City and County leaders remembered Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who died Thursday at 83, as one of the most influential officials in San Antonio’s modern history.

“Beyond popularity, electoral success, and his vast network of friends and family, his influence will be felt in the multiple projects on which he was a driving force, all seeking to improve the lives of Bexar County residents,” former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros said in a prepared statement.

“Paul was first among equals because of his ability to create one transformational project and then move right on to the next one, and the next one. He will long be remembered, beloved, and respected.”

Henry Cisneros meets with Mayor Ron Nirenberg prior to the luncheon.
Henry Cisneros. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Elizondo’s colleagues on commissioners court, among others, praised his community service and his legacy of county projects developed during his more than 30 years as commissioner.

County Judge Nelson Wolff called Elizondo “my closest friend, period.” He added that Elizondo’s work positively impacted numerous projects and initiatives, including expanding the University Health System (UHS) trauma center, modernizing the UHS’ Robert B. Green campus, and advancing the San Antonio River’s Mission Reach and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Elizondo also was a key proponent of revitalizing San Pedro Creek and transforming it into a public space, and fully restoring the Alameda Theater. Wolff said improving San Pedro Creek and the Alameda was especially important to Elizondo and the community, mainly because Elizondo grew up in the area.

“Paul always felt that part of the city was ignored,” Wolff said. “He got to see the first phase of [the San Pedro Creek] Culture Park, thank goodness.”

County Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct 2) and County Judge Nelson Wolff speak with the media 30 days before the opening of San Pedro Creek Culture Park.
County Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct 2) and County Judge Nelson Wolff speak with the media 30 days before the opening of San Pedro Creek Culture Park. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Commissioner Tommy Calvert (P4) called Elizondo’s death a “huge loss.”

“His institutional knowledge is legendary and will be missed,” Calvert said in a statement.

Commissioner Kevin Wolff (P3) said: “Commissioner Paul Elizondo was a champion for our veterans, his constituents, and Bexar County. He was also a mentor and friend, and I will miss him very much.”

Local officials and community leaders said Elizondo’s impact cannot be underestimated on a variety of issues and projects.

“For over a generation, Paul Elizondo was an icon of the West Side and a force in Bexar County government and politics,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement. “His influence will be felt for decades to come. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

San Antonio’s first female city attorney, Jane Macon, was among the many friends and associates to personally pay respects to the Elizondo family on Thursday. She said that while Elizondo’s death leaves a void in county governance, his life’s work has yielded a lasting legacy.

“It’s a sad day for San Antonio and Bexar County to lose such a leader,” Macon said. “He cared so much for the city, county, and state. He was a public servant to the end.”

Macon and others said Elizondo’s death means a loss of knowledge about county budget matters. She said he had a keen eye for detail.

“He was a great band leader, but he was also a mathematician,” Macon said. “It’s what he lived for, whether he was on the [commissioners] court or in the legislature.”

Jane Macon speaks about how Naoko Shirane worked with an iron fist in a silk glove.
Jane Macon Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Macon said Elizondo accomplished many things in his career. But she pointed to his efforts to widen access to mental health care services, and his support for bringing the Texas Diabetes Institute to San Antonio.

The Center for Health Care Services (CHCS) named its Westside adult behavioral clinic after Elizondo. Based on the West Side, Texas Diabetes Institute provides San Antonians with state-of-the-art diabetes research and care.

“Paul was instrumental in taking the stigma out of [mental illness] and treating it like a disease,” Macon said of Elizondo’s advocacy for better mental health services.

“As for the diabetes institute, Paul had the foresight to realize that with our demographics, we had to make a difference.”

Henry Muñoz III, president and chief executive officer of design firm Munoz and Company, first met Elizondo as a young student. Muñoz learned more than the passion with which Elizondo taught and played music, he learned the importance of authenticity in telling the story of one’s community.

“I wonder if people know about Paul Elizondo and the extent that his life has had on San Antonio,” Muñoz said. “He was a walking history lesson.”

Muñoz said no matter where Elizondo worked, be it at the state capitol or in county commissioners court, he had his community’s best interest at heart, particularly when it came to reviving San Pedro Creek. Muñoz’s firm designed San Pedro Creek Culture Park, which helps to relate the history of the creek and surrounding neighborhood.

“The stories [Elizondo] shared, they came from a personal place,” said Muñoz. “He remembered it as a multicultural neighborhood. His lasting impact as a commissioner was to help tell a history of the community that didn’t exist in textbooks or in libraries.”

Henry Munoz III looks at the San Antonio skyline during the Latina Leadership commencement ceremony. Photo by Scott Ball.
Henry Muñoz III Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said Elizondo lived a life of service to others.

“Nobody personified that more than Commissioner Paul Elizondo,” Salazar said. “His career in the military, as an educator, and as an elected official spanned decades and placed service to his community before all else.”

The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce credited Elizondo with making important contributions in many areas.

“We at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, while at a loss for words, are proud of Commissioner Elizondo’s legacy of service, not just in Precinct 2, but in Bexar County and beyond as a leader and champion for education, health care, environment and natural resources, veterans, and business growth and retention,” the chamber stated.

Nelson Wolff said Elizondo, above all else, “loved his family, music and politics. Those are the things that drove him.”

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.