City Guide: Mayor Julián Castro places public health & education on San Antonio's reform agenda

Wunderkind San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has taken up his predecessor Phil Hardberger’s visionary leadership (which included beginning the River Walk extension, clean-energy development, and expanding term-limits) in spades. This son of Chicana activist Rosie Castro, with regular “fishing-trip” invitations from the White House, has placed public health and education on the front-burner of Alamo City’s reform agenda: witness Café College across the highway from UTSA downtown, geared toward moving more SA youth from high school to higher ed, and pending state legislation that would allow the mayor to handpick nearly half of the school board members at currently academically “unacceptable” San Antonio ISD. We expect the pressure won’t let up in 2011, as the city also tackles public health issues by eliminating smoking in bars and restaurants (but not the River Walk) and makes serious investments in our urban landscape’s walk- and bike-ability.

In his first term of office, Mayor Castro has garnered flattering national press in places like New York Times Magazine. That publication’s “Post-Hispanic Politician” headline rankled some residents who are still looking for “Rosie’s son” to take a more strident tone on the Republican war against undocumented residents and Hispanics more generally. But while Castro has found a certain level of celebrity in his first term, our virtually unpaid, part-time Council (with all the seats in play this May election) has mostly kept in line with Castro’s agenda. The heavy lifting in our Council-Manager setup is done (again, mostly) behind the scenes by one of the nation’s highest paid city managers: Phoenix transplant Sheryl Sculley. The former Phoenix assistant CM came to San Antonio with a $250,000 package in 2005 that now banks her more than $350,000, a contract bump that most on the Council later admitted they hadn’t read before they approved it.

But it’s Democratic Party elder statesman County Judge (and former mayor and state legislator) Nelson Wolff who most credit for maneuvering the city and county’s most important deals. Wolff, a prolific author on the side, continues to lead high-dollar economic development in the area, including landing Toyota Motors and pushing through a bond proposal to flood the city with new ballparks and a performing arts center.

Read more from our 2011 City Guide here.