Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff and County Judge Nelson Wolff.
Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff (left) is challenging incumbent Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The first campaign finance reports filed by the two candidates for Bexar County Judge show incumbent Democrat Nelson Wolff with an overwhelming advantage in campaign contributions over Republican challenger Tom Rickhoff.

Filings made public on Wednesday show Wolff with more than $619,000 in total campaign funds. The contributions are managed under the Friends for Nelson Wolff committee.

Rickhoff, the Bexar County Probate Judge for Court 2, currently has no campaign contributions. He is serving as his own campaign manager, treasurer, strategist, and developer of a campaign website that hasn’t yet launched. “As a veteran political observer, I usually prefer to be chief,” he told the Rivard Report via email.

The size of Wolff’s war chest “is obscene proof that special interest control the County at homeowner tax expense,” Rickhoff stated Wednesday night in an email.

Christian Archer, Wolff’s chief campaign strategist, said the initial campaign finance reports indicated that there was no large movement of Republicans wanting to replace Wolff.

“I think when you look at the number of people that have given to Nelson, that it is across the board support from Democrats, independents, Republicans,” Archer said. “I think people understand Nelson has been a leader in this community for many many decades.”

Neither candidate faces a primary opponent, leaving additional time for fundraising going into the Nov. 6 election.

In addition to hiring Archer, Wolff has taken on other staff members to assist in his fifth re-election campaign. Andi Rodriguez serves as Wolff’s campaign treasurer, and DeMonte Alexander will work as his campaign manager.

The Bexar County Judge presides over the Bexar County Commissioners Court and effectively operates as the chief executive officer for the County. County judges serve four-year terms.

Wolff was appointed to the position in 2001 and has been re-elected four times. If elected to a fifth term, Wolff has said he wants to continue work on the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, renovations on the Alameda Theater, and a $390 million Women and Children’s Tower addition to University Hospital.

Rickhoff believes several of these initiatives constitute “wasteful spending” and is making Bexar County’s nearly $3.6 billion debt the foundation of his campaign. Instead of focusing on what he calls “core” County functions such as fully funding programs for wards, he believes Wolff and other commissioners spend time and money on “vision projects.” He has criticized the $735,000 Plethora sculpture planned for the San Pedro Creek plaza as an example of excessive spending.

During his decades-long career in law, Rickhoff has worked as a special trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, a Juvenile Court judge, a judge on the state’s Fourth Court of Appeals, and since 2001 as a probate judge. For two years in the 1970s, Rickhoff was the Bexar County District Court Clerk.

The 2014 election for Bexar County Judge drew little more than 300,000 ballots. Wolff defeated Republican Carlton Soules with 52 percent of the vote.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were more than 1.9 million Bexar County residents as of July 2016. Of those, the Texas Secretary of State reports that roughly 1 million were eligible to vote. The last day to register as a voter in Bexar County is Feb. 5.

Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.