NOWCastSA hosted the Bexar County Judge Candidate Forum at the Palo Alto College Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. The nonpartisan debate moderated by San Antonio Express-News Metro Columnist Elaine Ayala featured Democratic Party nominee Peter Sakai and Republican Party nominee Trish DeBerry. This debate was made possible by the financial support of AARP Texas.
NOWCastSA collected questions for the candidates from viewers online and at the event. You can replay video of the event and see the complete transcript below.
Opening statements of candidates for Bexar County Judge, Republican Trish DeBerry and Democrat Peter Sakai:
Trish DeBerry (31:08): “I feel like I have lived and breathed senior issues for the better part of probably 15 years. As we look at access and affordability to health care, as we look at the opportunity for TeleHealth, for a university health system to come into the homes of people, to be able to treat people in their homes with a mobile unit. I think as a County Judge you have to be able to fund, innovate, and look at that kind of technology, to keep people in their homes. Probably the saddest day was my mother had to go from assisted living, or independently into assisted living. I think the longer we can keep people in their homes, and we’re going to talk a little bit more about this when we talk about property taxes and keeping people on and not in their homes and not taxing these people after that. We should have a conversation about that, because folks that have lived in their homes generationally need to be there. And so as somebody as we move along on this conversation, there are stark differences between the two candidates. I’m a small business owner, and I have been for twenty-five years, had a hundred employees, signed the front of the paycheck and the back of the paycheck, made sure that we had health care insurance for all employees. Innovated had on-site daycare that I managed, that’s the kind of innovation that I want to bring to the courthouse, which by the way, my hope is we get to talk more about the Elder Fraud Unit that I restored to the DA’s office because it had been vacant for five years. I’m a problem-solver, I’m not a professional politician and I dig in, and your issues are important issues and as your next Bexar County Judge there’s going to be a laser focus on it, thank you.”
Peter Sakai (36:00): “I’m a person who believes in the rule of law, I will have to take an oath to uphold the constitutional laws of this state in the United States and I am committed to the rule of law, I’m committed to be open and transparent and to make sure the County government is open and transparent so that you all understand the issues that come before County, and finally, I’m a unifier, not a divider, I’m somebody who brings people together and I have helped families and children with innovative and cutting edge programs, thank you for the opportunity to come speak tonight and have a conversation.”
Q: What are three major issues for Bexar County seniors, as you would identify them?(36:59)
Peter Sakai (37:09) : “The three big issues in my opinion first of all in my platform, is affordable housing and to make sure we have the capacity for affordable housing, make sure that we are focused on the seniors and to make sure we protect them, and we do that with Equity strategies to make sure that we keep the property taxed and try to keep control of it and lower those property taxes if at all possible, let’s make sure we can increase those exemptions and make sure that we give you every tax benefit, tax abatement, tax exemptions, whatever we can in order for the seniors to age in place. The other issue in my opinion is food insecurity and making sure that all parts of our community are taken care of so that we have no food desert, we have basically a opportunity to work with the seniors that are most in need, and what we’re gonna have to do is we’re going to have to create public and private partnerships, I want to work with Erik Cooper, with the Food Bank, we know that in this COVID world and now this post-COVID world, that food insecurity is a major issue, especially for seniors. And I really do want to focus in on the digita; divide, you know that was an issue for the students and children but I think it’s more important for seniors and the reason being is because of telemedicine and the connectivity that seniors are going to have to have, so we must have high-speed internet in all parts of the County. We may have to treat high-speed internet like we treat electricity and water. It is a basic infrastructure, it’s a basic necessity and we got to make sure that everybody has that connectivity, because in the post-COVID world and the world we’re going to go into, we need to be connected. That freeze that happened last year taught us that seniors who were disconnected and didn’t get the warnings, who died unnecessarily and that I believe was partly because of the digital divide. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and that’s my focus as your next County Judge, is to work on the children, the families, the seniors, that are most important to our community, thank you.”
Trish DeBerry (39:26): “There are so many, many issues but number one is when I talked about the factors accounting commission, when I went to a meeting, a Senior Citizens Committee on Elder Fraud and Abuse, what I was told, is the police are arresting people but the DA’s office is not prosecuting people for those crimes.So what happened? As the problem-solver that I am, I dug in. I asked Joe Gonzalez to come down to my office, at Commissioners Court office, and I said, ‘Joe what are we doing? I pulled in the police department and they’re making arrests but they said you’re not prosecuting those cases.’ And he said, ‘Quite honestly Commissioner, that’s been vacant for five years.’ And I said, ‘well what do you mean its been vacant for five years, you have a backlog of twelve-hundred cases, which is not right.’ You and I all both know, with the aging parents and father that I have who’s ninety-six. The elderly do not have time to wait on restitution nor prosecution, so we needed to move that backlog and Joe said, well if you’re going to advocate for it and you’re going to fund it, then by the way I don’t just need a prosecutor, I need an investigator to come into this office too because there’s a large paper trail. So a lot of this is clearing that backlog and making sure that we are prosecuting those Elder Fraud scam cases, because it happens every single day to seniors. Number two, we talk about the big freeze and snowmaggedon, my mother was one of those who was ninety when she was in assisted living and the power went off. She got up to go to the bathroom, tripped, and broke her shoulder. Had to crawl her way out of the hallway to be found. We need assisted living and independent living centers connected to the same grid as the hospital system, so that they don’t lose power during times of severe cold and severe heat. It’s an easy way to make sure what happened to my mother does not happen to other seniors. And then number three quickly, we need a senior citizen One-Stop Center in the county, that you can walk in, can cut through the bureaucracy and you can get done what you need to get done.”
Q: What would you do differently that’s being done now to address one of those issues? (Property Taxes, Cite & Release, Senior Protection) (41:42)
Trish DeBerry (41:49): “So we talked a lot obviously, about Elder Fraud and Elder Abuse, when I talk about my ninety-six year old father, who’s scammed either on the phone or on the internet on a regular basis, we’ve got to make sure we continue to beef up that department. Like I said there was no excuse that that department remained vacant for five years. There was no excuse that there’s a twelve-hundred case AppLock. Government is supposed to work for you, government is supposed to work on behalf of the impoverished and the elderly and those they can’t help themselves. So I do think the County can do a better job at focusing in on senior issues, we’ll talk a little bit more about this One-Stop Center, we’ve got to cut through the red tape in the bureaucracy associated with how people file for either social security, benefits, healthcare, insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, what does that look like? We don’t have enough advocates, and so I did have another conversation at one time in my County Commissioner’s office, because they knew that I’d restore the Elder Fraud Unit at the DA’s office. They said, ‘Hey Wellmed’s got a great idea, they might want to find a senior One-Stop Center, to come into Bexar County’, they’ve got the building figured out so that you’re not having seniors, much like what’s happening at Gordon Hartman’s Center which is a one-stop for the disabled. We need a One-Stop, obviously for not just seniors but aging veterans too, because you having to drive or get transportation to go here, there, and yonder, to be able to get done what you need to get done is unacceptable. Again it’s a convenience factor, and it’s the least we can do in County government to make sure that you all are being taken care of, and that we have experts that are in that Center, so no matter what the need is, you’re able to go in there and you’re able to get taken care of. Joy, who’s on my staff is here today, has a special needs mother, she says the same thing, it’s terrible to try to cut through the red tape. We’ve got to do a better job to be able to take care of our seniors who are aging in place, or even finding homes for those that have mental health issues. That’s what government in Bexar County needs to do for you.”
Peter Sakai (44:19): “One of the issues I believe, as day one when I come in as County Judge on January first, is dealing with County government. Sometimes people have a hard time understanding, I said what’s the County, the County really the big budget items are the jail, the court system, and the University Hospital system. So basically the courts, the jail law enforcement, and the providing Healthcare. I truly believe what is different with current status quo, is the fact that we need to have more input from the community. I need to hear your voice, especially AARP and the NowCastSA and we-you need to be at the table. We need to have a discussion of what those problems are and what those issues are and how we can come together. Government has to be big enough to protect its citizens but it has to be also small enough to live within its budget, so there are going to be some really tough issues that are going to have to be done, but what we need to do is, we need to measure the county departments that provide the direct services, I’ve already signaled to the County staff, we’re going to meet with the department heads, we’re going to meet with elected officials, we’re going to provide performance reviews, metrics, analytics of how we deliver services. I am looking for Bexar County to provide better customer service at whatever it may be and I believe that’s a fundamental difference, is to improve that and it’s going to be us having a conversation and figuring out what those problems are, and then coming up with the solutions. I truly believe that’s what people want in good government, no more political debates, no more political arguments over who’s right and who’s wrong, fix the problems that we have, and what we need to do is be able to listen to you and find out what those solutions are, thank you.”
Q: How will you make Bexar County a safer place for pedestrians which include seniors, cyclists and motorcycles too? (46:25)
Peter Sakai (46:45): “One of the issues on transportation is I believe the county has a direct interest with VIA and I want better customer service for VIA. I saw that with my mom and my mother-in-law, VIA has that VIA Trans and was able to really help move the elderly and the people who are disabled. But I think there’s an opportunity to increase those services We also have to ask VIA to provide services to those disconnected areas that they don’t provide and so it’s going to be up to me as your next County Judge to go to those areas, the unincorporated areas or the suburban cities and connect VIA so that we can provide transportation. What we also have to do is connect transportation in it what I call an Equity Strategy to the medical services, we also have to use multimodal transportation in how we move people across, east, west, north, south, and what we’re going to have to do is VIA’s got that sales that we recently voted to move that sales tax over VIA. So we now have a wonderful opportunity and It’s going to take communication, collaboration, and coordination to bring all those stakeholders together in order to provide those transportation issues and to provide a safer place. Obviously we need to work with this city to make sure we have the bike lanes and we have sidewalks, those are all things that the County is going to have to work with as we move into the post-COVID world, thank y’all very much.”
Trish DeBerry (48:30): “Well, I think it’s a great question for the seniors that are here today. I was very lucky obviously to have a mother, a father, and a step-father who are super, active people, whether they were playing ping-pong or whether they were swimming or you know whether they were walking on trails, they wanted to remain active. What doesn’t help seniors is being sedentary, I mean I know that for a fact, regarding circulatory processes within the elderly etc, especially now with my dad who by the way, has a purpose in his life as a career Air Force veteran because at ninety-six and despite some of his health issues, he still mows his lawn every week because he doesn’t trust someone else to mow it for him. And he only drives during the day, he goes to the grocery store HEB which is right around the corner but mobility for seniors is about purpose, and where do you find that purpose? You might find that purpose lame like you just talked about, you might find that purpose walking, you might find that purpose jogging a little bit, you might find that purpose walking on by the way, the Trail System, that the city because of the sales tax going over to VIA, the County took it off. When I was Commissioner, I sat on my court and we appropriated funding. Not just at the County level but we lobbied at the federal government to make sure that we have hiking trails and green line trails all the way around the County, so like I said it’s a circle, it’s a big circle and this is a big County but we have to make sure that we’re appropriating money and we’re appropriating it safely. One of the big problems that we have here and I was privileged to work on that, are protected bike lanes, not just protected bike lanes whether it’s along Broadway or where seniors live but we have got to have more protected bike lanes all across this County because as we talk about safe transportation to Elaine’s point, it has got to be protected because what we don’t have here, are enough protected lanes so that you can’t hop on your motorcycle, you can’t hop on your moped, you can’t hop on your three-wheeler, or whatever you choose to get around town, it’s important that it’s safe, but it’s also important that it’s multi-modal.”
Q: Why is there no bus service in unincorporated areas of the county? Commissoner’s court has spent hundreds of millions beautifying downtown San Antonio. What plans do you have for unincorporated areas of the county? (51:08)
Trish DeBerry (51:33): “Lets see if we can impact that a couple of different ways because I mean we are a growing County, we’re going to have six million people here in Bexar County in 2015. Pretty soon, all of the County lines and the suburban city lines are going to start to merge together, but one of the things I did as a County Commissioner was really forge relationships with those suburban cities and those mayors whether it was in Castle Hills, whether it was in Fair Oaks, whether it was in Olmos Park, , whether it was Alma Height what have you. I formed relationships with all the mayors because they all have individual projects, and I tell you what, we came together like nobody’s business during snowmageddon, to make sure those people had water and to make sure that we were getting out and we were advocating really because by the way, we didn’t have water stations, the County did not or the city did not appropriate monies for water stations that were beyond the unincorporated areas and so the County stepped in and said no, no, no. There are alot of people that live outside the city limits, we’ve got to have water stations out there. And so that’s when that community and I really came together to be able to work together, and so we’re absolutely right, those relationships with suburban cities are critical and we have to be meeting with them every month, twenty-six suburban cities so that we can make sure we’re addressing HealthCare needs and to your point quickly too Elaine about you know, why not bus service in the unincorporated areas? It’s unacceptable that we don’t have bus service in the unincorporated areas but a lot of it is because VIA is a metropolitan, San Antonio owned entity for the most part, much like CPS Energy, but the County’s got to play a role in that and if we got to be able to appropriate the money in the right veins to make sure that not just this community but seniors in particular, have the ability, whether you live inside the city limits of San Antonio, or whether you live in Somerset or Von Ormy, that you have access to a bus and you have access to transportation, so it’s got to be a focus and it’s got to be a priority. You will get that with me as your next Bexar County Judge, thank you.”
Peter Sakai (54:23): “To answer the first question, leadership with VIA, so what we need to do is I’m making a commitment today to say why aren’t we connected with unincorporated areas, obviously it’s going to be the supply and demand but the bottom line is we need to connect all parts of the community, and that’s the reason why these conversations are going to be important, because there’s going to be a cost issue there of how we pay for it, how we subsidize it, but I believe with the one A sales tax has now been voted over to come over to VIA and to leverage those federal funds, we now have an opportunity to basically provide better services, more so provide essential services to the unincorporated areas into the suburban cities, also believe in history, there has not been a communication and relationship, and as your next County Judge, I have sat down and talked to the mayors of the unincorporated areas. I was a city attorney, a city prosecutor for Helotes, Leon Valley, Elmendorf, Kirby, Converse. I understand those cities and sometimes they kinda want to be to themselves, they just want to like ‘no’, but if they want the services, they want to be part of this multi-modal transportation, they want to be part-connected and that’s what’s going to happen, is that as we develop Economic Development and my commitment is to make sure that we are growing with economic development, multi-modal transportation, VIA is going to be essential and it’s going to be up to the leadership and make sure that whoever I appoint to that VIA board is committed to make sure that we have access. And then the last one… I am committed to a Back to Basics Budget, bare necessities which we will focus in on the true infrastructure of our County and that’s the children and the families. I applaud commission Judge Wolf and the Legacy projects, but let's focus in on what’s important, and that’s the children, the families, and the seniors of our community, thank y’all very much.”
Q: Do you think Healthcare is equally as accessible in South Bexar County as it is in North Bexar County? (56:50)
Peter Sakai (57:01): “The first answer is no, but I will applaud our current Commissioner’s Court, we’re going to have a new hospital right by Texas A&M San Antonio so I want to applaud Judge Wolf and Commissioner Rebecca K Flores for the commitment. There’s also a second hospital that’s going go up, every Tama in the Northeast sector for the Eastern sector the community, and I applaud Judge Wolf and Commissioner Calvert. Obviously those are the inequities that we have always traditionally had. If we go back, we remember that UTSA was planted on the way north side and it’s taken over generations to make sure that we’ve gotten access in a matter of equity and so that is also an issue with Healthcare, is to make sure all parts of our community have access and that is the reason why the Commissoner’s Court is committed to what’s called a Public Health Entity and I see the opportunity with that to equalize the disparity we have in our communities, especially here in the south side. We got to deal with wellness, we got to deal with nutrition, we got to deal with diabetes and obesity, which are the diseases that plague our community. And that’s the reason why nutrition is going to have to be a very important part of Public Health and that’s why we have to create public-private partnerships. I am committed to work with the food bank, Eric Cooper, to make sure that we don’t have food desert. Commissioner Calvert created an urban farm over on the east side. I want an urban farm on the southside that we can grow fresh fruits and vegetables in order that we can give it back to the community, those are the cutting edge, innovative ideas that I have as your next County Judge, thank you very much for that great question.”
Trish DeBerry (58:53): “I don’t, I don’t, and it’s the reason as County Commissioner that I advocated for a big idea, and that was a potential merger between Metro Health at the city UHS at the County. Metro Health has been severely underfunded over the years, in fact it was probably the first place that city went to cut when they were looking for cuts. And guess what folks? We saw Metro Health stumble mightily out of the gate when it came to the pandemic, six different changes in leadership almost locked in the stone ages, couldn’t figure out how to contact Trace. In the meantime though, the University Health System, a 2.8 or 3 billion dollar enterprise, stood up a vaccination site at Wonderland Mall almost overnight. So as we look at the opportunity, and I know Elaine, your question was not about City, County consolidation but, I think it’s a big domino that could fall in the right direction and scale and impact Healthcare in a way that we have never seen before. If you were able to merge Metro Health at this city with University Health System at the County, give the city a couple of seats on the board of UHS so they’re weighing into the decision making regarding the healthcare crisis we have in this community, as a result of the poverty rate that we still have in this community, I’m looking to scale impact because what did we see during COVID? It underscored morbid obesity, heart disease, diabetes. We still have a problem with that when you talk to vascular surgeons all over town. We are cutting folks' limbs off in far too great a number than we need to, because the problem that we have with diabetes. If we merge these two entities together, what can we do? And yes, the first step, the judge and I talked about that was creating a public health entity at County, that;s the first step to the merger than I’m talking about, to really be able to scale Healthcare in a way that we have never seen before. Folks there is a way to be able to do this, but we’ve got to make sure that Healthcare is affordable and we have to make sure that Healthcare is accessible, and yes as a republican standing on stage, I’m going to advocate for Medicaid expansion into the state of Texas because its necessary to do that.”
Q: If elected, what would you like to be done with Robert B Green? Should it be demolished? Should Healthcare continue in that building? (1:01:17)
Trish DeBerry (1:01:31): “So obviously Robert B Green, a big name here in San Antonio, that facility or you know, an institution. Somebody was born and raised here in San Antonio and Native San Antonio, by the way never left, you know parents were here, I stayed here, founded two businesses here. You know people look at me now and they’re like ‘What do you mean you’ve never left San Antonio?’ I’m like, ‘That’s not such an odd thing,’ the opportunity was afforded to me here, my mother always taught me two things, to whom much is given much is expected, and so I feel that’s what I’ve done the better part of my career. I’ve given back to this community in a very big way, also number two, she said ‘When you count the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.’ So what do we look? What is the opportunity associated with Robert B Green? How do we make it more effective under a healthcare structure that I’m talking about? Robert B Green could play in to a merger between Metro Health, UHS, and the Robert B Green, especially if we could make the Robert B Green be focused on veterans and veterans health. I know we’ve got a VA hospital to be able to do that, but I’ve heard horror stories about what happens sometimes at the VA hospital . They do good work, but they can do better , but we’ve got to have more accessibility associated with that. And so there is an opportunity here I think for Robert B Green to play into that. You can look and look, I’m not opposed to it Elaine, as I’ve looked at moving the jail out of the west side of San Antonio which is another big idea. What do we do with that, because what is it, it’s a barrier to poverty, keeping people in poverty, and economic development and bridging the wage gap because there’s no excuse. Look, I haven’t been in office in twenty-six years, I’ve been a small business person, I’ve been giving back to this community and hiring people and creating jobs for people the better part of twenty-five years, but the poverty rate is the same rate that we’ve had here in San Antonio and Bexar County since 1984, since I graduated from high school. There are ways that we can think to move that needle and it starts with Healthcare, thank you.”
Peter Sakai (1:03:35): “We keep it going, but at the same time this is what I want to do as County Judge, we need to sit down and we need to evaluate its service, we need to see with data, with metrics analytics, are they delivering this type of services we need, and I need you at that table to say look, this is what's going on. This is the reason why we’re having these issues in our community, because if the seniors basically are disconnected because we go back to that Transportation issue and say ‘Look how do we move around?’ That is an issue that I want to see University Hospital System and VIA work together, so basically transportation and healthcare come together. One of the things I learned as a judge as I worked on the children and families is you got to bring all the stakeholders together, and then you’ve got to figure out what the problems are. And then you got to find the solutions, and sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not a big bush but what we have to make sure in regards of the question, we have to have a basis of the Robert B Green in the community. We have to have access and that’s the reason why I support the Robert B Green and we must continue to be on the front-end and be proactive on the prevention and that’s the reason why I am totally all in with the public health entity when it comes to nutrition, when it comes to wellness, when it comes to dealing with education and outreach in regards to those diseases of obesity and diabetes. We need to get ahead, we got to stimulate physical exercise. We’ve got to make sure our parks and our linear parks and our trails, and our sidewalks are all built together to get people out and exercise, and that’s how we’re going to create a healthier community, but we have to have the infrastructure and that’s why I’m committed to Robert B Green.”
Q: Why are you really running for County Judge? (1:05:48)
Peter Sakai (1:06:01): “When I started forty years ago, and was that section chief, a rookie pro, a rookie prosecutor, and started on my journey and got in charge and was given a section sheet position because of what I consider, my integrity, my dedication, my hard work. Then I moved over and Andy Morales and Judge Johnson said ‘Hey Judge Sakai, you need to become this judge of a children’s court’ and I said, ‘Well you know how much are you going to pay me?’ and go ‘Woah that’s not enough money guys’, and I’ll be honest with you, I had a lucrative private practice but you know what, they convinced me that I was the right person for that job, and I decided to balance that with what I could do for my family and having a forty hour job and taking care of my kids to the little league and to all the youth activities. And then when Judge Specia speaks to step down, you know they said ‘You know what Judge? You know, you’re a great judge but you may not be able to win in this County because you’re not Hispanic.’ And I said ‘Well, I think I’ve proven myself.’ And so I stepped up to be your judge, elected judge as a Democrat of the 225th District Court and I served for four terms. So when Judge Wolf said, ‘You know what, I am signaling that I’m going to retire.’ I sat down with him and Tracy and I said ‘Hey Judge Wolf, are you really going to retire? Because you know you’ve been saying that.’ He goes “No I’m really going to do it’ so I said, ‘Judge with all due respect, I want to be the next County Judge. I want to continue my public service.’ I am a servant leader for my community. I have made a difference for the children and families in this community and I can do more as County Judge, and make sure that we move forward in a very unified way, that I bring people together. I will find the solutions to those complex problems and that is the experience that I bring to you. My parents, my father, a Japanese-American farmer taught me about hard work, about integrity and about humility, and those are the value sets that I will bring to the mix, to the County Commissioner’s Court as your next County Judge. That’s why I want to be your next County Judge, thank y’all very much.”
Trish DeBerry (1:08:35): “So I totally agree with Mr.Sakai, servant leadership is incredibly important. Those are the values that my hard-working parents instilled in me, as the youngest of six children, fighting over one bathroom and seconds at the dinner table, and sometimes living hand to mouth. It was about hard work, it was about a hard work ethic but it was also about giving back and so there are ways to be a servant leader without necessarily being elected to office. I’ll give you a few examples. I've worked on SAISD bond elections, passed them since 2002. For equity, not just in facilities but increasing graduation rates in the largest urban County Bexar County or in the state of Texas. Also did that in Northeast Independent School District, the first campaign I ever worked on which by the way, completely pro bono, was the fluoridation of San Antonio’s system it had failed twice. When I managed that campaign, the third time we passed it and guess what? Who did it impact the most? It impacted the children on the south and the west and the east sides of San Antonio that could not afford good oral care or dentistry. Putting fluoride into the water system was a game changer regarding what they call caves in the teeth, because if you get those, it leads to whole systemic issues in your body. Children don’t deserve that, also worked on cyber-bullying legislation, completely pro bono, when a man hung himself after being severely cyber-bullied. And not just David Molak, but a young man at Central Catholic that had cancer, and kids were bullying him online saying, ‘Just take your life right now because you look so bad. We don’t need to look at it anymore.’ I walked the halls of the legislator, didn’t charge people a penny for that because why? Now we have stricter ramifications to protect our children from cyber-bullying because why? Because in my heart I am a servant leader because in my heart it’s not about money, it’s about the right thing to do for people, it’s about kindness and decency and lifting this community up. That’s why I’m running to be your next County Judge, thank you.”
Q: The lack of internet access can translate to missed educational telemedicine and employment opportunities, putting distressed communities at further disadvantage during the pandemic. How will you address digital inclusivity and how will you make sure older adults aren’t left behind? (1:10:52)
Trish DeBerry (1:11:19): “I find myself a little in the middle, because I had aging parents being the youngest of six children, so I was the youngest and then I had children later in life. So I found myself between aging parents and also I got two teenagers, the blessings of my life. My daughter is seventeen years old and my son is twenty years old. So yeah his senior year was stripped away from him during COVID, as a result of what happened and it was tough…like I said, we had access to internet but there is no question, it’s unacceptable that were sitting in the parking lot at the AT&T Center trying to get onto wi-fi. What age do we live in? It’s not right, so yes, we have a new digital inclusive authority here in Bexar County in San Antonio, and so I had conversations with them and as a commissioner, I appropriated money for that effort because we have to make sure, whoever is the next judge, there has got to be County-wide wifi, not just for one section of San Antonio or Bexar County but for everyone, to include seniors too. And so we struggled a little bit, we talked about my mom during COVID. I mean COVID was tough on seniors because of why? The isolation associated with it and me trying to walk my mom because the only way that we could see her or talk to her, was to guide her through an iPad that she had, to be able to try to access us, because that was the only thing that kept her motivated to keep going. And so yes, when we talk about inclusivity regarding bridging the digital divide and appropriating more money and working with our internet providers who by the way, they need to bring skin into the game and do this too. Because they’ve been making a lot of money off all of us for a very, very, long time. So the opportunity for them to come with us and work with the County, to appropriate public monies but also them coming to the table too is critical to the success of this community, bringing again, people out of poverty and making sure that education, not just for young people, but for our seniors, continues, thank you.”
Peter Sakai (1:13:55): “I think I addressed it earlier by saying my commitment to the digital divide is to treat it, high-speed internet connectivity as a basic utility, much like electricity or water, and I’m looking to create a public health-, a public internet entity in order to develop that type of infrastructure to provide that for all citizens of both the youth, the seniors, disabled people. The small businesses, who need internet connectivity to succeed. We truly have to recognize and this is the really, the opportunity and with the AARP and the NOWCastSA to work together, because it’s going to take basically advocacy, to make sure that we commit to that and I’m committing as your next County Judge, to put those money resources to develop the high-speed internet for all parts of the County. We need outreach, in other words, how do we get and get people to commit? And then we need education, that’s the essence of AARP, that’s what y’all do day in and day out. And that’s the reason why it’s going to be a public-private partnership, in order to deal with the digital divide and to deal with the internet connectivity, that is a problem, and I am suggesting a solution. We’re going to partner up and we’re going to provide the County’s going along with bringing all the other stakeholders. We’ve got to get the city of San Antonio, the suburban cities and the state, and the federal government with all the resources in order to provide that basic need, and so my commitment to the digital divide is we just got to do it, and that is a solution I’m going to accomplish as your next County Judge, thank you. “
Q: The election administrator is retiring after this election, what are your plans if elected on how you would select the new administrator? Would you consider someone who denies results of the 2020 Presidential Election? (1:15:58)
Peter Sakai (1:16:22): “Absolutely not, to put that type of person. Obviously, the person that’s currently there’s Jacq Callanan, she has served with great distinction as election administrator. The elections department is a County department, and that’s one department that runs it for everybody and so that has worked well but that is the reason why I’m a true believer in the rule of law, because what we have now is we have the threats of democracy, people that are challenging the essence of integrity and the elections, the results. Saying, ‘Well the current president isn’t the legitimate president.’ No, we need to push back, and that’s why I’m committed to the rule of law to uphold the Constitution and making sure, I will tell you right now. Our elections here in Bexar County and in the state of Texas, are secure, they’re without fraud, and they’re valid elections, and so in regards of the possibility of Jacque Callanan, she has signaled that she wants to step down. I want a nationwide search to get the best person, the best qualified person there and I’m going to be a little bit - I don’t want to be misinterpreted but I want somebody that has technology, that has innovation and is out of box. What we had in the primary, and this was documented through my campaign, was we had a lot of seniors who were denied their right to vote on the mail-in and that is unacceptable and a violation of their constitutional rights and that is something that I want to eliminate. And we’re going to have to do that with an election department that is going to bring us up with the technology so that we connect. We get that high-speed internet so that people are connected and we can then communicate and make sure that our seniors are never ever disenfranchised, and that’s my commitment to you as your next County Judge.”
Trish DeBerry (1:18:18): “Listen, let me just say God loves Jacque Callanan, I know I’ve been friends with Jacque for a very, very, long time having worked on elections over the years and she’s done a yeoman’s job in that seat for a number of years. But she's also been under attack and she’s also been under fire and I think sometimes unnecessarily associated with the threats that have come in to the election’s office like I said, is unacceptable. They’re to be condemned actually…condemned, because I’ve been on the record, I continue to be on the record, the election was not stolen. So do we have to have safeguards in place so that people feel more comfortable voting? Absolutely and you know what, to Jacque’s credit, she has opened up the election’s office. She has brought Democrats and Republicans and Independents through there whatever, to see what the process is and what she’s done to even make things more secure but yes, we should not be making things harder on seniors to be able to vote. However, we also have to make sure that we don’t have seniors who are targeted and persuaded unknowingly into doing things that are unethical. That’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but most importantly, as Jacque at retirement she is to be celebrated, she is to be lauded for the job that she has done for the County over the years because she’s a great lady, but as we look at the next person that comes into this seat, yes, we’re going to have to look at a search, whether it’s you know national or we look across the United States but we also look here locally too, because sometimes the best talent is to be found locally here in San Antonio and Bexar County. I can think of a couple of people off the top of my head. But it is going to have to be somebody who’s got backbone, it’s going to have to be somebody who’s wicked smart when it comes to innovating regarding technology because as we know, we live in a society that is constant regarding the innovating and the threats on security, and hacking and cyber-security issues, etc. So you’re going to have to have somebody in that position, that understands all of those issues. So let me just say, I’m committed to a thorough and robust process on whoever replaces Jacque Callanan and we are not going to be suppressing the vote, thank you.”
Q: As County Judge, how do you see the role of County government with regard to housing, healthcare, transportation, intercepted with poverty rates? (1:20:49)
Trish DeBerry (1:21:17): “Well that’s a loaded question because all of those things contribute to the poverty rate that we have here in San Antonio. I talked about it before and I’ve really been the only candidate running for Bexar County Judge that has been talking about generational poverty. How do we pull people out of generational poverty? So if we look at the big idea that I know my opponent doesn’t agree with, is moving the Bexar County Jail out of the near west side which by the way, has been dumped on for far too long. You have Haven for Hope which does a great job, it does regarding the homeless, but you got that coupled with the Bexar County Jail that’s right there too, it is a barrier to economic development and it keeps people in poverty because guess what the poorest zip code that we have here in Bexar County is where? And has been for forty years, 78207. Where is it located? Right behind the Bexar County Jail. Until such time, as we look at things differently and what that looks like and look, we atleast have to explore the issue associated with that. Cost benefit analysis, what are the jobs that would be created? What is the economic impact associated with it. If we decide after we do that study because the job of Judge and the CEO of the County is to not say no to bold ideas that will move people out of poverty. It is to say yes we will explore it and see what we can do and how we might be able to move the needle, and if it doesn’t pan out or if it’s too much then we don't do it, but we can divert to other ways to be able to pull people out of poverty because that is the problem we have here folks, it is generational poverty, so it is removing the barriers to pull people out of poverty because guess what? A rising tide floats all boats, right? It is the things we talked about, accessibility and affordability to Healthcare, potential merger between Metro Health and UHS, it is about transportation and mobility regarding linear parks and also making sure that we have not just transportation all the way to unincorporated areas, but we also have County-wide wi-fi, it”s all of it together.”
Peter Sakai (1:23:54): “Although it may sound like a loaded question, it isn’t and in fact the answer is in the question in itself, and that’s the ability to recognize all those points that you pointed out that create the highest rate of poverty. That is really the weakest part of Bexar County, especially when we look at the unincorporated areas and areas that have been traditionally neglected, because of basically equity. They’ve always gone to other parts of the County and so what I said earlier all falls into place if you really hear it. It’s about housing and to make sure that seniors, especially seniors that age in place, that we have communications with the neighborhood association so that gentrification isn’t pushing people out and pricing them out. We’re going to have to lower those property taxes, so an understanding that we’ve got to provide basic services but we’re going to have to keep the lid on property taxes so that the seniors can basically not be priced out of their homes. We’re also going to have that transportation question so that when we deal with the Healthcare access, we got to have VIA and University Hospital Systems talking to each other so that seniors can have access to Healthcare. We’ve also identified one of the basic infrastructure issues with digital divide and that we need high-speed internet in order for that people will be connected to Healthcare, their telemedicine, their small businesses that will connect in order to succeed in their community. And so the answer to that question is to focus in on what those problems are, bring the stakeholders together, bring the experts together and that’s my commitment to you, is to identify those problems and then let’s come together as a community and come up with those solutions, and I have no doubt that we can overcome and deal with the issue of poverty and generational poverty and overcome it, and we’re going to have to focus in and Elaine, you covered that with education in our public school system and I’ll cover that later.”
Q: Describe your management style as County Judge and how you would have relationships with fellow members of the court and other County administrators and leaders? (1:26:10)
Peter Sakai (1:26:28): “You got to look at record right? You got to look at reputation, you got to look at character. For twenty-six years as your District Court Judge, I have maintained the highest standard of integrity. I’ve been having some of the toughest decisions in regards to the life and death of the children and families that come into the court system. And so I’ve had to make tough decisions and those are tough decisions I will have to continue to make as County Judge, especially if we live in the post-COVID, we know COVID was a once in a lifetime circumstance and hopefully by our vaccination, our efforts and our group coming together, we’re not going to be together again but at the same time, we must be prepared to make some tough decisions, especially when we have the climate change issues with drought and heat and possibly the failure of the grid. Those are all emergency preparedness that what we need to do and what is going to be so crucial, as your leader, is the ability to listen and listen intently, the ability to hear both sides of the dispute and then say, make a decision and I think that’s what’s crucial for any elected official, is to make a decision and then be able to explain it to the people to either accept it or not and move on. And that’s going to be what’s required of the next County Judge. Are you going to be able to work with all the elected officials? Are you going to be bale to work with the judges? Are you going to be able to work with the Sheriff on that complicated issue of this jail? Are we going to be able to work with all the County department heads, and what I have done as your children’s court judge is come up with Family Drug Court, Early Childhood Court, our college bound doctor for foster kids. Innovative, cutting edge programs that are the model not only for the state, but the nation, because it was the right thing to do four our children and families and that’s my commitment to you as your next County Judge, is to always focus in, and make sure that the children, families, and the seniors are always taken into consideration to any decision. Thank you all very much.”
Trish DeBerry (1:28:48): “So management style has always been very important, obviously as a small business owner and having employed up to a hundred people at one time and had to listen to employees and sometimes as a small business owner, you’re not quite as big enough to have a separate HR department but you have to make decisions on the fly. But always on open door policy, it was always about managing up people and making them better people, yes it was about holding them accountable and asking them tough questions, but this is what happens when you push people a little bit. They achieve things that they didn’t think they could achieve, and they made things better not just for themselves, but for the overall company, so at the court, listen it’s no secret I was the only Republican on the court but I reached across the aisle, bipartisan support, Judge Nelson Wolf, Commissioner Toby Calvert were with me on several different initiatives when I was on the court, that I think have made a huge difference here. One of them lowered the property tax rate to the lowest it’s been in twenty-five years. Yes it was small, but I cultivated two votes to be able to do that and now it’s headed in the right direction, t’d have a homestead exemption that didn’t occur at the County. Not just at the County but at the Bexar County Hospital District. Number two, the Elder Fraud Unit restored to the DA’s office, cultivated two votes to be able to do that too because it was the right thing to do and we had a twelve-hundred pace backlog. Number three, body camera turn-around policy, ten days, really the strictest in the state because nine times out of ten, it exonerates ninety-nine percent of police officers but it also brings closure to families who are looking for the closure, cultivated two Democratic votes to be able to get that done. A family leave policy that did not exist at the County before, cultivated two Democratic votes so that people were not taking sick time and comp time to have their children, that they could take paid leave to be able to adopt children or have births of children. And then my proudest moment on the court was an appropriated of more than three-hundred million dollars in domestic violence funding for the DA’s office and the courts, so that we can combat the scourge, the public health scourge in Bexar County that’s known as domestic violence. That’s the kind of leadership I will provide, I will reach across the aisle to be able to get it done and it will be impactful, thank you. ”
Q: You have a 10 million dollar surplus…How do you spend it? (1:31:37)
Peter Sakai (1:31:54): “First and foremost, what we need to do is we need to bring everybody to the table and we need a leader who is willing to listen to everybody, especially the community, especially groups such as the seniors and the AARP, who will help educate and help illuminate what the issues are for seniors. So that we can have-, we’re going to have to prioritize now and the reality is, with a two billion dollar budget, ten million you know…That’s the thing, we can lower the taxes and then reduce the budget but then we’ve got to cut services, but if we’ve got a surplus, we’ve got to be very smart with that, and that’s the reason why it’s going to take communication, we talk to each other, we listen to each other, we don’t argue and yell at each other. We collaborate, which collaborate means okay I think we should do this, I think we should do that and we need to have that type of dialogue and then we need to coordinate, which means we’ve got to execute, we’ve got to come to a planning process. And so we’ll have to establish our priorities if we have a 10 million dollar surplus. I am committed to make sure that any type of budget expenditure has to be child-centric and family-focused. It has to make a difference in our community whether it’s in capacity of housing. We’ve got chronic homeless, we’ve got basically people living on the streets and that’s a separate issue and I’ll open that with, we’ve got to deal with the Veterans who have mental health issues, and that’s why a commitment to mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation is so crucial . So if you ask me ‘Judge, you just got to commit to something.’ I’ll commit to the mental access, to mental health and to drug and alcohol rehabilitation because I saw that as game-changers in children’s court. I saw that how we put parents and children back together, and obviously we have an issue of grandparents raising grandchildren because of all those abuse and neglect issues. So oh, I can go all night long on how I can spend that ten million all night long, thank you very much.”
Trish DeBerry (1:34:24): “Yeah it’s not a whole lot of money in the big scheme of things when you look close to a three billion dollar budget, but you got money leftover to move the needle. Yes, absolutely, you’ve got to listen to people but part of being a leader- and I feel like for the past seven months I’ve been interviewing for this job as the CEO of the County. By the way, the Judge of a County is called a Judge only in name, only by the Texas Constitution. You’re not deciding guilt or innocence, you are managing a 2.8 billion dollar budget and you’re appropriating money whether it’s a surplus or whether it’s a deficit, what does that look like? It’s something I’ve done all my life for twenty-five years, and so as we look at you know what we’re doing and the ARPA monies that were available and the buckets we identified. Really it was my best time I felt like on the court and collaborating with my colleagues to figure out where those ARPA monies are going to be spent, but I’ll tell you there are two places I think it needs to go because I’ve heard it loudly and clearly. Small businesses are the backbone of this economy, eighty-five percent of this economy is built on the backs of small businesses who were shut down during COVID and many of them never recovered. So, we’ve got to do a better job of the County supporting small businesses and making sure they’re thriving and prospering, like Golden Star over on the west side where I launched my campaign who by the way, because of construction, it’s a ninety year legacy business and they dipped into one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in retirement savings to sustain that business. Because government has gotten in the way, so it’s not just COVID, it’s construction not taking small businesses and many of you here, maybe generational small businesses but we’ve got to do a better job with how we’re planning regarding construction projects and appropriating funding regarding small businesses, then number two, we got to do more about Animal Care Services. I got six rescues at home and we’re not doing it enough regarding the story population that we have here or rescues. And that’s another business opportunity for City County, consolidation when it comes to Animal Care Services, thank you.”
Q: How would you use County resources to help seniors age in place through repairing, rehabbing, or restoring their homes? (1:36:40)
Trish DeBerry (1:36:54): “So I think that’s a really important question as we talk about aging in place. I talk about it a lot as I visited this County and it’s a big County, whether I’ve been at the Thompson Neighborhood Association or Los Cardenas on the west side, whether I’ve been at Dignity Hill in Denver Heights on the east side, Harmony Hills on the north side you know, or the south side neighborhoods too. Been there, talked to those folks and they talk about property taxes and being taxed out of their homes. What are we doing? Highland hills, Highland Park, what are we doing to keep people in their homes? So I was proud to lead the efforts on Commissioner’s Court because, regarding property tax reduction, there’s a lot of fat in the budget that we got to take a look at that need to be cut. We don’t necessarily cut Women’s and Children’s Services, I would never do that. But what we can’t do is we can’t keep taxing people out of their homes either and so what does that look like? Yes, the rehab program through ACOG, Alma Area Council of Governments, I think is a great opportunity, but we’ve got to educate people and we’ve got to advocate, so when I talk about that One-Stop Center for seniors, to be able to know about the programs that exist, that’s critically important because there is money that is not being accessed. There are rehab programs available through ACOG, there are housing rehab construction programs available through the city and also through the County, but it is about consolidation of those efforts to make sure that people know about it and they access it because we don’t want to be leaving money on the table. The other thing we have to think about is this, whoever gets this job will be the next Bexar County Judge, in two weeks the special session starts, and so one of those ways about having people age in place and not taxing people out of their homes, because we have just done about all we can do regarding property taxes at the County in the city. The legislature has to do more, there is something called a Legacy Bill, which by the way, has failed in the past two sessions. I’ll be marching those halls advocating for it because it keeps seniors in their homes. People who have lived there generationally, two to three generations, and have faced an appraisal of eighty to a hundred and twenty percent are exempted from their taxes. That is how we keep seniors in their homes, thank you.“
Peter Sakai (1:39:29): “That’s a great question, what we need to do is focus in on rehab and one of the conversations I’ve had with some of the non-profits, and that is something I’ve been totally committed to as your children’s court judge, create those public-private partnerships with those innovative programs. I want to bring that type of model to Commissioner’s Court. According to the County, we need to partner up with the nonprofits that work with the housing rehab, we have the Merced housing, we have… we have our cossip, we have NRP that are developing housing, affordable housing. What we need to do in an example of that, is I believe it’s called Alternate Dwelling Units, and that is so that seniors can get loans, low-interest loans, or incentives in order to build out their garage or back compartment, in order that they can rent it out in order to supplement income, so that is a innovative, cutting edge idea that I’m committed to as your next County Judge. It’s to find ways to help support the seniors so that they can age in place. Obviously the big issue is property taxes and I’m committed to lower and control those property taxes but at the same time, what the big issue there is appraisals, and that is an extension of the state that worked with the Comptroller, but the County puts the County Commissioner on a BCAD, the Bexar County Appraisal District Board, and I want that particular Commissioner to hold the chief appraiser and BCAD, the Appraisal District accountable. When we get our tax bills we’re just like how did that evaluation come about? And so, there are multitude of ways that what we need to do is look at what those problems are and then come up with the solutions, and that’s holding people accountable, and I want to see more accountability in that Appraisal District.”
Q: Will there be another correctional institution in the County’s future? (1:41:30)
Peter Sakai (1:41:40): “No, let me just say this, to build another jail is another billion dollar and that is a budget-buster, and we’re not going to be able to lower taxes, we’re not going to be able to focus in on those programs such as ACT Mental Health Services or drug and alcohol rehabilitation. I’m committed to restorative justice, I’m committed- restorative justice means this in our justice system and I haven’t been a judge I’ve got that, that’s in my wheelhouse and restorative justice means is focusing on what is positive about the people that come in our system, whether it’s criminal cases, child abuse cases, child support cases, family law cases, whatever. We want to focus in on what’s positive, and what we learn with our specialty courts like family drug court, our early childhood court, our college-bound docket is what we can do is empower people, transform people, but you have to provide mental health services, you have to provide drug and alcohol rehabilitation. You have to help them understand that domestic violence is unacceptable and that is another big issue of what is plaguing our community is domestic violence, and I’m committed to continue- and I created the Cloud of Commission on Domestic Violence, in order to deal with the issues of domestic violence. We’ve learned that if we just lock people up, especially indigent people or people that are mentally ill, that’s not going to fix anything. That’s not going to fix the homeless situation and so what we need to do is figure out from a housing-first perspective for those chronic homeless. How do we move those Veterans with PTSD? How do we move those veterans that have mental health issues? And what we need to do is connect with them, I want to partner with the military, so that we have a call of duty to bring those veterans back in, get them off the streets, and get them on the path to rehabilitation and transformation. That’s my commitment to you as your next Bexar County Judge.”
Trish DeBerry (1:43:52): “So I think my answer is yes, there could be but I think it's got to be explored. I know my opponent says no, I mean it’s a billion dollar budget buster, um there’s no proof of that because it hasn’t really been studied yet. What I’m saying is, we have to explore the opportunity. That is what leadership is about, is exploring the opportunity and moving the jail, I’m going to reiterate those two things. It brings people out of poverty in an area that has suffered for far too long. That jail was built back in the 1980’s, the County currently is throwing many hand over fists, by the way, the air conditioning just went out last week. I don’t think they’ve got it fixed yet but people were sweltering in ninety degree temperatures there. We also had a female detention guard who had to call to file a police report to be relieved of her shift, to go pick up her children. The conditions, ladies and gentlemen, in that jail are inhumane. You don’t just sit back and say no, what you say is we can do better, not just by the people that work there to have humane conditions, but by the inmates that are in there too. We have inmates that have learned the game of locks that are in there, we have security issues, we had folks there three years ago, were walking out of the jail you didn’t even need a get-out-of-jail-free card, but we’re going to just say no? We’re not going to look at the opportunity? So that’s specific to the jail, but specific to; what is the opportunity cost associated with not moving that jail out of the west side, out of the near west side when you have a UTSA Data Center that’s going up, when you have the Scoby facility that’s there, that’s been transformed into a multi-use facility. They want something different, and I guarantee you, after visiting churches and talking to people on the west side, and also by the way, the homeless population is under the bridge, they want better, and not only do they want better but they should demand better out of leadership. That is what I will bring to the office of Bexar County Judge.”
Q: When it comes to public safety in Bexar County, what is the priority for you?(1:46:13)
Trish DeBerry (1:46:28): “So as I’ve traveled across like I said, I’ve traveled neighborhoods across the County, what is the number one issue? It is crime, which is up to the highest rate it’s been in more than forty years, it is lawlessness and public safety. For far too long I don’t think the County has really prioritized public safety in the way that it needs to be. It needs to be number one, and some of that comes with paying our deputy sheriff’s more than what we pay them right now. I was the County Commissioner that asked for a consultant to come in and study the problems that we had at the jail, and what has come back, that we need to pay our deputies more because guess what happens? We train them when good people that are here and then they decide,`Hey I want to go over to SAPD because they got better benefits and better pay.’ It’s because we don’t prioritize public safety of the County, and we haven’t and so we have to as the citizens of this community. One of the proudest days that I had on court was talking about law enforcement. It’s not just about the Sheriff’s Department, it’s about the County Constables, by the way you do a great job with community policing. It is not- I would like to say there’s crossover but there’s really not and really the state constitution again mandates that we have County Constables and so they got to be doing good things right? They got cut from the budget two years before I got out of the court, when I came back onto the court I said ‘No’, we have some great constables that are in place, we’re going to beef up the County’s Constable offices, and so in the budget I put more monies for twelve more constables. Not just for community policing efforts but to serve temporary protective orders and temporary restraining orders because the Civil Division of the Sheriff’s Office had been gutted, and there were stacks of temporary protective orders and temporary restraining orders that were not being served, and my point was, women and children do not need to be living in fear, and if County Constables have the ability to be able to serve those orders we need to be appropriating money to make sure they’re serving those orders. That’s what we need to be doing to protect this community, so at the end of day Elaine, it has to be about a priority in public service and I was happy to be down in court, when the sheriff was fighting for our officers as part of the question, thank you.”
Peter Sakai (1:48:50): “Well first and foremost, I am a supporter of law enforcement, I want to make sure under the rule of law that people are held accountable and that people are punished accordingly and appropriately under restorative justice principles. Though what that means is low-level offenders, indigent people, they don’t need to be in the jail system and I support our district attorney on his cite and release that lowers the burden on them. Now violent offenders, people who are children, people who commit sexual assualts, homicide, unfortunately we got a juvenile prime issue and I’ve been paying attention to that, juvenile crimes up in my analysis and what I get from the intelligence is juvenile gangs are back up. And I was there in the 90’s when we had what the San Antonio was known as the drive-by capital, so I know what we need to do when we have those situations. We have to be able to deal with those issues and we may well have to increase, and I criticized our County manager who recommended that there be no increase in the number of deputies. I just found out ridiculous as a unilateral decision that the Commissioner’s Court ultimately overruled. The unincorporated areas is where the County deputies and the sheriff has to cover along with the constables, but the issue is as we know, the growth is going to go to the unincorporated areas and so we must stay committed to law enforcement. I will always back the blue, the men and women who protect us. The city of San Antonio is increasing its officers by one hundred and thirty. They got a grant that will also provide that increase and that’s what we need to do. We need to create those partnerships with the state and the federal government to deal with those issues but at the same time, let us always remember that what we cannot do is lock people up and fill the jails up with people who are poor and mentally ill.”
Q: How can the Texas Department of Transportation be held accountable to keep our highways clean and maintained? (1:51:16)
Peter Sakai (1:51:30): “Well as I indicated earlier it’s going to take a conversation. We’re going to have to communicate with TxDOT, that’s an issue that obviously yes, we got to make sure that our roadways are clear and clean and that we have multimodal transportation to deal with the road congestion issues that are out there. And that is really to try to give you the essence of my leadership is what I’ve repeated. It’s about the ability to bring people to the table and the ability to listen, and the ability to identify those problems, and then come up with solutions. So in regards to helping keep the roadways clean, how the County could perhaps partner up. I would then go to our judges in our criminal justice system and say ‘Hey, don’t we have a bunch of probationers that we need to do community service? Can’t we get them to go pick up some trash? Can’t we get them to clean our roadways and clean our neighborhoods, and that is an example of the communication, the collaboration, and the coordination to come up with a solution to a problem. Now we have obviously other issues in regards to TxDOT and you know, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got multi-modal transportation, that’s the reason why VIA needs to be at the table. They and that leadership needs to be understanding that we’ve got to connect transportation to the public health, we got to connect transportation with the issues that are plague in our community. And so as your next County Judge, I don’t have all the answers for you tonight, but I also know how to fix things and I’ve got a proven track record from you, as your children’s court judge, thank y’all very much.”
Trish DeBerry (1:53:38): “Well the good news is we have someone who leads TxDOT, his name is Bruce Bug, who’s from San Antonio, so we should have a relationship with Bruce Bug, who’s the chairman of Texas Transportation Commission who waves into this. So one of the things that we’ve got to stop doing is poking the bear and antagonizing the bear. We saw what happened regarding Broadway and the construction project on Broadway, when that was brought almost to a halt, even though bond monies had been appropriated for Broadway. I worked on community outreach regarding that project and by the way, I wasn’t in agreement with the state coming in and saying, ‘No you can’t do that.’ But some of that is because there was animosity at play, between the city of San Antonio and Texas Transportation Committee and TxDOT. So it is about building relationships and what do we do there? So yeah, we’ve got to build that trust back and we’ve got to make sure that we’re communicating what the priorities are and it sounds like whoever asked this question thinks that we’ve got some trash problems that we have to mitigate and so whether that’s the partnership that we have with TxDOT to be able to do that better, but I will tell you that it’s not just probationers who should be out there on the street picking up trash, I’ll commit to you today, I mean you have stretches of roadway all the time, they’re adopted by a County Commissioner or a County Judge or whatever, like I need to be out there and help them pick up trash if that’s a priority for people. Much like we’ve done in the Camelot Two subdivision, I worked with Tommy Calvert, Commissioner Calvert, on the trash problem that we have there. We’ve got to do better, and by the way, it’s not just about sitting back and listening, I’ve been on a listening tour for seven months. A leader has to have vision, and you get people to buy into that vision because we’re losing a visionary in this seat, who’s been a visionary for twenty years, and so if you don’t have a vision and how you want to be able to lead, you can’t expect people to come along with you. Vision is about inspiring people and letting people know you’re not just speaking from your mind, but speaking from your heart. That’s the kind of leadership I want to provide, thank you.”
Q: What's the first call, email, or visit after you get elected? (2:01:20)
Peter Sakai (2:01:30): “The first visit is to get the whole County together, to put a call to the department heads to the elected officials, to all the County employees. One thing I’ve been criticized for being a career politician, but for twenty six years as a district court judge, I was a courthouse employee. I had to deal with Commissioner’s Court, I had to deal with that budget office, I had to fight for the district courts, the third branch of government for the judges, I had employees to take care of, I had a multi-million dollar budget for the courts and made sure the judges were treated with dignity and respect. And that’s what I want to do when I first come in. I want to let our County employees from the top official to the person at the very bottom. When COVID broke out I went to work everyday, I never went home, Rachel would say ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and I said ‘Well I’m working.’ And you know what my job was? Was really to take on the employees that were still working and they were basically the maintenance workers and the people that didn’t get excused to work remotely, and I provided them their personal protection, the sanitation, the masks, because we weren't prepared and that is what the next County Judge must be prepared for. It’s to be prepared for those emergencies, to be able to deal with those problems and then find a solution. So when I walk in on day one, I want to know employees, I care for you, I want to partner with you, I want to know how we can provide better customer service to the citizens of Bexar County and let’s figure out how we can protect the most precious infrastructure of our County and that’s the children, the families, and the seniors, the disabled of our community.”
Trish DeBerry (2:03:37): “Well the first phone call is going to be to my dad. You know, there is nobody who has been prouder, you know my energy, my passion, my effort to step up to the plate, to run for this office, in fact I told you, well he was in the emergency room last night. We talked on the phone again today, so this is so rather than this typical dad, rather than worrying about himself and you know what did he tell me? He said, ‘How are you weathering these attacks? I hope you’re keeping your chin up high, because you know what? You’re made a good star, a DeBerry star, and that’s gonna pass and you’re representing us.’ And so the fact that he gets to go into a voting booth and he gets to see the family name on the ballot. For somebody who only had an eighth grade education, his father told him, ‘You’re not going on to high school, you’re going to stay here, and you’re going to work on the farm.’ So my father’s way out was the Air Force, and as soon as he can enlist, he got it. Because that to him was the great equalizer, he didn't want to work on the farm his entire life, but at least the Air Force offered a pathway to education. Which is why my dad, at the end of the day, despite having six children and never knowing how he was going to pay for all of us to go to college. You know we all went on student loans and paid back those student loans and by hook or by crook, but I can remember my dad doing times tables with me at the table, repetitive , because he felt like education was that important. So yeah Elaine, my first call he’s probably not going to be able to be at whatever election party there is because of his health issues, but my first phone call is going to be to him, it’s going to be to Dad, no matter the attacks or whatever I’ve been through, I made you proud…and I will make this community proud, as your next Bexar County Judge, thank you.”
Closing statements of candidates for Bexar County Judge, Republican Trish DeBerry and Democrat Peter Sakai:
Peter Sakai (2:05:53): “Well thank you Elaine, this was fun and you know we were able to have a conversation tonight, and for that let me thank NowCastSA and let me thank AARP, let me thank all of y’all who have taken the evening to come over and listen to two people who wanted to be your next County Judge. Again. My name is Judge Peter Sakai, I was your children’s court judge, local administrative judge, administrative judge for twenty six years, and working to protect children, to empower families and to try to improve the system, the Child Welfare System. And I’ve been given the opportunity and I explained today why I have decided to step down from that position to step up to be your next County Judge. But I wouldn’t do this unless I had the support of my family, I want to recognize my wife Rachel Sakai, who spent thirty two years in the Harlandale Independence School District and also here at Palo Alto, then ten years at Providence Catholics High School, I believe my sister Kathy Sakai, the retired HEB pharmacist is in the house, and so those two women are an important part of why I’m standing here asking for your support and asking for your vote. This election is about proven leadership, it’s about the integrity, the character, the reputation that we’ve established, that I’ve established with you. And that’s the reason why I’m eternally grateful to you and to the citizens of Bexar County because they know who I am, they trust me, they know who I am, and I am a person who’s dedicated his entire life to public service, to be a servant leader to care for our community, that’s the reason why I’ve stepped up to be your next County Judge. The late Colin Powell I believe, said it best, leadership is about connecting people and that’s what I have been doing for my entire period. And I think I’ve made a very clear case tonight of why I am the best candidate for this job. We’re now moving past Judge Nelson Wolf in the visionary leader he was, but I want to basically stick to Back to Basics, what I call there, b-e-x-a-r necessities, to focus in on what’s most important to our community, what I consider the most important infrastructure, and that’s the children and families of our community. I’ve been endorsed by Judge Nelson Wolf, County
Commissioner Rebecca Clay Flores, Commissioner Justin Rodriguez, and Commissioner Tommy Calvert, so I look forward to working with the elected leadership along with all the other elected officials, to deal with our complex problems, to come up with those solutions that I will promise to work on and to find the solutions that what we need to do to move forward, so with that I wish you well, God bless y’all.”
Trish DeBerry (2:09:09): “First of all, thank you all for being here, I mean it’s important that you engage in the process, it’s important that you learn who’s running for office because I think too many times we don’t pay attention to those things, so anyway, thank you to NowCast and Charlotte Ann and thank you to Elaine for the great job you’ve done as the moderator and for all those online watching. And listen, we obviously, we are very different candidates, we have one who’s been a career politician and we have another who’s created jobs for people as a small business owner who I think is really about passion. There’s nobody that’s got a lot more passion than I do, passion, energy, pragmatism, and vision. And so as a small business owner for twenty five years and also a single mother of two for the past fifteen years. There is nobody who’s more of a hardcore, fiscal conservative than locking down the nuts and bolts associated with the County government. In fact, I asked tough questions when I was a County Commissioner. I said I wasn’t afraid to appropriate money, whether it came to indigent care, whether it came to the managed, to sign Council system, whether it came to domestic violence but what I did ask for for all you taxpayers, what I asked was a return on investment. I said we’re going to appropriate this money but I want you to come back in three months and I want you to show me how you’re moving the needle, because if we’re not moving the needle in the area that it needs to, let’s talk, let’s talk about how, or we pivot, or we adjust, or we modulate to make sure that we are not just representing the taxpayer, but also making a difference here, whether it’s the domestic violence rate that we have here, which by the way is the highest in the state of Texas. So we have more work to do there and despite the fact that I appropriated three hundred million dollars on the court and led that effort, I wanted to do more. Because there is more work to do. That is the kind of vision that I want to bring to this court, so it is about locking down the nuts and bolts but it is also about having a vision and sometimes I’ll tell you what folks, vision and change scares people. But you bring people along with your vision, you talk to them, you inspire passion in them, you inspire leadership abilities in there, and when you do that like I said people open up their eyes and think, ‘Wow, I can make a difference here’, by thinking a little bit differently about things so I’m going to close things by telling you, I’m only the second woman who has run for this office in the two hundred year history of Bexar County, and there will be other woman that come after me, hopefully to be able to do that. And as a mother of a seventeen year old daughter, I hope she runs for office one day too, because we’re natural multi-taskers, we care about people, and you are not just, when I talk about you are not the judge of the County, you were named that by the Constitution only, you are the CEO of the County managing a 2.8 billion dollar budget. That means you are the Chief Executive Officer, that means you are the chief economic development officer, but most importantly, as a native San Antonian, it also means you are the chief empathy officer from here, looking for ways to make solutions for seniors so they can age gracefully in place in their homes and they have access to services but also we think about big ideas to move this community forward. I’m Trish DeBerry, I am so happy and blessed to be with you tonight, thank you for the opportunity.”
Did you know?
Judge Nelson W. Wolff has served as Bexar County Judge since 2001.
How were participants chosen?
NOWCastSA follows the Candidate Debate Guidelines carefully prepared by Texas Public Radio, based on principles of editorial integrity and fairness. Those guidelines, “establish viewpoint-neutral criteria for candidate inclusion,” by examining the campaign activity, fundraising, newsworthiness of the candidate, and by weighing voter interest, as measured by polls or by percent of votes received in previous campaigns for public office. Read more about the criteria here.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting runs from Monday, Oct. 24 through Friday, Nov. 4.
Click here to replay the video of the Feb. 10 Primary Candidate Forum featuring democratic candidates, including Sakai.