30 Years of Politics in the Alamo City
In the Current’s first-ever issue, they called it the “Tacodome.”
Of course, that raised eyebrows, so in a subsequent story, the paper offered some suggestions for the multi-purpose sports complex city officials, like Mayor Henry Cisneros, were slobbering to throw taxpayer dollars at: Dillodome, Condome, Pooperdome and, our personal favorite, Conquistadome. The Alamodome, its eventual moniker, was just too lame to actually take seriously – “sounds like something an insurance company would call a ‘pre-existing condition,’” wrote former staffer Dwight Silverman.
Cue the 30 years of grousing, from public and politicians, over why on earth a major American city like San Antonio can’t land a major sports franchise other than Los Spurs.
Development – the razing of what was past to make way for the new and better – was inextricably tied to the city’s political machine 30 years ago. It’s a story that’s been on repeat throughout the lifespan of this paper and one of the many political issues that resonate into today: politicians who prime development that encroaches on angry residents, water politics that date all the way back to the Applewhite Reservoir, or what to do with the city’s crumbling treasures.
Like Hemisfair. Consider one June 1987 article, again by Silverman, that dubbed the park’s post-World’s Fair era “an urban embarrassment” that called into question city leaders’ ability to simply maintain what we already have. Back then, city officials floated a plan that should sound similar because 30 years of concept-ing and vision-process-ing hasn’t really changed it much: that rehabbed park space, retail, entertainment and dining would resurrect Hemisfair.
At least today, we seem a little bit closer.
Thirty years ago it was “Sandinista watch” in Cameron County after politics prodded the borderland sheriff’s office to prep for quiet invasion following President Reagan’s nationally televised speech warning that Nicaragua was only a two-day drive from Texas.
Politicians have long used the rhetoric of national security to flog the borderlands. Then Cameron County Sheriff Alex Perez proudly toted an M-16 in front of photographers and reporters as he warned of drug mules, Sandinistas, terrorists and even cactus smugglers skulking around the region.
But for three decades readers have turned to the Current for stories that cut through that rhetoric as a critical voice perched on the edge of la frontera. That has meant covering the human rights and socioeconomic issues related to the border, like a 1992 cover story that detailed dangers and detention faced by women who were then crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in record numbers.
That has also meant covering the border’s many victims. Like a November 2000 story by then staff writer Tucker Teutsch III about the unnamed skeletal remains of migrants who died crossing into the country. As he wrote about one unknown victim who died in the South Texas brush: “[D]espite what an autopsy might reveal about the cause of death, the place and time of this man’s passing, there can be no doubt that what killed him was the border, the vast line of ideology and politics that that divides our two countries, this man’s and mine. His death has no place and no time – he is just one of the many thousands of casualties of a battle that has been fought for centuries over land that no one can defeat.”
In later years, that turned into Current investigations and series that probed the human and ecological consequences of the many miles of border fence and wall that sprouted up during the post-9/11 George W. Bush era. And all that time, questions about migration and immigrants and their treatment in our community have lingered. As far back as 1986, our pages were highlighting “sanctuary cities” policies to protect immigrant families (then, like now, proposed by our more progressive, liberal neighbors up I-35). By 2003, these pages were highlighting federal immigration enforcement efforts, like the proposed CLEAR Act, that would’ve turned local cops into la migra – at pretty much everyone’s expense.
Considering what came next for South Texas in the following decade (the growth of private prison-run detention centers for immigrants, the feds’ attempts to deport and detain their way out of a refugee crisis on border, and human rights abuses that followed more law enforcement boots on the ground), and these words from pioneering Current staffer Reed Harp in 1986 feel eerily prescient: “Lest we forget about anxiety, consider what might happen if the shooting starts. We predict that the Texas Border could prove to be one of the biggest embarrassments to this country, ever, falling somewhere between Mi Lai and the caging of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. The Texas Border: a perfect place for an international incident.”
Bucking Against the Police since 1986
Some of the first pages of this publication were dedicated to throwing shade at local cops.
It was in April 1986 that then San Antonio Police Chief Charles Rodriguez first decided to engage the city’s spin machine in attempt to sidestep a local controversy. “Breaking with venerable Bexar County tradition, the imported California lawman no longer accepts phone calls from reporters, insisting that they go through the department’s public relations office,” a staffer wrote. Requests for comment at SAPD would now be handled by a “PR lackey-in-blue.”
Back then, dispatches from the San Antonio Police Officers Association were no less acerbic than today. That same 1986 issue quotes then SAPOA president Harold Flammia, the man who turned the union into a powerful, boot-stomping political force before his conviction on federal fraud and money laundering charges. In response to growing complaints of brutality at the hands of SAPD officers, Flammia’s response was, “Thank God all these bleeding-heart, reform minded liberals are not in charge of our city and country.” Three decades later, one of his successors would compare Black Lives Matter activists to anarchists and the Klan.
As with other alt weeklies, problems with policing have been fertile ground for the Current throughout its history.
It was former Current staff writer Debbie Nathan (now an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Texas) who highlighted how police were trying to entrap gay men in public bathrooms by pretend “cruising.” Later that year, these same pages detailed widespread profiling by the department’s downtown foot patrol unit – court records and depositions described cops targeting and harassing what they called “dirtbags” or “lowlifes” who usually turned out to be black or Latin poor or homeless people.
A decade later, the Current would publish an investigation revealing how, despite city officials’ promised “paradigm shift” approach toward homelessness, police were ticketing thousands with fines they couldn’t hope to pay in order to shoo the downtrodden out of downtown by threat or jail – a reminder how often past becomes present, no matter how much things evolve.