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Field to become the next Bexar County judge narrows

The race to replace long-time Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff will go to a runoff on the Democratic side.
The race to replace long-time Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff will go to a runoff on the Democratic side.

The race to replace longtime Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff will go to a runoff on the Democratic side. As of early Wednesday morning, former District Court Judge Peter Sakai garnered about 40% of the vote, and State Representative Ina Minjarez got 30%. The runoff will take place in May to see who will face Republican Trish DeBerry in the November general election.

A vacant Bexar County county judge seat doesn’t come often. In fact, the last time was more than two decades. Wolff was appointed in 2001 and then won every election ever since.

“I think we were taken off guard when Judge Nelson Wolff announced his retirement,” Minjarez said.

Minjarez saw that retirement as an opportunity. She’s foregoing her Texas house seat, which she’s held since 2015, representing the far west side of San Antonio, to run for judge.

She finished second place out of four candidates for the Democratic nomination on Tuesday. Now in a runoff, she wants to bring her legislative experience to the county’s top job.

“I’ve dealt with issues that come before the state, that are going to come before the county,” she said. “Like economic development, like infrastructure, transportation, Health and Human Services, health care, and I felt ... this is an opportunity that doesn’t come every day. I decided to take a leap of faith, I felt that I could come home and be more effective here and lead a Bexar County,” she said.

Sakai, who received the top vote on the Democratic side, said he's ready to get to work on the runoff campaign. "I'm telling you, tomorrow first thing, I'm meeting with my campaign team and we're going to hit the campaign trail and we're going to be pounding the pavement," he told his supporters.

Sakai has been on the bench in Bexar County since 1996 deciding court cases involving children and families. He says his 26 years as a judge gives him the experience needed to lead the county.

“Being innovative and out of box with the children’s court, making it nationally renowned,” he said. “Putting great, innovative programs, such as family drug court, early childhood court, we’ve been recognized statewide and nationwide for our college-bound docket, getting foster kids ready for college and so I want to bring that child centric family focus agenda and progress that we ran into the courts, and obviously the county is responsible for the court system.”

Minjarez touted her experience as a state lawmaker — specifically, securing more than $1 billion in funding for the area in her role on the State House Appropriations Committee. She told TPR she looks forward to getting her name out to more of Bexar County in the runoff race.

"I think both of us are good Democrats," she told TPR. "At the end of the day, this is going to be about the issues." Minjarez said her priorities include property tax relief and safe neighborhoods in addition to securing federal funds for Bexar County.

The Democratic matchup puts legislative experience against judiciary experience for an administrative position.

On the Republican side, former Bexar County Commissioner Trish DeBerry took a gamble. After one year of sitting on the Bexar County Commissioners Court as the Precinct 3 commissioner, she’s hoping to take the top spot as Bexar County Judge and be the first Republican in the seat since 2001.

She touted her experience as a small business owner.

“I multitask all the time, and I’m an entrepreneur, a small business person, and I think at the end of the day that is the skill that we need to bring to Bexar, especially as we move out of post-COVID regarding the devastating impact on small businesses and what that means,” she said.

Her platform includes increased support for law enforcement, seniors and veterans; more jobs to help the economy; and lower property taxes and stronger appraisal reform.

DeBerry will face the winner of the Sakai-Minjarez runoff.

"The last time we had a Republican in office, it was 1998, and it just so happened to be a female, too," DeBerry said.

The runoff will be held on May 24.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules
Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.