What's next for Phil Hardberger

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(Note: An entry I pulled from my blog about the future plans of Mayor Phil Hardberger.)

In a column scheduled for Sunday's Express-News Jan Jarboe Russell writes that after a very successful four years as the mayor of San Antonio a movement may have begun to draft Phil Hardberger to make a gubernatorial run. It would be a good natural progression and possibly a great challenge for either Rick Perry or Kay Bailey Hutchison. However, time may be more the issue than anything in this decision. Harberger is 75 years old and would be 80 at the end of a first term as governor. So while the idea is appealing it probably won't happen. But it does point out an interesting situation in Hardberger's political career. Could he have reached his political peak too late in life?Hardberger returned to the political scene after retiring as Chief Justice of the 4th Court of Appeals in Texas to run for mayor against a young Julian Castro. Surviving the general election Hardberger came back to narrowly beat Castro in the runoff and was re-elected in 2007 by an overwhelming majority. During his two terms in office he helped bring Toyota to San Antonio, helped lead San Antonio's response to Katrina and Rita victims, helped grow San Antonio's park space with the acquisition of Voelcker Park and the new San Antonio River expansion, helped start Haven for Hope as a new facility city for San Antonio's growing homeless population, and started the city on the road to being recognized as a green city with the Mission Verde initiative. Quite a set of accomplishments for four years.

For all Hardberger's accomplishments he's not without controversy. After a great public face for San Antonio during the Katrina response he took considerable heat in trying to permanently lure the New Orleans Saints to the Alamodome when they temporarily relocated to San Antonio after the damage to the Superdome. His Main Plaza project has had constant issues and experienced over $8 million in cost overruns for a project some viewed as a pet of his. He also has taken heat for his strong support for City Manager Sherly Sculley and recently pushed for the renewal of her contract with some very attractive financial terms for Sculley.

In an article in the San Antonio Current Gilbert Garcia does something few have had the guts to do in San Antonio by exposing some of the conflicts and tactics in Hardberger's approach to city government. The article points out how Hardberger often controlled the agenda to support his initiatives and often used hard sell tactics with other council members for their support. “The mayor predetermines what course he wants to take, and rushes it through the Council with minimal discussion or debate.”

One of Hardberger's final acts as mayor was to garner support to change the city's restrictive term limits from two to four two-year terms, something he is unable to take advantage of to help avoid public conflict about benefiting from the charter change. Had Hardberger been able to benefit from the change it is highly likely he would have remained in the office for two more terms based on his strong popularity in San Antonio. Garcia sums up Hardberger's style of leadership as a mix of approaches. “From the moment he assumed the mayor's office in 2005, Hardberger has taken the old-school, head-of-the-table (or head-of-the-dais) role of family patriarch: alternately stern and reassuring, a spoonful of the Great Santini mixed with a generous serving of Andy Griffith, and always in unchallenged command.”

During the term limits victory party I had the opportunity to chat with Hardberger about his future plans after leaving the office. He said that he and Linda were ready to get back on his boat (he's an avid sailor) and spend about four months just relaxing and enjoying retirement. While that may be start of his retirement it definitely will not be his only task. Russell reports that Hardberger will still be active in San Antonio intiatives even after leaving office. “Instead, he wants to continue working on the issues he initiated as mayor particularly his Mission Verde plan, designed to make San Antonio a leader in the field of green energy and green jobs, the redesign of HemisFair Plaza, and the development of the 311-acre Voelcker property into a park of national stature.”

Personally I think Hardberger would be the best Democratic candidate fielded to challenge both Perry and Hutchison in the November election. At this point only Tom Schieffer and Kinky Friedman are declared candidates for the Democratic Primary. There have been rumors about State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte but these probably will not resurface until the end of the current legislative session. Unless the Democrats can come up with a highly successful candidate with adminstrative success Texas Republicans will mostly likely walk away with the office in 2010.

I'm sure it's frustrating for Hardberger to be in the position he is in. His rise in popularity and his name recognition statewide would surely help him secure the office of governor. However, age is the biggest factor weighing against him in this decision. He appears to be in great health and every time I see him around town he's got more energy than many of those around him.

So, for all the support and speculation, I doubt you will see Hardberger on the ticket in the primary even though I'm sure he wishes he could be there.


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