Politics makes strange enemies

Why Domingo Garcia is running against the father of his godson

Garcia says it was always understood that he would run for the City Council and Alonzo would run for state rep'.

Last year, the two men actually thought about, in effect, swapping their positions. Garcia was running for mayor, opening up his council seat. Alonzo was serving his second term in the Texas House, and he began to wonder if it might not be better for his law practice and his family to quit his legislative post, which took him to Austin for five months every other year, to run for Garcia's seat. That way, if Garcia lost the mayor's race, he could run for Alonzo's state seat.

The scheme collapsed when Alonzo decided to stay put. "It was too complicated," he says. "Plus, if I stayed in the Legislature, I'd start to build some seniority, which is how you start making things happen down in Austin. Of course, Domingo wishes I'd gone the other way on it."

Now--irony of ironies--Alonzo and Garcia will have to rely on those dreaded voters to determine their destinies.

Sitting with Garcia last week, it was clear to me that he believes he has this race wrapped up. Eighty-five percent of the people in Alonzo's state-rep' district were in Garcia's old council district, he informed me, and he carried 67 percent of the votes when he ran for the Council in 1991. (In 1993, he didn't have an opponent.) He also did well in this area when he ran for mayor. He walked door to door when he ran for state rep' in the past.

Yes, but this time you're running against your best friend, I reminded him. "The average voter out there doesn't know we're friends," Garcia says. "It's only the handful of politically active who know that."

On that point, he's mistaken. While the establishment media in town are all but ignoring this race, the Hispanic media are feasting on it--the No. 1 theme being that you never, ever turn on your compadre.

Councilman Steve Salazar sums up the sentiment nicely. "I asked my dad about it," Salazar says, referring to his 70-year-old father, a U.S. resident who moved here from Mexico 53 years ago, "and his response was, 'May God forgive him.' It's unheard of. It just doesn't happen. There's a bond between the church and the Hispanic community, and Domingo is willing to break that bond."

Luis Delagarza, talk-show host for Hispanic radio station KXEB, puts it this way: "People call in to the radio stations and say, 'How can you expect me to give you my vote when you do this to your compadre?'"

Delagarza and two Hispanic newspaper owners to whom I talked last week said that Garcia has other problems besides loyalty.

For one thing, they said, Alonzo has built himself an impressive public-relations machine in his four years as a state representative. He sends the 10 Hispanic newspapers, two Hispanic TV stations, and five Hispanic radio stations a six-to-eight-page missive on legislative matters every week. And Alonzo never misses a community event--a lunch, a dinner, a reception, a neighborhood meeting--no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.

"If I printed everything Alonzo sent me I'd have to change the name of the newspaper to the Alonzo News," says Marcos Suarez, owner and founder of El Hispano, circulation 35,000. "This is the type of political machine that is hard to beat, and I don't think Domingo realizes this. If you ask me, I don't know what the hell Alonzo has done for the community. I can't name one thing he's done. But he is everywhere, and that builds votes."

True, Alonzo stumbled by trying unsuccessfully to forge a truce between Hispanics and John Wiley Price last month. But Garcia's been completely invisible to the community since he went on the City Council four years ago, these people say, and that's worse. "Before the Council, Domingo was like Alonzo--not since," says Suarez, who recently published an editorial strongly criticizing Garcia's decision to run. "He lost track of what is happening in the barrio, and that's where the election will be decided."

Not only did he lose track, he flat-out ignored the barrio when he ran for mayor--focusing instead on Anglo neighborhoods where he wasn't well-known. Worse, he did the whole staunch conservative thing--an image that the Hispanic community knew was bogus. Says Suarez: "I said to him, 'How can you say you're a conservative? You were the guy in chains in front of City Hall two years before.' People remember these things."

Sergio Puerto, editor of Novedades News--the newspaper that published Garcia's Christmas-party picture--says that Garcia's bid for state rep', like his chameleon race for mayor, only confuses people. "I don't think it's very healthy for the community for Domingo to run, and I think at the end Domingo will find the voters are the ones who give you a position."

It really is a shame that Garcia is running. Of the three candidates, Garcia is probably the sharpest, and he's certainly the most polished and most articulate. (West Dallas lead-smelter activist Luis Sepulveda is the third man running but has little name ID in Oak Cliff; when he ran for mayor last year, he captured only 2 percent of the vote.) Garcia moves more effortlessly in circles outside Oak Cliff; he contributed greatly to the thin intellectual dialogue at City Hall.

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