On Monday the 28th, recently appointed San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor called on the city to re-purpose $32 million previously set aside for an expensive and unpopular streetcar project on more general infrastructure improvement projects. That’s certainly good news for taxpayers. What shouldn’t be overlooked, however, is the political posturing of Democratic County Judge Nelson Wolff, who after feeling the political winds shift, has now reversed course on his public support for the streetcar boondoggle.
The plan to implement a costly street-car system has been a point of contention for residents for nearly 14 years. It was first presented in 2000, when it was defeated by a staggering 70% of San Antonio voters. Officials have since tried to pull the wool over voters’ eyes, through false-promises on tax increases, obfuscating funding sources, and even outright bullying of the plan’s bipartisan opposition. Now, on the heels of a herculean citizen-led petition to bring such projects to a public vote, the city has withdrawn their plans to help fund the project, citing its overwhelming unpopularity and the need for community consensus.
In a stunning reversal, County Judge Nelson Wolff, arguably one of San Antonio’s biggest advocates for a streetcar system, reversed his position, saying he would ask County appointees on VIA’s board of directors to withdraw their support for the project. VIA is San Antonio’s metropolitan transit authority.
Judge Wolff has gone to great lengths to implement the streetcar system with his longtime cohort Mayor Julian Castro, who was recently appointed by President Obama to lead the federal Housing and Urban Development agency. From playing name-games and insulting those who disagree, to obfuscating money sources, Judge Wolff has been an outspoken and ardent proponent for this widely unpopular project. So why the sudden reversal? Clever, albeit obvious political maneuvering.
Streetcar opponents have amassed over 26,000 signatures, 6,000 more than required to bring a charter amendment to a public vote in November that would require all light-rail/streetcar initiatives also be brought to a public vote, something VIA has said repeatedly it does not have to do. Coincidentally, County Judge Nelson Wolff is up for reelection this November against former Councilman Carlton Soules, a longtime outspoken critic of any light-rail/streetcar program and one of the only arguably conservative voices on the council during his service. The petition, which Wolff hoped he had superseded with Monday’s events, will place the charter amendment on the same ballot as the County Judge race. Wolff is hoping that by temporarily backing off the plan and feigning its death, he could avoid the increased turnout from the petition drive that poses a very serious threat to his political career. He tried to suck the oxygen out of the anti-streetcar movement so that he may continue his judgeship and implement his pet project later. No such luck, however, as the City Clerk announced today that the petition signatures submitted that were validated were enough to bring it to a vote in November.
While congratulations are certainly in order for those driving the petition, letting up the pressure now would be unwise. Their focus should change now to ensuring their supporters show up to the ballot box in November. In so doing, they can both permanently cripple officials’ backdoor attempts at such light-rail boondoggles in the future and potentially replace a Castro Regime Democrat with a conservative as Bexar County Judge.