2006.06.21: June 21, 2006: Headlines: Figures: Staff: Politics: City Government: San Antonio Express: Phil Hardberger is charge and in a hurry

Peace Corps Online: State: Texas: June 26, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Phil Hardberger (Staff) : 2006.06.21: June 21, 2006: Headlines: Figures: Staff: Politics: City Government: San Antonio Express: Phil Hardberger is charge and in a hurry

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Phil Hardberger is charge and in a hurry

Phil Hardberger is charge and in a hurry

Decisiveness has become Hardberger's mayoral calling card. And a year into his administration, he's credited with bringing professionalism to a City Hall that's had a reputation for ineptitude and still is recovering from the 2002 bribery-related indictments of then-Councilmen Enrique "Kike" Martin and John Sanders. San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger served as a Peace Corps Staff member in the 1960's.

Phil Hardberger is charge and in a hurry

Hardberger: Man in charge and in a hurry

Web Posted: 06/18/2006 12:00 AM CDT

Greg Jefferson
Express-News Staff Writer


For all the uproar in recent months, Main Plaza wasn't even on Phil Hardberger's to-do list when he was sworn in as mayor a year ago.

He didn't campaign on a $9 million overhaul of one of San Antonio's oldest sites, and he didn't give it any thought when he settled into City Hall.

But in mid-August, Father David Garcia of San Fernando Cathedral and several others got Hardberger into the conference room next to the priest's office and pitched the idea of recasting Main Plaza a master plan for which had been around since 1992.

It clicked.

"I felt he was positive at the end," Garcia said. "But I'd heard every mayor say they thought this was a good idea. This was the first one who really did something about it."

Hardberger ran with it from there.

That kind of decisiveness has become Hardberger's mayoral calling card. And a year into his administration, he's credited with bringing professionalism to a City Hall that's had a reputation for ineptitude and still is recovering from the 2002 bribery-related indictments of then-Councilmen Enrique "Kike" Martin and John Sanders.

Hardberger so far has no sweeping, high-impact initiatives to his credit, and he's not without a few failures and disappointments. On the other hand, he's spent a good deal of time courting council members, forging a coalition and piecing together what he considers an A-team of city administrators.

"I felt my most important job was to restore confidence between the public and city government," said Hardberger, 71, a retired trial lawyer and appellate judge.

Measuring up

Dubbed the "old gray mayor" in a Texas Monthly headline months before his election, Hardberger told voters during his campaign against two sitting councilmen, Julián Castro and Carroll Schubert that he would bring maturity and leadership to City Hall. The implication was that then-Mayor Ed Garza and Hardberger's opponents had provided neither.

The 37-year-old Garza, now working in the private sector as an urban planner, acknowledged the public had lost faith in city government. But he said he sensed it as early as 1997 in his first campaign for a council seat, and it only intensified with the council indictments in his first term.

"Trust in City Hall is bigger than one individual, one administration or a two-year term and it can change overnight," Garza said.

One measure of Hardberger's popularity so far is that representatives of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and grass-roots groups Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance organizations that don't often see eye to eye agree he's turning in a strong performance.

"The mayor has a long-term vision ... maybe more so than other mayors we've seen," said Mike Phillips of COPS-Metro Alliance.

So far, that vision seems to center on parks and public spaces. In addition to winning council support for Main Plaza's redevelopment earlier this month, Hardberger is pushing the potential purchase for up to $45 million of the 311-acre Voelcker Ranch on the North Side for a city park.

He's also setting his sights on work force training and education. He delivered last year on a campaign pledge to COPS-Metro to back more funding for the job-training program Project Quest, and Saturday he staged a summit to try to drum up solutions for San Antonio's education woes.

But his track record isn't spotless.

With a campaign promise to put more police officers on the street, Hardberger supported the creation of the Crime Control and Prevention District, which would have used sales tax revenue for personnel, equipment and prevention programs. Voters decisively rejected that plan in November.

He also was unsuccessful in convincing the New Orleans Saints to relocate to San Antonio in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, despite heavy fan turnouts for three games in the Alamodome.

While the episode may have been frustrating, it hardly was a defeat for Hardberger, said Stephen Seidel, chairman of the Greater Chamber. "The city did a good job of putting forward a good case," he said. "It just wasn't the right time or place."

And the attempt probably didn't cost him politically, said Richard Gambitta, a political scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

"People like these initiatives, even if one or two of them fail," Gambitta said. "The public likes the idea of action. ... He's certainly not a caretaker."

An effort to bring the Florida Marlins baseball team to San Antonio largely led by County Judge Nelson Wolff, a close ally of Hardberger's also sputtered to a standstill.

Though lacking any legacy-making successes to date, Gambitta said, Hardberger has spent part of his first year in office preparing for bigger moves namely by forging a coalition on the council and luring City Manager Sheryl Sculley and City Attorney Michael Bernard.

"I think he's putting into place personnel and programs for the future," Gambitta said.

When this story was posted in July 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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