Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Weisenberger versus Svarzbein

In deference to my friend, Rick Bonart, I published his letter endorsing Mr. Svarzbein. As you know, Rick was my pick for City Council Representative for District 1. Rick would be my choice as a candidate for anything. However, two others made the run-off: Al Weisenberger and Peter Svarzbein. Let me tell you what I know.

Peter has some negatives. The biggest of these has to do with the way he has financed his campaign. He bypassed the campaign finance laws of Texas with his “Friends of Peter Svarzbein” Special Purpose Committee. In short, he began financing a campaign without declaring a Treasurer. PAC money means hidden donors. We all want more transparent government (except perhaps the people in charge of the City of El Paso who only give lip-service to open government.) Peter's hiding something and that isn't good.

The fact is that Svarzbein is backed by all the major developers (but not Hunt or Foster). On the portion that he reports as campaign contributions, 14% of that money comes from the likes of Jerry Rubin and Adam Frank - people who would love to demolish all of downtown's architectural treasures and put up parking lots.

This brings me to another negative - Svarzbein is against the historical preservation of downtown. When people protested the demolition of the block at San Antonio and Mesa, he screamed at the protest organizer over a phone call. In fact, Peter apparently is quite a screamer. He reportedly was seen berating his father in public. Just great. Another Theresa Caballero. A prima don to Niland's prima donna.

Peter hasn't had a real job in his entire adult life. He has had the benefit of his father's money. A District 1 observer put it this way: "Peter has no earthly idea what things cost and why. So, if elected, he would be looking at a multi-million dollar city budget and be like a kid in a candy store picking out his favorite flavors." He says that his budget solution is to find private money. Good luck with that.

Svarzbein has claimed that he will be a full-time representative unlike Mr. Weisenberger who says that he will be a one-term representative and that the first few months in office he must complete some tasks he now has as an attorney. (Weisenberger is honest and ethical, responsible to his contractual duties, and intends to get things done in the four years that voters give him rather than taking eight years to finally accomplish anything. Did anyone complain when Beto O'Rourke didn't run for a second term and look how much he got done.)

This list of negatives is getting tedious; but add one more to the list. Sorry fellow environmentalists, Peter ain't green. Follow the money.

So let's discuss Weisenberger. Al has some positives. He ran a business with 65 employees. He knows how to create wealth and make a payroll. He has been involved with a number of civic organizations - Rotary Club, the Bar Association, etc. He's a gentleman. He's grown up. He's long past the terrible tantrum twos. Al endorsed historic preservation of our downtown. It's great to be a creative idea person. It's even better to have the wisdom that comes with experience to know what is a good idea and what is a bad idea without wasting everyone's time. 

So there you have it. Negatives and positives. You make the call.


  1. With all due respect to my friend Jim Tolbert, I would like to comment on several unfair accusations made about Peter Svarzbein, the candidate I am supporting in this runoff election.

    There is absolutely nothing inherently nefarious or suspicious about a Special Purpose Committee. I was secretary of an SPAC that supported the stormwater utility ordinance almost 10 years ago. Contributions to SPACs are reported to the City Clerk just like other campaign reports and are easily viewed by the public at Peter has assured me that the process of closing his SPAC will begin the first working day after the June 13 election. It will not be a vehicle to receive money while elected.

    Peter Svarzbein’s top contributors are his family, his good friend (who donated IT services), and Miguel Fernandez. Al’s top contributors are Paul Foster, Woody Hunt, and Stanley Jobe. To suggest that Peter is beholden—any more than Al is beholden—to special interest groups just doesn’t make sense.

    Peter’s behavior has been completely professional during this campaign. There is a difference between having passionate discussion and inappropriate behavior. Passion comes from having relevant ideas, a real platform, and working hard to accomplish goals for constituents. Peter has an actual platform and innovative ideas; his opponent does not. In fact the only concrete things I heard Al promise to do were: quit after one term, and raise taxes. I find it silly to believe that anyone’s “golden” personality will stop petty squabbling among City Council members. After all keeping order during Council is the Mayor’s responsibility.

    I’ve said this many times: past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Peter’s commitment to highlight the historic and cultural legacy of the Trolley, his efforts to have TXDOT fund it, and even his push to refurbish the art deco streetcars are proof that he is committed to historic preservation. Peter and I agree in our support for historic preservationists' efforts to create an independent inventory of the buildings downtown, and in our advocacy of a National Historic District. We believe that what the City can contribute is the creation of a position to help property owners with the onerous paperwork needed to secure preservation rebates and credits. However, preservationists should know, there needs to be adequate participation by property owners in order to justify the cost of such a position.

    The race for District 1 City representative will have important ramifications for our City. The current Council is heavily weighted in one direction and has marginalized several groups. Voters need make an informed decision based on facts. Making baseless innuendo is shameful and an obvious attempt to redirect voter attention away from the real issues.


    Rick Bonart DVM

  2. With all due respect to Mr. Bonart, who ran a great campaign and is an excellent citizen of our city, there is no such thing as a politician who is not beholden to his/her campaign contributors. The essence of contributions is that donors expect access and oftentimes favors from those to whom they contribute. Period. From the standpoint of historic preservation in El Paso, I have no worries about Al's donors. On the contrary, Paul Foster is the greatest preservationist in modern El Paso history (Anson Mills Bldg., White House Dept. Store, and soon the Hilton Plaza Hotel). His opponent, on the other hand, has accepted four-figure donations from the very people who were responsible for demolishing seven historic buildings along E. San Antonio Avenue, including Trost's Union Bank and Trust Bldg., and leaving us two immense dirt lots on their place. I am sorry to inform your followers that there is absolutely no sugarcoating that, and the candidate in question is not disturbed at all by the issue. On the contrary, he touts his long-time relationships with these donors (May 30 debate) as if that is supposed to reassure the preservationist community.

    I am delighted that both candidates have stated their strong support for historic preservation and, in particular, for the establishment of a national historic district in downtown El Paso. Only one candidate, however, has 100% credibility in this regard.

    Max Grossman, PhD


  3. My choice in this race was Rick Bonart, but I am supporting Peter Svartzbein in the run-off. I have worked with Peter on various community committees, and he is keenly intelligen,t very creative, honest, dedicated and hard working. He also understands municipal governance and knows this city!

    Peter is NOT "backed" by developers. Jerry Rubin is a close family friend. There are no strings attached here. Besides, even "developers" are certainly entitled to support whomever they please, last time I looked.

    Al Weisenberger is a fine man for whom I have great respect, but I am supporting Peter because he is a strong supporter of the arts and an advocate for environmental issues. He believes in the importance of the cultural heritage of this city, and he is a creative problem solver. Can he change all the things that disturb us? No, of course least not without our help. BUT, he knows and understands the challenges much better then his opponent.

    And, with all due respect to David K. and Eileen, I don't understand the financial difficulty for you all. The way Peter set up his financing was the way a novice to the political arena would have done. There was no preconceived malevolent plot here.

    Of VITAL importance is that he will be full time from the get-go. The learning curve is steep, and this IS critical!! .His voter base is diverse...another very important attribute.

    Sooo, please give Peter your consideration!! We need the balance that he has the potential to bring to City Council!!

    Katherine Brennand

  4. Eileen KarlsruherJune 8, 2015 at 9:51 AM

    Katherine – with all due respect regarding the SPC: Laws are laws and rules are rules. Claiming ignorance of the law or rules is not a defense. 22 people were convicted of public corruption in El Paso and I am sure they tried to use the same defense.

  5. Eileen KarlsruherJune 8, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    In response to Dr. Bonart’s comments I have the following:
    If you examine the Friends of Peter Svarzbein reports, I counted at least 15 individuals that are either developers or commercial real estate brokers and that doesn’t count the different downtown property owners. So someone wants something from Peter.
    A thorough review of the Friends of Peter Svarzbein reports indicate that Peter loves to spend money. There are furniture purchases, office rent, computers, cabling, monitors and Internet hook up and fees. The other 5 candidates apparently worked out their houses using their own computers and phones and most likely they already personally had Internet access. There is also an interesting expense for a “team building” experience at Sportsmen’s Elite – a gun store and Indoor Shooting range. What was the team building – how to arm yourself against voters that don’t like you? There was a $345 expense at Academy for shoes for the paid walkers. Studying his spending habits might give us a clue has to how fiscally conservative he is or isn’t.
    What is also telling is the fact that Peter didn’t put any of his own money into his own SPC. Bonart and Weisenberger loaned their campaigns money. Peter doesn’t believe enough in himself to cough up even $250? You have to ask why someone running for office wouldn’t put skin in the game – their own money.
    Regarding taxes, Peter has the same exact platform as Weisenberger – build the QOL projects ASAP, on time and on budget. But in order to do that, the tax rate on debt service will increase substantially! So, in effect, Peter is raising taxes too. The only way not to raise taxes is severely cut expenses on the Operations & Maintenance side of the budget which is staff, benefits, services, etc. except for Police and Fire since the City is bound by the collective bargaining agreements in place. Then maybe you can avoid a tax increase in order to speed up the process of finishing the QOL projects.
    Regarding the trolley, that money was always there. It was given to the State of Texas for only a trolley project by the Federal Government. The Highway Commission and TxDOT checked around and El Paso was the only city asking for a trolley. So there was no advocacy – it was already wildly supported by Byrd, Niland, Ortega, Lilly and Noe – there’s your 5 votes. It is now an RMA project and the City has no say so in how it is moved forward. It is currently in the bid process stage. Taking a few cool pictures with a camera of beat up old trolley’s doesn’t make one an advocate. Anyone with an IPhone camera can claim the same thing.
    Regarding the desire to run for office forever, I applaud any and all politicians who know when to exit the stage and make room for another person, a different idea, a different approach. 4 years is a long time and, if you are a leader efficient in your processes and thinking, you can accomplish a lot in 4 years. It’s arrogant on Peter’s part to think he can automatically assume District 1 would want him to stay for another term. Weisenberger said it best: “What if you don’t get re-elected?” There is always the chance that someone better will run against you.
    And the last thing – the Special Purpose Committee: Bonart is not comparing apples to apples. In recent history, going back 20+ years or more, no one running for council or mayor has ever used an SPC to fund their campaign. They have announced, appointed a treasurer, opened a bank account in their name and asked for money. If Svarzbein’s whole intent was to dissolve the SPC the day after the Election why didn’t he tell David Crowder that last week in the article Crowder wrote about his campaign funding? Why hasn’t Svarzbein responded to the repeated questions by citizens and media questioning the fundraising prior to the appointment of a campaign treasurer? He blames it on the City Clerk and their electronic filing system. There is no excuse for not understanding campaign finance rules – none. It speaks volumes about his level of understanding of rules, money and transparency.

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