The QueQue

Trivial pursuits

There’s not much you can say about your administration when you’ve only been in office for a few hours, but Mayor Julián Castro was determined to hit the ground running on June 1 with a busy schedule and loads of media fodder (we counted four first-day-in-office releases), culminating in an afternoon First Day and All’s Well” press conference at City Hall.

“Today was about setting a tone of leadership and making sure that we’re working well with the Council, with the City Manager, and with our County Judge, Nelson Wolff,” Castro said, noting that if he looked “a little tired,” the reason was that he’d been awake since 4:30 a.m.

The highlight of his day: morning meetings with police officers and sanitation workers.

“We are going to move mountains to make sure that we add police officers to enhance our public safety in San Antonio,” Castro said, adding that his goal was to make SA “the safest big city” in the United States.

We also learned that Castro had a good lunch at Tommy Moore’s Café and Deli. QueQue spent the next several minutes obsessing over what the new mayor ate, but declined to ask, because we didn’t want to set a dangerous precedent on the administration’s first day (fear of looking silly in front of other local reporters also factored in there somewhat). Our vote would be for the Red Beans and Rice with Sausage.

We did dip our toes into the river of mindless trivia, however, by asking Castro if outgoing Mayor Hardberger had left him a letter (or even a Post-it) with advice or encouragement. (“Don’t eat lunch on Main Plaza,” e.g. “Too hot.”) We know this is a presidential, not mayoral, tradition, but if any SA mayor would think to localize this practice, you’d expect it to be the symbolically mindful Hardberger.

Mayor H. didn’t leave a note for Castro, but the new mayor assured us that no characters were missing from his office’s computer keyboard and added, “Fortunately my letterhead was ready.”

Just in case you worry about those things.

Pay it forward

The Urban Segment of the River Walk’s Museum Reach, unveiled to much oohing and aahing (and a little ehhing, courtesy of your Current art critics; see our May 27 story, online at last weekend, came in $2 million under its $72.1 million budget (that number doesn’t include all of the public-art-enhancement funds, which brought the total kitty to $76.5 million). The extra cash will be used to link the Urban to the Park Segment, just the other side of Highway 281. (Devoted QueQue readers will recall the lengthy Avenue A/B debate from last year, in which the birders and River Road nimbys successfully insisted that through traffic run up Avenue B, along the Catalpa Pershing ditch on the east side of Brackenridge Golf Course, where it will disturb neither migratory birds nor seclusion-loving residents.)

Steven Schauer at the San Antonio River Authority credits dry weather and “Zachry `Construction’s` solid work” with the cost under-run. The bulk of the money for the Urban Segment base project came from City funds, and if the project manages to carry over the surplus through the entire $12.6-million Park Segment construction, it’ll be up to the City to decide where to spend it, said Schauer. (There is that underfunded Mission Reach ... ) Crews should break ground on the park link in the next month or two, added Schauer, and complete it within three to six months, just in time for cooler strolling weather.

Much ado and nothing

As the Lege’s 81st Regular Session ground to a stultifying close, it was déjà vu all over again with the partisan rancor that made the Tom Craddick years so entertaining for observers and so frustrating for participants. With Democrats pulling out every possible point of order last week to bury Voter ID so the House could move on to pressing matters, Speaker Joe Straus was a picture of restrained irritation, stubbornly refusing to give up a procedural point that, in the eyes of his GOP colleagues, would qualify as a legislative emasculation.

So Straus clung to Voter ID with grim determination and Democrats dug in their heels for five days of chubbing — a tedious, grueling, run-out-the-clock technique that everyone hates, but no one was willing to do anything about. Once the House hit its May 26 midnight deadline, effectively killing Voter ID this time around, they settled into some real business, passing legislation both laudable (property tax breaks for disabled veterans) and dubious (did we really need to mandate the use of car booster seats up to the age of 8?). They also pushed through a get-tough-on-graffiti bill, which has been a major obsession for SA’s City Council (although, with so few taggers caught in the act, it remains debatable how effective this kind of strategy will be).

But the person most impacted by last week’s Pink Dome (in)action has to be Say-town delegation member Straus. He became Speaker because Democrats were fed up with Craddick and saw the San Antonio Representative as a conciliatory, moderate voice, and he was backed in part by Dem up-and-comer Trey Martinez Fischer `profiled this week by Gilbert Garcia, page 10`. That perception, which held firm for most of this year’s session, collapsed over the last week.    

“`Straus` was hurt in the sense that the part of the session before that had been run very smoothly, very textbook,” said fellow SA Representative Joaquin Castro, a Dem (and, if you’re just joining us, Julián’s twin), citing the House’s April 18 149-0 budget vote, which skirted a handful of partisan landmines. “That’s an indicator of a leadership that has its stuff straight.”

Voter ID says Castro, “made Tom Craddick relevant again.”

But there were signs that cutting off the Craddick head had not killed the lege’s radical right well before Voter ID brought closing business to a standstill. HB 741, a comprehensive sex-ed bill authored by Castro, died in committee at the end of March after a promising couple weeks of negotiations, during which it looked like Republican Rep. Mark Shelton, a North Texas physician, would support language requiring sex ed to be “medically accurate and age-appropriate” if it’s taught at all, while strengthening parent participation and notification requirements. But even though the proposed legislation emphasized abstinence-only values, the social hardliners apparently got to Shelton, and in the end the bill went nowhere. Castro had been given the impression that the Public Education Committee Chair wanted to get a comprehensive sex-ed bill to the House floor, and Shelton was assigned to work on compromise language, but after draft language had been circulated and rumors floated that a vote was immiment, Shelton came to Castro and said sorry, he couldn’t do it.

“It was symbolic of the split in the House of Representatives,” said Castro.

In comparison, Castro notes, the abortion-ultrasound bill authored by SA Representative Frank Corte in the House and Dan Patrick in the Senate, made it all the way up to the House Calendar before dying behind the Voter ID logjam.

Trail of tears

Global profits associated with sexual slaveryare on the order of $31.7 billion, according to the International Labor Organization. Here in Texas, one out of every five trafficking victims in the U.S. is believed to travel Interstate 10 each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and Houston and El Paso are on the list of “most intense trafficking jurisdictions in the country.”

To reduce the number of women, children, and men who wind up as modern-day slaves, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte drafted legislation to establish a statewide task force on sex trafficking that would also require law enforcement to explore alternative models for handling minorsengaged in prostitution, raise the age of minor status for prostitution charges from 17 to 18, and make ignorance of a victim’s age inadmissible as a defense. The legislation was well received and approved unanimously in House and Senate committees before being rolled into related legislation intended to expand victim-assistance services in the state. That larger bill is now on its way to Governor Perry.

Meanwhile, the last of five Bexar County residents convicted a year ago in BexarCo’s only human-trafficking lawsuit to date is set to be sentenced on June 19 under a plea agreement. Brent Stephens, the owner of several home-health service organizations in recent years — including Senior Sitters, Total Therapy Services, and Meta-Care — would serve five years in prison for his part in luring three women to the United States from Nuevo Laredo to work as prostitutes for an escort service. Two of the women were minors.

Stephens allegedly backed out of the plan after “inspecting” the women at his condo. His partner, registered sex offender Timothy Gereb, who threatened the women with a gun if they failed to perform, according to court testimony, was sentenced to 10 yearsin prison in March 2008.

While sexual slavery is a critical and horrifying issue, it’s important to remember that for every person enslaved in sex work, there are three people being forced to labor in other capacities, says Maria Trujillo, executive director of Houston Rescue and Restore. Enslaved people can be found working in restaurants, selling magazines door-to-door, working in nail salons, or as domestic help.

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