When it came to running for Bexar County Commissioners Court in 2008, it was a matter of timing for Kevin Wolff.
“Lyle Larson, who had been county commissioner for 12 years, decided to run for Congress so I got recruited to run for his open seat,” Wolff said.
And after 12 years representing Precinct 3, Wolff decided it was time to move on and return to the private sector. At the end of the month, the 55-year-old will be stepping down from the Bexar County Commissioners Court after finishing his third term.
Looking back at his time on the court, he said he felt the most pride in opening the Bexar County Military Transition Center and securing millions of dollars for Bexar County-area transportation projects through his work at the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“In the last five years as I’ve been chair of the [Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization], our MPO has taken in $3 billion of transportation stuff,” he said.
Even though he counts his work on transportation projects as successful, he also claimed success in making the County itself more efficient in its day-to-day operations. His father, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, agreed. He credited his eldest son with establishing the county manager system at Bexar County. Before that, getting things done was much more challenging and tangled, he said.
“Before … I think 10 or 15 people reported directly to the court, five different members,” Nelson Wolff said. “It was a chaotic system. [Creating the county manager position] was really important in allowing us to be a more efficient government and allowing us to react to things quicker and to do what I consider significant improvements to the criminal justice system, to mental health in the hospital system.”
No plan for politics
Before being elected to the Commissioners Court, he served on City Council from 2005 to 2007 as the District 9 representative. He said he originally planned to complete two terms on City Council and then leave public office. But if you ask him for his origin story, he never planned on going into politics. He just grew up around it.
“I was 5 when Dad was first elected to the House of Representatives and 7 years old when he was elected state senator,” Wolff said, referring to Nelson Wolff’s time in the Texas Legislature in the 1970s. “My playground was the state Capitol.”
Kevin Wolff served in the U.S. Navy for eight years after graduating from high school and went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from St. Mary’s University. Wolff then worked in Delaware and New York City for CitiGroup before returning to San Antonio in 2002 to work at First American Title.
Though initially resistant to the idea of elected office, the younger Wolff nevertheless found himself in politics by the time he turned 40. Wolff gained experience from the private sector that is invaluable to an elected official, said Joe Krier, former president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
“Kevin is not a professional politician, and I admire him for that,” Krier said. “I think it’s good for people to have private sector experience. There’s too many people in government who have never worked in the private sector, who have never held a real job, who have never made a payroll. Kevin has done all of those things, and I think somebody who’s done that has a better understanding of how society works.”
Krier and Wolff have known each other for a long time and still occasionally meet up for dinner with their spouses, Krier said. Both were District 9 City Council representatives; Krier served from 2013 to 2017. And Krier had the chance to work with Wolff while he was on City Council and Commissioners Court.
Krier commended Wolff for his dedication to fostering a harmonious relationship with the City and collaboration between the two governmental bodies. He also tied Wolff’s work in local government to his time in the Navy, both of which were fueled by the idea of serving others, Krier said.
“I think Kevin is one of these people who feels public service is an obligation,” Krier said. “And I think he views being on Commissioners Court as a public service tour of duty at the County.”
Wolff’s tenure on the Commissioners Court hit a low point in 2016, when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated after a 3 a.m. traffic incident at a Whataburger drive-thru. Wolff apologized, served probation, and went on to win reelection to his third term later that year.
Sandi Wolff, the commissioner’s wife of 28 years, is a fierce champion of her husband’s successes. She said she loves seeing his fingerprints around San Antonio and Bexar County, pointing to his contribution to purchase the land for Phil Hardberger Park, which was in his district, and in getting water infrastructure improvements at the Japanese Tea Garden while he was on City Council.
“You could self-promote a little bit better,” she admonished her husband.
For his part, Wolff said he was proud of his ability to work with anybody, regardless of party (though that’s not a skill he would tout in a tight primary election, he added with a laugh). His fellow commissioners and Krier attest to this ability as well: Wolff is the lone Republican on Commissioners Court, as will be his successor, Trish DeBerry. But that really doesn’t matter at the county government level, Wolff said.
“Quite frankly, at the local level, I think it’s ridiculous that we have to run on a partisan ticket,” he said, referring to Commissioners Court, as City Council races are nonpartisan. “We’re not making partisan decisions. There are no Republican or Democratic potholes.”
Future plans remain fuzzy
Wolff plans to restart his consulting firm, Wolff Business Solutions, which he created about 15 years ago but has left dormant while in public office. He said consulting will allow him to put his experience and knowledge about transportation and land use to work. But he is open to other professional options.
“At this point in time, I have not made a final decision on what [to do], if anything, beyond my own consulting firm,” he said. “I will also tell you that there is a very high likelihood that I will be doing something besides [that].”
As he leaves the commissioners court, Wolff wants people to remember his time in office as productive.
“[I hope they say,] ‘Hey, turns out not only is Kevin something more than Nelson’s son, he’s his own person,’” Wolff said. “And it turns out that he was really good at getting things done while he served in office.’ … That definition of service isn’t ‘I made a good politician.’ It’s that I made a good statesman.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Chico Rodriguez also is stepping down at the end of the month after being ousted by political newcomer Rebeca Clay-Flores in the July primary runoff, making it the first time the Commissioners Court will have two women representatives, with DeBerry and Clay-Flores, and the first time since 2001 that the court has had any women on the dais at all.
Rodriguez did not return requests for an interview. But the outgoing Precinct 1 commissioner thanked his colleagues at the Commissioners Court’s final meeting of 2020.
“I know that there’s always been a lot of crises, especially with this COVID that’s going on, but I do want to thank everybody,” Rodriguez said Dec. 15. “As you know, I’m not a person for a lot of words. But Judge, thank you for everything you’ve done for me in the last 16 years, I know you’ve been here the longest. Then Kevin came right after that. So 16 years has been a good ride. I’m going to miss the good times.”
When Wolff decided against running for reelection last year, he said his 23-year-old daughter Sydney voiced her apprehension to her mom.
“She said, ‘Mom, I’m a little worried about Dad. What’s he going to do now?’ Because from her perspective, all I’d ever done was be in elected office,” Wolff said with a laugh. “And of course, Sandi’s like, ‘Don’t worry about that. He had 20 years of business before he ran for office.’”