number of Congressional seats we hold, according to Anna Alicia Romero, regional census director for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“If we succeed, we will receive more of our own tax dollars back from the Federal government, easing our ability to meet our needs in transportation, education, health and human services and other areas,” Villarreal wrote back on October 13, 2009. Specifically, Texas should set up a “complete count” committee — as 18 other states, including Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, have done — and make use of state agencies to get the Census message to historically hard-to-count populations, such as “elderly, children, minorities, renters, and low-income.”
Now, we get that poor folks aren’t exactly Perry’s base, but why would the state throw away $1 billion for social services like foster- and childcare, substance abuse and treatment, Medicaid payments, and jobs training by risking another undercount? That’s how much funding the state was estimated to have lost thanks to the 2000 undercount of more than 370,000 residents, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Perry’s inaction has pushed the burden of Census organizing back onto the Census Bureau and whatever grassroots community-action orgs care enough to hit the street. MALDEF will focus its efforts along the exploding U.S. border counties, but here in San Antonio, Southwest Workers Union will be walking blocks across the Alamo City in a “Count Us Right” drive. Watch your mailbox mid-month for the bilingual forms containing detailed instructions on how to officially celebrate “Census Day” on April 1. Word is we get just a few weeks to mail ’em back before the newly mobilized border mobs seeking expanded political representation and reliable childcare begin the march north to make this registration stuff personal. And, no, your landlord doesn’t get a copy. •