Two months after announcing his resignation from the 225th District Court, former Judge Peter Sakai has declared his candidacy for Bexar County judge.

Sakai was in the middle of his fourth term on the state district court bench when his resignation took effect Oct. 31. He had refrained from publicly announcing his intent to run for the county’s top executive post but said Thursday that he has appointed a treasurer for his campaign.

Sakai said he had spoken with current County Judge Nelson Wolff after Wolff “signaled that he was considering retirement.”

“I confirmed he was going to retire and made known to him that I was interested in running for his position,” he said. “Basically, I want to bring my value set, my character, my reputation that I’ve established as a district court judge and bring to Commissioners Court.”

Before his election to the civil 225th District Court, Sakai was chief of the juvenile section in the Bexar County district attorney’s office. He left for private practice and then entered the judiciary as a juvenile associate judge of the 289th District Court in 1989. He originally was appointed to the Bexar County Children’s Court as an associate judge in 1995; he continued to oversee the Children’s Court until his resignation.

“I have served the voters and citizens of Bexar County for nearly 26 years,” he said Thursday.

The 67-year-old Democrat is staking his campaign on his past work dedicated to the welfare of children and families. Sakai helped create the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence in 2019; the group released its first report in March. And eight of the 10 specialty courts in Bexar County that involve children were created with his assistance.

Taking care of the county’s children and families goes beyond the judicial system, he said, referring to his desire to become county judge. During the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of reliable internet access demonstrated a need for broadband infrastructure around the county. The pandemic also sharply highlighted and exacerbated housing problems and child care shortages, he said.

“It’s going to take strong effective leadership that understands child welfare, especially as we know we have all this federal funding that is coming down because of COVID,” he said. “We have to make sure we spend that money wisely and efficiently and effectively and I have to make sure it’s child-centric and family-focused.”

So far, Sakai is the only candidate to have declared his intention to run for the Bexar County judge seat, though state Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) launched an exploratory committee last month.

Wolff announced in October he would not seek a sixth term, ending a tenure of two decades. Wolff previously served as a San Antonio council member and mayor, and he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives and later the Texas Senate in the 1970s.

Sakai acknowledged Wolff’s long service as county judge and said he admires Wolff’s “fearlessness” the most, especially when making coronavirus-related decisions.

“COVID-19 has exposed a lot of stuff,” Sakai said. “We came together as a community, but we know that we have a highly partisan world, a sometimes-toxic environment, and sometimes we have difficulty talking to each other. Judge Wolff stays on his path and I believe I will be able to do the same, if not more.”

On top of focusing on the needs of children and families, Sakai said he promises to bring “civility, dignity, and respect” to Commissioners Court

“I think Judge Wolff has done that and more, and I will bring that same value set,” he said. “I promise that the Judge Sakai [residents] know is the Judge Sakai they will get as county judge.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.