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“Ill judge ponders future”
Tarrant County: Son says Vandergriff to resolve retirement issue soon
While many incumbents ponder re-election strategy, Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff is just trying to make it back to his office.
The 79-year-old Republican was admitted to Arlington Memorial Hospital on Nov. 18 with flulike symptoms and remained there until this past week with pneumonia. Mr. Vandergriff's illness and its timing as primary filing season started this week have generated speculation about the possible retirement of this local political legend.
An answer could arrive as soon as Tuesday.
"My father and I certainly understand that there is a story about whether he will run for re-election, but he will discuss that with the [county] commissioners next week," son Victor Vandergriff said.
The younger Mr. Vandergriff said his father wanted to discuss his plans with the Commissioners Court and his staff before making a decision. The commissioners meet Tuesday morning.
Mr. Vandergriff is one of the few Tarrant County incumbents who haven't announced whether to run in the March 8 primary. The Republican and Democratic parties started accepting filings Monday, and candidates have until Jan. 2 to decide.
Stephanie Klick, the Tarrant County GOP chairwoman, said Mr. Vandergriff's speedy recovery and return to office for another four-year term is best for the party and county. But she said that behind the scenes, several people have started discussing a possible run.
The final decision, though, belongs to Mr. Vandergriff, she said, noting that it's unlikely that a serious Republican candidate would challenge him in this predominantly GOP county.
"He has been such a public servant," Ms. Klick said. "Few people in the county can match his record."
Because there are no Democrats elected to countywide office, she said she doubted they would be much of a factor in a scramble to replace Mr. Vandergriff.
Art Brender, chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
County Commissioner Glen Whitley said he hoped that Mr. Vandergriff would return for a fifth term. But if he doesn't, Mr. Whitley said, he'll probably file for the office.
"It's very, very possible that I would run if Tom Vandergriff isn't running again," he said.
He said he would never consider running against Mr. Vandergriff, whom he refers to as a "pillar of public service."
Victor Vandergriff said that his name has been batted around as a possible successor but that it's not something he's considered.
"It's nice to be thought of as someone who has potential, but that's not what I'm striving for," he said.
Mr. Vandergriff arrived on the Tarrant County political scene 54 years ago and has remained in office for all but 11 of those years.
He was elected Arlington mayor in 1951 – nicknamed the "boy mayor" – and served until 1977. In the early 1970s, he led the effort to bring the Texas Rangers to Arlington, and he has statues at City Hall and Ameriquest Field.
Mr. Vandergriff was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in the 1980s but lost to Republican Dick Armey, who later became House majority leader. In 1990, Mr. Vandergriff switched parties and has been county judge since.
By Tuesday, no one had filed for the county judge's seat. But if Mr. Vandergriff retires, Ms. Klick said there could be a stampede to file for the prestigious position as the head of Tarrant County government. In recent elections, countywide administrative positions, such as tax assessor-collector, have attracted nearly a dozen candidates to the Republican primary.
"The ballot could be very crowded," Ms. Klick said.
Staff writer Marice Richter contributed to this report.