News : Party lines

Stinky is as stinky does

“Politically, no one could defeat Mayor (Phil) Hardberger if he elects to run again in ’07. If, for personal reasons, he decides not to run ... that would be a real loss for the City,” wrote public relations consultant T.J. Connolly last week as Hardberger was coping with the death of his friend, developer Cliff Morton.

According to a source close to the mayor, Hardberger was visiting with Morton’s family when a media firestorm erupted. According to the San Antonio Lightning, a local pseudo-news website, Hardberger had told some “friends” that he did not intend to run for mayor again in 2007.

Connolly, who made a name for himself as the vice president of communications for Paragon, the predecessor to today’s Time Warner Cable, slyly complimented Hardberger on his first half-term in office, and claimed he does not believe the rumor that the mayor would not seek a second term. “From his handling of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, to his courting and securing of Sheryl Sculley as San Antonio’s City Manager, to his reforming of City Council meetings, to his aggressive pursuit of the New Orleans Saints ... in 12 short months in office, Phil Hardberger has earned a second term.”

Connolly, who has a long list of clients such as Star Storage, which became famous in 2003 for putting photos of a hairy, naked man on a billboard alongside Hwy 281, also wrote that he believes that Julián Castro “was the best candidate in 2005,” and then went on to say that Hardberger “has proved to be an exceptional mayor. He is decisive. Strong. Focused. You may not agree with all his positions ... but you never have to wonder where he is on a key issue.”

But he goes on to say that if Hardberger leaves office in 2007, “Julián Castro will be the front-runner ... no one would start with the high name ID and strong fundraising database that Castro would enjoy.”

Flash back to 1997, when “Dental” Bill Thornton was seeking a second term as mayor of San Antonio. Connolly had split with the mayor over alleged influence-peddling by Thornton during the mayor’s first term. He had served as Thornton’s campaign adviser during the first run for office, while at the same time serving as chairman of the VIA board of trustees.

Connolly, according to news reports, had defected to Howard Peak’s mayoral campaign, and then the strangest thing happened: Thornton accused Connolly of “stalking” him and his wife when they attended a posh party at Tullos Wells’s home in Alamo Heights. According to a police report written by Thornton’s SAPD bodyguard, Connolly was a passenger in his own car when it allegedly passed a few times in front of the house, then pulled into the Wells’ driveway to turn around.

According to Connolly’s testimony to the Express-News, he was riding with a friend who wanted to sell her Alamo Heights home, and who wanted to see other houses in the neighborhood to compare prices. They drove down the street in front of the party house, turned around in a driveway and departed.

Then police chief Al Phillipus investigated the alleged stalking incident, but found no basis for the charge. He declared the case closed, and Connolly lamented the “damage that the mayor did to my reputation ... in a cold, calculated, well-planned political move.”

Mayor Bill Thornton was defeated in his second campaign for the mayor’s seat in 1997. Connolly says he has since avoided political campaigns, although he worked for Castro during his recent race against Hardberger.

Castro, who says he has an understanding with Hardberger that he will not run against him for mayor in 2007, recently told the Current that “nobody speaks for me. I speak for myself. I won’t run against Phil Hardberger.”

However, if Hardberger decides not to stand for re-election, Castro says he definitely will campaign for mayor. City Hall sources close to Hardberger say he will not make that decision until about three months from now.

The Express-News now is whining about the “political stench” that Connolly created with the latest commentary that Hardberger might not run for a second term. But it was the Express-News that created a political stench when it joined Hardberger’s mayoral campaign as early as summer 2004.

Connolly and the Express-News might believe they are performing a public service with all this political intrigue. But when they make predictions and endorse political candidates, they are creating the perception that voters are incapable of making their own choices. That sort of attitude should be voted out of office.

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