For the past 60 years, few names have had the ability to rouse lifelong Democrats like that of the Kennedy family.
At a recent Northeast Bexar County Democrats event, Precinct 3 county commissioner candidate Christine Hortick told the crowd that she’d once served as a congressional aide to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. When she did, the applause was so thundering, she had to pause before continuing her campaign speech.
“It’s true,” she tells me via video chat. “No matter where I’ve gone to speak [to] a big group, whenever I mention Kennedy, people go nuts.”
In March, Hortick won the Democratic nomination for Bexar County Commissioner, Precinct 3, a seat being vacated by Republican Kevin Wolff. In a year of heated partisanship, it seems Hortick’s association with the larger-than-life Democratic senator could benefit her in the race against GOP opponent Trish DeBerry.
Hortick, 41, grew up in Southeast San Antonio and later attended Boston University.
“That was a big culture shock for sure,” she says. “I remember I was on the subway. I gave my seat up to a little old lady that got on the train and somebody said, ‘Oh, you must not be from here.’”
Later transferring to the University of Massachusetts Boston, she continued to enjoy the diverse environment. “[The experience] opened my eyes to the possibilities that I’d never thought about, because I didn’t know they existed,” she says.
Hortick has never been one to crave centerstage. However, she says getting over the butterflies about being in the spotlight was necessary to do the work she loves.
She began honing that skill on her first day of law school, when her professor explained the Socratic method of learning.
“It’s that stereotypical thing [where] you stand up, you recite the facts of the case, they change the facts and you’ve got to analyze — but you’re standing the whole time.”
As panic set in over whether she could speak in front of the auditorium full of students, she wondered if she could get a refund for her tuition.
Then she embraced a new mindset.
“I thought, ‘Nobody knows me [here]. Nobody knows that I’m usually the shy, quiet one when it comes to stuff like [this]. I can be whoever I want here.’ And so, I decided to be OK with it until I was OK with it — or at least until it didn’t terrify me. For me, that was a big personal moment.”
In 1999, Hortick began her internship for Kennedy in his Boston office.
“It was really cool. Here’s this historical figure literally walking around the office,” she recalls.
Shortly after, she was hired on as a congressional aide.
“Whether he was talking or just standing there, he was one of those people who walked into a room and filled it. When he would travel, he would bring his dog Splash with him. Splash would hang out under my desk while Kennedy was in meetings.”
She shifts moods, suddenly becoming solemn. “That’s a part of history that is gone. I remember when he died. It was the end of an era. There are lots of Kennedy nephews and he has his sons, but it’s not the same.”
I ask what she learned from him.
“That people need to serve the community that they live in in whatever way they can. Whether it be by elected office or volunteering or even just checking in on a neighbor,” she says. “Doing something for someone else not only helps them, but I think it helps you as well.”
After her time in Kennedy’s office, Hortick returned to San Antonio and opened her own law practice. She currently works with kids and helps rehabilitate adult clients so that they can be reunited with their children.
In her role as president of the Children’s Court Attorneys Association, she first began watching Commissioners Court meetings as a way to stay informed. But it wasn’t long before she started to envision herself as Wolff’s successor.
Conventional wisdom suggests a Democrat doesn’t have much chance in Precinct 3, an area widely known as the “Conservative North.” The unwise assumption, Hortick says, is that that precedent will always hold true.
Soon after winning her party’s nomination in March, Hortick began educating voters through a campaign outreach initiative in which she helps constituents better understand the court’s powers and limitations.
When I ask her about her husband, she tells me that she is recently widowed. Her husband passed away in March.
I offer my condolences.
“He had been sick for a while,” she says calmly. “He had early onset dementia. From the time he was diagnosed to the time he passed was about 14 months. My husband’s name was Robert. He went by Bobby.”
She explains that while her husband was dying, one of her advisors told her that no one would think less of her if she chose to drop out of the race.
However, because she had her husband’s blessing, suspending the campaign wasn’t an option.
“I wanted to spend as much quality time with him as I could while he was still able,” she says. “He helped me make the decision to run.”
I ask if she has any advice for others who have lost a spouse.
“That they need to rely as best they can on their friends and family — the people who want to be there for them,” she answers.
This past year, she’s managed having a husband in hospice, a law practice, her two children — ages five and eleven — and a grassroots campaign.
“If I can do that, I sure as hell can be on Commissioners Court and handle the stress and pressures of that,” she says. “I knew I was tough, but I’m much tougher now than I was before.”
Indeed, a Democrat has to be tough to run in Precinct 3.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the newspapers: ‘Trish DeBerry will easily win in November,’” she says. Then, with a self-assured smile, she nods and adds, “We’ll see about that.”
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