June 16, 2005: Headlines: Figures: Staff: Politics: City Government: Election2005 - Hardberger: Hispanic Business: Issues, Not Race, Elected Phil Hardberger San Antonio's New Mayor

Peace Corps Online: State: Texas: June 26, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Phil Hardberger (Staff) : June 16, 2005: Headlines: Figures: Staff: Politics: City Government: Election2005 - Hardberger: Hispanic Business: Issues, Not Race, Elected Phil Hardberger San Antonio's New Mayor

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Issues, Not Race, Elected Phil Hardberger San Antonio's New Mayor

Issues, Not Race, Elected Phil Hardberger San Antonio's New Mayor

San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger served as a Peace Corps Staff member in the 1960's.

Issues, Not Race, Elected Phil Hardberger San Antonio's New Mayor

Issues, Not Race, Elected San Antonio's New Mayor

June 16, 2005

William M. Welch


Two dozen years ago, Ralph Lopez backed Henry Cisneros when he ran for mayor of San Antonio. So did nearly all the city's Hispanic voters, helping to make Cisneros the first Mexican-American mayor of a major American city.

Last week, Lopez parted company with his old ally and voted for an Anglo candidate in the mayoral runoff over Hispanic City Councilman Julian Castro. So did as many as 35% of the city's Hispanic voters, a significant break from past voting and enough to elect Phil Hardberger, a 70-year-old former judge, mayor of the city where 59% of residents are Hispanic. Both Castro and Hardberger are Democrats.

"It wasn't Julian's time,'' said Lopez, now in his fourth term as Bexar County's elected sheriff. "He's got to get a few more notches on his political belt. ... Julian's going to have to wait his time.''

The defection of Hispanic voters, following the lead of Lopez and some other community leaders, helped shatter expectations of national Democrats, such as Howard Dean's political action group, who had seen Castro, 30, as a future star capable of attracting Hispanic voters far beyond his city's limits. It also was a blow to Democrats' hopes that the rapidly growing Hispanic vote can be directed as a bloc.

Many say that Hispanic voters in San Antonio are doing something expected of any ethnic group that is seeing success in government, the business world and American society in general. In short, Hispanic voters find it easier now to look beyond skin color, said Ciro Rodriguez, a former Democratic congressman and a Hardberger supporter.

"I think we've gone beyond that,'' Rodriguez said. "I think we look at who's best for the job now. When it's the first Latino in a long time, you get a high turnout, like with Henry Cisneros. I think you evolve to another level of sophistication, where (the deciding factor is) who is best to meet your needs, whether it be Latino or Anglo or African-American.

"We're more willing, I think, to look at different issues than race,'' he said.

A Castro victory would have made him the second Hispanic Democrat to win a major office in as many months, following Antonio Villaraigosa's election as the first Mexican-American mayor of Los Angeles.

Both Cisneros and the city's outgoing mayor, Ed Garza, also a Mexican-American, won significantly larger shares of the Hispanic vote than Castro was able to command, said Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in San Antonio. Villaraigosa received 86% of the Hispanic vote in Los Angeles, she said, based on exit polling.

In San Antonio, where no exit polling was conducted, Camarillo estimates Castro won 65% of the Hispanic vote. That was enough for Castro to carry seven of the city's 10 wards, all majority Mexican-American. But it was not enough to offset Hardberger's strong advantage in the three more-affluent white wards.

Hardberger won with 51.5% of the vote and a margin of fewer than 4,000 votes out of nearly 130,000 cast. In a race that close, many factors can be seen as decisive. But one surely is that Hispanic voters departed from past practice of giving near-unanimous support to the Hispanic candidate.

"That's probably a fair assessment,'' said Camarillo, whose 31-year-old non-profit organization takes no position on individual candidates. "Latinos did turn out in large numbers. They voted their conscience. We can't lose sight of the fact that 35% got their choice. And they got their choice following their leadership.''

As in Los Angeles, the race for mayor boiled down to two Democratic candidates. Rodriguez said Castro was unable to hold together the Hispanic vote as Villaraigosa did in Los Angeles because Hardberger had long-standing ties with the Mexican-American community.

Hardberger is a former judge and lawyer who had represented Hispanic causes in Texas courts. Castro is a Stanford and Harvard-educated lawyer elected to the City Council at 26.

"I've known Phil for some 30 years,'' Rodriguez said. "I've known him as a good friend, and he's always been very supportive of me. ... He's been pretty good about reaching out to different groups.''

Rodolfo Rosales, political scientist at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said the race was decided by political alignments, not racial or ethnic divisions.

"The Anglo vote did bloc vote. But this time there was enough Mexican-American votes to make the difference," he said.

Hardberger says he was able to grab as much as one-third of the Mexican-American vote because those voters were willing to look past skin.

When this story was posted in June 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Hispanic Business

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