Rick­hoff spend­ing lit­tle in race with Wolff

Chal­lenger touts his rep­u­ta­tion as ju­rist; in­cum­bent his record

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Metro - By Dy­lan McGuin­ness STAFF WRITER

Pro­bate Judge Tom Rick­hoff is con­tin­u­ing to wage an es­sen­tially un­funded cam­paign to de­feat Bexar County Judge Nel­son Wolff next month, cam­paign fi­nance re­ports show.

Rick­hoff, a Repub­li­can, hasn’t re­ported a sin­gle con­tri­bu­tion since an­nounc­ing his can­di­dacy in De­cem­ber. He has spent only about $8,000 on the race — mostly to cre­ate a web­site — and his cam­paign had roughly $400 on hand as of Sept. 27, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent re­port. Wolff ’s re­port shows he has spent $223,000 this year on the race and has a war chest of about $467,000.

Wolff, a sta­ple of San An­to­nio pol­i­tics, has been county judge since he was ap­pointed to the seat in 2001. A for­mer state sen­a­tor and San An­to­nio mayor, Wolff is seek­ing re-elec­tion for a fifth time.

Rick­hoff, like Wolff, has been on the Bexar County bal­lot — and won — since the 1970s, when he was first elected dis­trict clerk. He has since served as a judge on dis­trict, appellate and pro­bate courts, and he said he is bank­ing on that rep­u­ta­tion in Novem­ber.

“I’ve been around the court­house for a long time, hear­ing cases by the tens of thou­sands, and many peo­ple have come to know me,” Rick­hoff said. “Do­ing your job well is the best pol­i­tics.”

The Wolff cam­paign said its spend­ing, which in­cludes more than $50,000 on me­dia and ad­ver­tis­ing and $40,000 in op­po­si­tion re­search and polling, doesn’t im­ply any con­cern about the race.

“You should never be over­con­fi­dent,” said Wolff, a Demo­crat. “You can’t take it for granted any time you have an op­po­nent.”

Chris­tian Archer, Wolff ’s strate­gist, said the cam­paign has been try­ing to en­sure peo­ple know that Wolff is on the bal­lot this year.

“We’re go­ing to con­tinue to spend money,” Archer said. “Peo­ple have to be aware that there’s a cam­paign go­ing on.”

Wal­ter Wil­son, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Texas at San An­to­nio, said Wolff likely will win be­cause of his record, the re­la­tion­ships he has de­vel­oped with busi­ness and de­vel­op­ment lead­ers, and the in­trin­sic ad­van­tages Democrats en­joy in Bexar County.

“If I were in the busi­ness com­mu­nity, I’d say that Judge Wolff is a proven

com­mod­ity,” Wil­son said. “He’s some­one I know, and some­one I know I can work with.”

It’s pre­cisely those re­la­tion­ships — and the do­na­tions that re­sult from them — that Rick­hoff says prompted him to run in the first place. The Repub­li­can’s cam­paign has mostly con­sisted of lam­bast­ing the county judge and the Com­mis­sion­ers Court in gen­eral for what he calls a “pay to play” sys­tem.

Rick­hoff says he wants to “re­store ethics” on the court — he pre­vi­ously said he would drop out if Wolff en­acted cer­tain changes — and re­new fo­cus on cen­tral obli­ga­tions in the county.

Rick­hoff posts a near­daily se­ries called “Ques­tions for Nel­son,” iden­ti­fy­ing in­stances of what he calls greedy mis­con­duct.

One such tar­get is a county con­tract with law firm Linebarger Gog­gan Blair & Samp­son, which han­dles delin­quent tax col­lec­tion for the county. Wolff ’s daugh­ter-in-law Sandi Wolff (Com­mis­sioner Kevin Wolff ’s wife), started work­ing there shortly after the con­tract was re­newed this year. Months later, the firm do­nated $5,000 to the judge’s cam­paign.

Both Wolffs and the firm have de­nied any im­proper deal­ings in­volv­ing the con­tract or hir­ing. Kevin Wolff said the firm didn’t gain any­thing with the county by hir­ing his wife, es­pe­cially be­cause he and his fa­ther will re­cuse them­selves from fu­ture votes in­volv­ing the firm.

And TJ Mayes, the judge’s chief of staff, said the firm has had the county con­tract for at least 25 years, well be­fore Wolff be­came county judge.

“There’s noth­ing new to say. It’s a silly ar­gu­ment,” Archer said. “When you look at the num­ber of steps for any­body to get a con­tract, it’s not like the judge makes that de­ci­sion.”

While Rick­hoff pri­mar­ily touts ethics re­form, he also has said he wants to rein in waste­ful spend­ing and re­struc­ture the county’s debt.

Wolff said he’s con­fi­dent that his record will lift him over Rick­hoff for a fifth term, even as he has spent hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars on the con­test.

“I’m con­cen­trat­ing on my job,” he said. “I’ll leave the pol­i­tics to Mr. Rick­hoff.”

Wolff pointed to crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, work­force de­vel­op­ment and con­tin­u­ing projects along San Pe­dro Creek and the San An­to­nio River as his great­est pri­or­i­ties mov­ing for­ward if he is re-elected.

Early vot­ing be­gins Mon­day and will run through Nov. 2. Elec­tion Day is Nov. 6.

Tom Rick­hoff, left, is bat­tling County Judge Nel­son Wolff.

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