True believer

Mayoral candidate Jay Tope(Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Former radio announcer Jay Tope runs with the big dogs in his race for mayor

Jay Tope, the latest candidate for mayor, was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in the early 1990s, when KISS-FM changed its format to oldies music.

The radio station launched one of those endless contests in which listeners have to call and do silly things to get their voices heard on the radio. Tope entered a contest offering someone a chance to be an on-air sports reporter for a day, and won. "I called in and did a comic piece, the next day I was a sports reporter. They called me back, and the next day became next week, until I was hired, and did morning sports and weekends."

After stints on Magic 105, Tope moved on to the short-lived KPAZ in 1997, "doing positive radio" as the morning host. He then joined KTSA AM as assignments editor and traffic reporter, until 2003 when the station was purchased by Infinity Broadcasting, and changed its on-air personality lineup. Tope left before he was told to hit the road.

"You saw the writing on the wall," Tope says.

The writing on the wall also says that Tope hasn't much of a chance to win the mayor's race, but the born-again Christian and registered Republican contends he can beat his better-known opponents: former District Judge Phil Hardberger, City Councilmen Julián Castro and Carroll Schubert.

"When I decided to run for mayor, it wasn't something where I thought 'This would be cool.' I had already thought about getting involved in politics. The main reason to run for office is I love this city."

He says if other candidates "are not passionate about the city, they don't need to be in the mayor's race. I looked for a suitable candidate to vote for, and I didn't see one, so I decided to put my head on the chopping block."

Tope hails from Tucson, Arizona, but his father once lived in San Antonio, and the family moved here in 1976. Tope spent two years at Holmes High School and then returned to Tucson.

"I fell in love with this city. San Antonio is a cultural mecca, and I love that and want to be part of it."

Tope, 40, has been married to his wife, Linda, for 11 years. They have a daughter, Selina, 10, who has a serious heart defect.

Her heart has only two valves, and is located inside the right cavity of her chest. Tope calls her the "miracle girl," who has undergone numerous open-heart surgeries, and has to consult with a pediatric heart specialist every three to four months. "She is a source of inspiration. When I think things are going bad in my life, I think about Selina."

Tope was raised Lutheran, but as his daughter grew up and faced her health condition, he became a born-again Christian. "Would it `religion` influence my decisions at City Hall? More in morality than anything."

Yet, morality can influence the arts, as it did in 1997, when City Council unanimously voted to defund the Esperanza Center because it featured a gay/lesbian film festival. Nonetheless, Tope promises that he "will not cut arts spending. Art is part of the culture of San Antonio and is part of what makes this city great." Tope says he has visited an art exhibit at the Esperanza, and contends that even if he is "disgusted" by what he sees, he would defend that group's right to display what they consider art.

He says he also would give preferential treatment to local businesses in awarding contracts, referring to City Hall's recent move to take away the Tower of the Americas food service contract from locally owned Hasslocher family enterprises, and award it to Houston-based Landry's Restaurants. Tope also says he would grant no tax breaks for businesses to relocate to San Antonio. "We sell ourselves short as a city that is desperate to get outside business, and we say 'tell us what tax breaks you want.' Toyota is great, but we're in a situation where we let Toyota dictate to us."

Tope says the people he meets all over town consider him a political outsider, and "some consider me a fringe candidate, but it's a long way until May."

Hardberger says of Tope, "I like him, he's a nice guy, but I don't think he's qualified to be mayor. I don't doubt he would do the best job he could do."

Tope believes he will still be standing after the May 7 election, and has a good chance going into the runoff. And he believes he can win by raising only about $5,000. "People might think I'm crazy, but I could win by getting out into the community. I'm targeting residents that haven't been voting out of disgust with City Hall. If I could get 10 to 15 percent of them to the polls ... All I need to do is get into a runoff, then people will see that the political outsider has a chance."

The radio personality acknowledges there would be a "large learning curve" in the first few months of office, but he would try to learn to meet the demands of the office.

"Day One of a Jay Tope mayoralty, that door comes off between the mayor's office and the city manager's office. I want to know what's going on."

By Michael Cary

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