The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Phil Hardberger: Standing Up For All Of Us

Jaime Castillo's newest column details how SA's new mayor is willing to stand respectfully against good friends and campaign contributors- something not normally seen in today's political environment:

When he was just a candidate for mayor, Phil Hardberger's supporters were fond of saying the best thing about the 70-year-old retired judge was that he wasn't looking at the job as a stepping stone.

The fact that he could, and would, pump about $400,000 of his own money into his campaign coffers was proof, they said, that he could be an independent voice on the council.

Although it's way too early to make any broad judgments, Mayor Hardberger proved on one issue this week that he isn't afraid to side against an influential contributor.

Hardberger was one of eight Texas mayors to sign a letter opposing legislation that would speed San Antonio-based SBC Communications' entry into the television business.

The controversial bill would allow SBC and Verizon Communications Inc. to negotiate one statewide franchise to sell television service rather than having to strike deals with individual cities as cable companies must do.

Officials in many cities are concerned about the legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, because it could deprive them of millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Hardberger, who received a $1,000 contribution from SBC CEO Ed Whitacre during the recent mayor's race, said he firmly believes the legislation does not protect San Antonio's interests.

But when asked whether he felt some dragon's breath from his old friend at SBC, Hardberger said the only pressure he felt was self-imposed.

"It gave me some heartburn," he said. "You never want to cross a friend and a good corporate citizen."

But like the other mayors who signed the letter, Hardberger said he wants any potential franchise legislation to safeguard the city's financial bottom line and to ensure that poor neighborhoods get the same access to new services as more affluent ones.

"It was just that we had varying interests," he said. "He (Whitacre) is looking out for his stockholders and I'm looking out for my stockholders — the citizens of San Antonio."

Kevin Belgrade, an SBC spokesman, said Whitacre did not want to directly comment about Hardberger's stance.

"We're respectfully disappointed, but encouraged by the growing recognition that this legislation will benefit consumers with more choices and competitive prices in a TV market dominated by cable companies," Belgrade said.

Belgrade said the telecommunications giant continues to "look forward to working with the mayor" on other issues in the future.

The gist of the whole article? Hardberger- along with seven other Texas mayors- opposes the current bill that would allow SBC and Verizon to negotiate a single statewide franchise. Currently SBC and Verizon have to go city to city (or market to market) to negotiate various franchises. This would save both telecommunications giants money and keep money from our cash-strapped cities. Additionally, SBC is on record stating that they would only target 'high-value' customers, which in San Antonio means Northside customers.

Could this hinder the Mayor's re-election chances? Maybe. Hardberger could lose Whitacre's max dollar donation and any other support SBC sent him. But Phil isn't basing his decisions on political permutations or future campaign donations. Hardberger has done what is in the interest of the entire city, and at the same time thumbed his nose at a good friend and major player in San Antonio and state politics. Just what the Mayor said he'd do- be beholden to no one while representing all of us.