Friday, July 11, 2014

Mayor's race has frontrunner | Last Word

The race for interim mayor is not the only campaign under way in the wake of Mayor Julian Castro’s Senate confirmation for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Next spring’s non-interim mayor’s race is also under way – and from where I stand it appears we already have a frontrunner.

Before I name him, here’s a quick primer on San Antonio’s political geography.

For 35 years, the most successful candidates and most effective mayors have been practical Democrats who have won the backing of the business community.

This is not just because these candidates have well-financed campaigns.

It is because a mayor with an ambitious agenda needs the support of the majority of voters – who in San Antonio are democrats – and the support of the business community, which is practical. 

The most effective San Antonio mayors of the past 35 years – Cisneros, Nelson Wolff, Phil Hardberger and Castro – all fit that profile.

For the past 10 years, the best political harbinger of business support is Mike Beldon, head of one of the city’s largest roofing companies, former chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and former chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority.

In 2005, he served as treasurer and finance director for Phil Hardberger’s campaign against a young Castro.

Four years later, he did the same for Castro in his successful campaign against Trish DeBerry.

Now Beldon has signed on as the mayoral campaign manager for State Rep. Mike Villarreal.

Beldon, who is well and vigorously into his 70s, said his wife and he travel too much for him to serve as Villarreal’s finance director.

But he’s confident that Akin Gump lawyer Jose Villarreal (no relation) will do a bang-up job.

Jose Villarreal has played in the big leagues, having served as Bill Clinton’s deputy campaign manager, as Al Gore’s treasurer, and as a national campaign co-chairman for John Kerry.

Beldon said he’s found a very positive reaction to Mike Villarreal in the business community, though many are not ready to commit publicly yet.

“The most negative thing I’ve heard about Mike,” continued Beldon, “was from a dyed-in-the-wool democrat who said, “ ‘(Expletive), he’s not a dependable enough democrat. I’d never vote for him.' ”

Villarreal has come under such criticism from time to time in the Legislature.

He worked closely enough with republican House Speaker Joe Straus to earn appointments to the powerful Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Education committees.

He also showed himself willing to take on powerful business leaders. 

In the last session, he bitterly fought David Zachry over the construction magnate’s lobbying for a large hotel as part of the new Hemisfair development.

A compromise was worked out.

Meanwhile, Villarreal is lining up support from environmental groups (he won a Sierra Club award for his legislation) and other constituencies.

His 15 years of laboring in the legislative vineyard gives him a leg up.

Names of possible opponents have been floated, but in my opinion Villarreal needs to be nervous about only one of them:

State Sen. and lieutenant governor candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

As a candidate in November’s election, she can’t be talking publicly about running for another office in the spring if she loses.

She reportedly has told some friends she is interested, and others that she isn’t.

She denied interest last month to Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff, saying “I’m of the Legislature.”

If she does lose, she still has two years left in her senate term.

But it would not be a happy place under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for any democrat, much less the one who lost to him.

So she couldn’t be blamed if she exercised her politician’s privilege and ran for mayor.

Mike Villarreal’s task, which he has taken up vigorously, is to wrap up enough support before the fall to make the mayor’s race uninviting for her – or anyone else.

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