Politics makes strange enemies

Why Domingo Garcia is running against the father of his godson

If Garcia got hundreds of phone calls, his many supporters must have been busy that Thursday. Only 55 people attended the press conference--six of them children and most of the rest family and law-office employees.

Only two political notables joined Garcia at the podium. Neither was an elected official, and neither has political ties south of the Trinity River, in the contested district. Worse, both were forced to begin their remarks by explaining why they were supporting a former political enemy.

"I know some of you wonder why am I supporting Domingo Garcia," began lawyer Adelfa Callejo, whose family supported Darrell Jordan for mayor and who would support a rodent for state rep as long as the opponent was Roberto Alonzo, her archenemy.

"If anyone was out saying, 'Rene Castilla is supporting Domingo Garcia, they'd say, 'What?'" began Castilla, the former DISD school board president, whom Garcia once recruited a candidate to run against.

One elected official did finally show up--Justice of the Peace Diana Orozco--but she never approached the podium, and she didn't stay long. "Please don't mention that I'm here," she said when I approached her. "I'm so embarrassed. I was asked to meet someone here. I didn't know it was a campaign announcement for Domingo."

Conspicuously absent were the key people who had always helped Garcia on his campaigns--his inner circle of former law-school buddies and law associates and their wives, who had launched Garcia's political career, and then, with Garcia's help, launched their own. That group included the Alonzos, Dallas County Justice of the Peace Juan Jasso and his wife, Delia, and Dallas City Councilman Steve Salazar and his wife, Glenda, sister of Alonzo's wife Sylvana. Two other members of the inner circle--Mario Casarez, whom Garcia appointed to several city commissions, and lawyer Jose Angel Gutierrez, for whom Garcia had obtained several city contracts--were also noticeably absent. All are supporting Alonzo or staying publicly neutral.

Actually, Steve Salazar, who is supporting his brother-in-law, Alonzo, ought to be silently praying that Garcia wins this race. If he doesn't, it's a good bet that Garcia will take aim at Salazar next. "I know that's a possibility," Salazar says, "but when I ran for this seat, I made it clear to Domingo that I planned to run for re-election."

Details, details.
It seems clear that Garcia regards all these positions as his: He led the charge to create these Hispanic seats; he was the first one to get elected to one of them; he has the right to decide which friends should have which seats for how long.

Last summer, shortly after he'd lost the race for mayor, Garcia asked Alonzo to lunch at the Top of the Cliff restaurant in Alonzo's office building. According to Alonzo, Garcia was mellow, subdued, thoughtful. "He said, 'I still want to be involved. I want to be in a position because if you're not in a position, you don't have power.' He was thinking and thinking."

According to Alonzo, Garcia had been thinking about running for justice of the peace against their mutual friend Diana Orozco, the sitting justice of the peace they'd both strongly supported two years before. He'd thought about a position on the board of the Dallas County Community College District--the seat Steve Salazar had vacated to run for Garcia's council seat. And there was always the City Council. Perhaps, he told Alonzo, he'd move over to Chris Luna's district and run against him. Then, of course, there were always new lawsuits and the 2000 census poll to look forward to perhaps opening up the County Commissioners Court, the U.S. Congress, or U.S. Senate.

Garcia concedes he told Alonzo he'd considered moving to Luna's district, but only if Luna didn't run again. He denies eying either the DCCD board or Orozco's seat as justice of the peace.

Sitting there that day, listening to his friend's political fantasies, Alonzo couldn't help but think back to another benchmark conversation between them four years earlier, when a federal lawsuit and the 1990 census created the first predominantly Hispanic Dallas seats on the City Council and in the Texas Legislature.

The two men had been working together for seven years, cheek to jowl, to get Garcia elected to something. They had been successful only twice--getting him elected to the Democratic National Committee. Three separate bids for state rep' (against my husband, Oak Cliff incumbent Steve Wolens) had come up short. Finally, after so much hard work, success seemed assured. The two men were ready to divide up the spoils.

"I said, 'OK, Domingo, what do you want to do? Take your choice,' Alonzo recalls, referring to the November 1991 City Council race and the May 1992 Democratic primary for state rep'. "He said, 'I want to run for City Council, and then I want to run for state rep'.' I said, 'Domingo, you can't do that. You'll get killed.' And he said, 'But I've always wanted to be state rep'.' But I said, 'No, you pick.' So he took the council seat, which was the first one available." And Alonzo took the other.

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