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2005 Mayoral Election Tough love 

Carroll Schubert wants to refocus San Antonio on the basics, and it might hurt

Carroll Schubert

Carroll Schubert was always coming to San Antonio, and he was always going to be a politician, although not necessarily a local one.

Schubert left his family's grain sorghum and cotton farm near Bishop, Texas, where he grew up "driving a tractor," to attend Texas A & M, and later law school at the University of Texas at Austin. "I wanted to be in politics and most people that were in politics seemed to be lawyers."

While at UT-Austin, he worked at the state Capitol, but his real education came after school, when he spent three-and-a-half years working as an executive assistant for U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Working with Bentsen, he had the opportunity to examine larger issues and get a sense of "what government can do and what its limitations are."

In 1979, Schubert moved to San Antonio. Somewhere along the way, he lost his ambitions to be a state legislator.

"I wasn't always interested in city government," he says. "Early on it would have been something in the legislative arena, but, once I bought a home here, I saw the impact that local government could have on citizens' daily lives and that piqued my interest. What we do on a weekly basis can be felt almost immediately, and I don't think you have that at any other level of government."

In his recent campaign ads, Schubert has described himself as "a strong conservative leader," a fiscal conservative who has "protected taxpayers and stood up to the liberals of the City Council."

So what do "conservative" and "liberal" mean to him? "I think a true conservative is someone who believes in limited government," says Schubert, "who understands that government can't do everything that every person would like it to do." Liberals, conversely, Schubert says, "believe that government should be the place of first resort for funding, and aren't demanding anything of the people that want government money."

While Schubert's definition may ring true with traditional fiscal conservatives, it doesn't necessarily jibe with the current Republican Party, or at least President Bush, whose federal spending and swelling deficits have prompted economists to accuse the president of big-government conservatism.

"It's easy to tag developers as evil, but we're policy makers, we need to factor the interests of the neighborhoods, environmentalists, and the developers and business into what we do."
- Carroll Schubert

Nevertheless, Schubert would cut the fat out of City-funded programs and return to basic services. "People think their essential services are declining: Their streets aren't getting better, parks maintenance has declined, and mobility is more difficult than ever. We rate these issues highly, but then we don't fund them at priority levels."

That's not an unusual message in this year's elections, in which infrastructure tops nearly every city council candidate's list, nor is it unusual to say that the money for that work is to be found by trimming the fat out of the existing budget. And, Schubert's approach, which emphasizes "doing more for the things that affect the largest number of citizens," is not unique, though perhaps it is more focused.

As examples, he says the City should stop funding Project Quest, which receives $3 million a year, because Alamo Workforce Development gets $84 million in federal and state funding to do similar work and serves more people. Nor can the City fund after-school programs he says, "We've got great non-profits that do that."

Advocates for those programs, such as COPS/Metro Alliance, disagree. They cite the 1,600 people that have been placed in 600 jobs since 1992. According to Project Quest, 91 percent of placed individuals stay employed for at least a year. On average, Project Quest organizers say, their clients increased their annual earnings from $8,400 to $26,000 as a result of the program's job training.

In addition, the City's After School Challenge program served 17,000 children with tutoring and other school-related assistance.

While Julián Castro and Phil Hardberger have said they would increase Hotel Occupancy Tax and general-revenue funds for the arts, Schubert says, "A vibrant arts scene is important, but I don't believe taxpayers have to pay for it. People say we don't fund the arts, but we fund the Witte, the zoo - some people say that's not arts but it depends on how you see it - the Carver and the Guadalupe. That funding is never defined as arts funding, but we spend a lot of money on those facilities."

The Witte, Carver, and Guadalupe are City-owned properties, and thus receive money from the general fund and a portion of the $2.5 million HOT tax that goes to arts funding. Other arts organizations, such as the San Antonio Museum of Art, Southwest School of Art & Craft, and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, must compete with one another for funding.

Instead, Schubert says, the City should act as a facilitator, helping to secure grants and providing minimal support. He points to the Symphony, which he says received a stipend from the City only after it produced a business plan that included funding from ticket sales, grants, and private-sector donations. "Tax dollars are a place of last resort; don't come to us demanding taxpayer dollars for something that only affects a small number of people."

As he speaks, Schubert sounds like a father figure doling out the tough love. "It is a little like tough love, and people don't like it. If it were easy, we'd call it easy love."

Some might call Schubert's relationship to development and business, whose donations have poured into his coffers like money from home, easy love. Schubert's contributors include individuals associated with Pape-Dawson, the San Antonio Builders Association, KB Homes, and Atlee Development, among others.

"It's easy to tag developers as evil," says Schubert, "but we're policy makers, we need to factor the interests of the neighborhoods, environmentalists, and the developers and business into what we do. I'm the only person in this race who can talk with those people, because I've been in business, I understand it, and I don't view it as something negative for our community."

Schubert, who is still bitter about the "bad business and bullying that drove PGA of America away from our city last year," says that prosperity can only come from job creation, not from telling businesses they have to pay higher wages. "They always have the option to take the business to Schertz, so you've got to be cautious about trying to force business to do things. You want them to come here and compete and pay better wages because there is a demand for employees in certain sectors."

With more than a half-million dollars in his war chest, Schubert has closed in on Hardberger for second place in the race. "I think I can win. I think the issues we've been talking about are the issues the citizens of San Antonio believe are important ... basic services," he says. "My view of government is different than my opponents; they think government should be there for various people and programs, but they haven't told us how they are going to pay for it, and I'll tell you, you can't pay for it out of thin air."

By Susan Pagani

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