Wolff in councilman’s clothing

When Kevin Wolff won election to City Council in 2005, his District 9 office was looked upon as the plum spot for Council staffers.

With Wolff’s political pedigree — his father, Nelson Wolff, is the Bexar County Judge and a former San Antonio mayor — and considerable fundraising connections, he instantly vaulted to the head of the class when pundits considered possible mayoral successors to Phil Hardberger.

According to Council insiders, however, the perks of working for Wolff went beyond his family name or his political potential. They describe Wolff and his staffers as an unusually close group who regularly congregated during the week for drinks at Wolff’s house, which he nicknamed Club Lobo. These Council insiders say the drinking get-togethers would even happen during lunch breaks between morning and afternoon sessions of Council meetings, and that Wolff would sometimes conceal alcohol in a large Bill Miller cup while sitting on the dais in Council chambers.

Describing Club Lobo as “the hideout where Kevin and his staff went to go get drunk during the day,” a Council insider says the gatherings were a way for Wolff and his staffers to bond over alcohol, out of the view of the voting public.

“He can’t get through the day without having a drink,” the source says. “He drinks either vodka tonic or Sapphire & tonic, and he drinks them constantly.

“When the Council would go on the parade boats, he was the one who brought the cooler. He was the one who brought the liquor. That’s not too out of the ordinary: It’s Fiesta, everybody’s drinking. But it was very standard for Kevin to drink while he was on the dais. He regularly did it and regularly showed it off. He’d have one of those Bill Miller cups and say, ‘Hey, you wish you could have something like this?’”

A one-time visitor to Club Lobo remembers it as “a casual drinking scene, like being at a bar,” and adds that Wolff would advise visitors to park at a nearby dentist’s office, so as not to attract attention.

Wolff’s former staff members have splintered since he resigned his position late last year to ready himself for a November run at the Precinct 3 position on the Bexar County Commissioners Court: Allision Greer, his former chief of staff, is now working on his election campaign; Stephanie Bocanegra, a former Council aide, now works for SAWS as manager of external relations; Susan Farris, a constituent-office staffer, now works for the County; and Christina Foley, his former secretary, now works for the San Antonio Department of Aviation.

They all remain stubbornly loyal to Wolff and none of them would speak to the Current at length about Club Lobo or its implications.

“I honestly don’t want to answer that question,” Foley nervously says, when asked about the gatherings. Farris takes a more combative tone, saying, “It’s Kevin Wolff’s house and it’s where he invites people to dinner and to get together. I don’t understand why the fact that somebody has made a silly little name for their house is all of a sudden an issue.”

While Club Lobo did serve as a tongue-in-cheek nickname for Wolff’s home, email exchanges between his staffers (obtained by the Current in an open-records request) sound more like discussions of a favorite neighborhood watering hole than a Councilmember’s residence.

A July 23, 2007, email from Foley to other Wolff staffers: “I also plan on the grand re-opening of Club Lobo that night at about 6:30.” A November 1, 2007, email from Foley to Wolff: “KW — are you having drinks with Lyle tomorrow late afternoon?” A February 29, 2008, email from Foley to Wolff staffers, shortly after he’d resigned from the Council: “KW wanted me to let everyone `know` Club Lobo is open. He said, earlier is always better.” `See Last Words for a few more

If the allegations about Wolff are true, that would hardly make him the only elected official in this or any other city to enjoy a stiff cocktail. The real issue is whether he drank before or during city meetings, and he insists that he never did.

“Absolutely not. None whatsover,” Wolff tersely replies, when asked if he or his staff ever drank between council sessions.

When asked whether he concealed alcohol while on the Council dais, he simply says, “It’s completely ridiculous.” (A Current review of a month’s worth of Council videos from May 2006 found no evidence of Wolff keeping a cup on the dais.)

Wolff similarly denies an accusation by a Council source that in December 2005 he brought a masseuse into his constituent office and paid for champagne and massages for all of the office’s staffers. He does, however, see humor in the

“I don’t know where you get this stuff, man,” he says. “It sounds like a pretty good idea, though.”

The same Council source tells the Current that Wolff changed the culture of the Council with a frat-party mindset that included coastal retreats with his staff for weekends of heavy alcohol consumption.

“Who the hell takes their staff overnight and they’re getting smashed? What the hell is that about? That’s ridiculous,” the Council source says.

Wolff acknowledges that he took his staff to the coast shortly after his 2005 election, but says it was strictly a work retreat. Ironically, given the office scuttlebutt the getaway generated, Wolff says the trip’s agenda concerned proper conduct for the councilman and his staff. “That is where we wrote the policies and procedures for District 9,” he says. “It talks about how to act, things that we would do and not do. It’s a good document.”

A common opinion among Council insiders is that Club Lobo provided Wolff a safe environment for bad behavior, a place where he set the tone and didn’t have to answer to anyone.

“I think this person had to host people so he wouldn’t get in trouble publicly,” a Council source says. “He’d have them go to his place so he wouldn’t have to be on the road or be seen publicly.”

Another Council insider agrees that Club Lobo enabled Wolff to avoid the risks of drunk driving, saying, “On one hand, it’s very admirable. On the other, it’s very clear that he has no control of the situation.”

The same source says Wolff’s “bar was always open,” and adds that Wolff and his staff would frequently “be over there partying the night away.” This source notes that council business would frequently come up for discussion and contends that Wolff — who represented the city’s most conservative district and made no bones about his Republican leanings — would sometimes “hot box” his colleagues by pushing a policy agenda at his house, while surrounded by his passionately supportive staffers.

“From his perspective, what better environment to get a colleague in? You’re opening your doors to them, you’re providing the alcohol that’s allowing them to have a good time. You’re the District 9 councilmember. Which means you have no votes, you have zero support. You’re the only Republican on the council. For him to be able to get councilmembers in a situation where they might feel that he’s not such a bad guy, even though he’s going to fuck ’em on the vote on Thursday, that’s why he would open it up.”

Roger Flores, a former District 1 councilman who served with Wolff, says he’s never heard of Club Lobo. “What is it, like a club?” Flores asks. “That is so funny. What did they do? If there was a club like that, I never got invited. I’m kind of hurt,” he adds, with a laugh.

While most sources contacted by the Current agree that Club Lobo socializing occurred regularly and often infringed on Council meeting days, not everyone considered the gatherings to be a major concern.

“I don’t think there was any bad intent,” one insider says. “They were building their camaraderie, I guess. But some of the staff would come back to the Council meetings and they shouldn’t have been there. You could tell they’d been

The relentlessly gregarious Wolff expects a tough, bitter county-commissioner campaign this fall against former District 10 Councilman Chip Haass, an old colleague that he describes as a friend, if a temporarily estranged one. (Haass declined to comment on the record for this story.) But even a few tough questions about his conduct on the Council don’t get him down for long. And he’s resolutely unapologetic about Club Lobo.

“It was just friends getting together,” he says. “We’d sit around and talk about stuff. It was more a relax-and-be-among-friends time than it was about work. You know, it’s my house. If you can’t have friends over there, where can you?”

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