Since her stint as treasurer for the still-influential Good Government League - which has since dropped the moniker and evolved into leadership at the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce - Turner erupted onto the political scene in the 1980s, loaded with political savvy. She dubbed the proposed Applewhite Reservoir a giant mosquito bog, and railed against pouring fluoride into the city's drinking water - two projects former District 3 Councilwoman Helen Dutmer had opposed for years. Turner has staunchly defended the Edwards Aquifer, which has for centuries served as San Antonio's sole source of drinking water.
Reporters have called her one of the best vote-getters in the city's history, who could garner support from citizens without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their attention. She forced Bill Thornton into a runoff for the mayor's seat in 1995, and spent only about $90,000, compared to Thornton's $800,000. She ran again in 1997 and edged out Thornton, but lost to Howard Peak in the subsequent runoff. Hans Helland, treasurer of The Committee to Elect Kay Turner, caused a few ripples at City Hall recently when he filed a campaign finance report for the organization. The report showed no money collected or spent during the previous six months.
"He always kept the committee alive in case I run for something," Turner said last week. It was two days before the March 19 filing deadline for the May 3 municipal election, and she was mulling the idea of going up against Hybrid Mayor Ed Garza, who has a mix of traits - the Good Government League orientation, and the power of Chicanos who sought political empowerment in the 1990s after Henry G. Cisneros blazed a trail for them in the previous decade.
But Turner has basically decided she is going to sit on the sidelines. She has concentrated on her work and coped with life-threatening cancer, not to mention "political retributions," that have surfaced from her previous activism.
"There would be four reasons that I would run," Turner explained. "And somebody ought to run, Ed Garza shouldn't just get it unanimously without a challenge." The four reasons she would have opposed Garza if she had put her money on the table? "People have totally been ignored, water and utility bills are high, and taxes are too high. We also have to take the slick special interests out of the mix, they peddle too much influence at City Hall."
Turner said candidates for public office in the city should concentrate on "housekeeping as a No. 1 priority, getting back to basics and filling potholes." Regular people are too busy making a living to go downtown and fight City Hall, she added, questioning whether, through the continued use of paper ballots, citizens are getting honest vote counts during municipal elections.
"On Garza, I question that under his leadership, do the people of San Antonio feel that their interests have been represented?" Turner continued. "I'm thrilled that Toyota went through, on the Applewhite site, which will create real jobs, not an embarrassing, dry lake. This finally gets Applewhite off the table once and for all."
Turner reminisced about her days as a political iconoclast. In 1991, she struggled to gather 44,000 signatures to force a referendum on the Applewhite, and the opposition won by 3,500 votes. "We're totally grassroots, with no professional management, and no spin doctor, we walked the neighborhoods, and people have stopped a lot of bad projects in this town, people are paying attention."
Since this a tale of "what if?" Turner said if she were elected mayor, she would do the right thing for the citizenry. "I would love to serve. I always wanted to see a back-to-basics philosophy at City Hall. It should be an honor and a privilege to represent all the people in their community. There's one set of rules for political insiders and another set of rules for regular citizens, who shouldn't have to worry that their council representative would do the right thing."
Turner said she always strived to be a common-sense candidate, with "people, quality of life and the pocketbook at heart. So many things have to be examined on how the city does business."
So, why not give Garza some real competition? "I've got the guts to do it, if I had the same amount of money. I'd be willing to challenge him to run on no money."
But Turner has not totally given up politics. She said to watch for a group that calls itself San Antonio Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, coming soon to the City Hall steps. "I am looking, and will help with a petition drive to unite our city, to add an amendment to the City Charter to instruct the City Council and the water board to assure safe drinking water." Basically, the group would seek to outlaw adding harmful chemicals to the city's water supply.
"It could be anything. I don't want to use that word again. The city got fluoride in, but they cheated, and I only lost by 5,200 votes." Turner said San Antonio residents must fight to protect the city's drinking water. "There is a mindset to build over the aquifer with no consideration of the consequences."
One last question, salaries?
"We need to do something, like salaries, to attract someone to do some public service. People hate what they're getting for free." •