Nelson Wolff confirmed Wednesday what he’d hinted at since 2018: His current term as Bexar County judge will be his last.

He told hundreds of audience members at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s “State of the County” event that he saw an article about an “aging senior exec” accompanied with a photo of that person being wheeled out with a potted plant in his lap. 

“I showed that picture to [wife Tracy] and said, ‘I don’t want to go that way,” he said. “I want to walk out with my head held high and go when I think I’m at the top of my game. So I am going to serve out my term. I have one year, three months to go. But I will not run for reelection.”

Wolff, 80, is serving his fifth term as county judge; he was appointed to the seat in 2001 and has been elected five times to the office. His announcement on Wednesday was met with a standing ovation at the chamber luncheon; several speakers professed their appreciation for Wolff’s leadership and work with the business community.

“I will continue to serve our community,” Wolff said. “We will carve out our personal life that will provide time for our adult children and our eight grandchildren for the limited time that we have left. And I want to thank our citizens for allowing me to serve.”

He said he wanted to make the announcement now to give “good candidates” the opportunity to announce their own campaigns for county judge, he said. 

“And we will get some good candidates,” he said.

Wolff’s steady presence in the county has translated to relatively easy reelection campaigns; he sailed through his last election in 2018. Before his stint in county government, he served as a state representative, state senator, City Council member, and mayor of San Antonio.

Wolff has also maintained high approval ratings throughout the pandemic according to Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report polls. The latest Bexar Facts poll, conducted in late September, showed that 60% of those surveyed approved of his job performance. He has kept in constant contact with residents through evening briefings during the pandemic; according to Wolff, he and Mayor Ron Nirenberg have held 312 daily media briefings together over the past two years.

On Wednesday, Wolff addressed the business community at a luncheon hosted by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and set at the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Antonio. With around 60 tables set for dining in one of the hotel’s ballrooms, the event was reminiscent of pre-pandemic days, although many of the attendees wore face masks.

Wolff started his remarks by noting that though the overall risk level of the coronavirus pandemic in Bexar County is “on the road to recovery,” many of the COVID-19 cases San Antonio has seen are in unvaccinated people. More than 80% of those in the hospital are unvaccinated, while 95% of people who died from COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

“We will not have that winter surge if people simply get vaccinated,” he said to applause. “If you know a friend or someone you’re close to to get vaccinated, we will not have a winter surge.”

Wolff looked ahead to Bexar County’s future, spotlighting the progress of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, which is in its second construction phase of four phases. That project has already sparked economic development and will continue to do so, he said. The county has made other strides in that arena as well, Wolff said. He mentioned a few highlights: Bexar County is building a workforce training academy at Brooks, Bexar County’s unemployment rate is lower than the national rate, and Navistar’s new truck manufacturing facility will soon begin producing trucks.

“I think we are building the future for sustainable projects,” he said. “And that economic expansion will be driven in part by the $2 billion in county and city capital improvements, with the Bexar County Hospital District investment, by the federal American recovery funds, and state investment in infrastructure. So I think we’re on the right track in rebuilding our economy.”

The county also has a new 10-year infrastructure program approved by the adopted fiscal year 2022 budget, Wolff said. That program includes 87 projects to the tune of $617 million, investing in flood control projects, roads, and creeks and trails.

Wolff started his professional career with his family, first starting Alamo Enterprises Building Supplies in 1961 before selling the business in 1977. He and his brothers then founded Sun Harvest Farms a year after that, selling that business in 1999. 

Wolff served for one term between 1971 and 1973 as a member of the Texas House, and another term from 1973 to 1975 as a member of the Texas Senate. He was on City Council from 1987 to 1991, and served as San Antonio mayor from 1991 to 1995.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.