Whipping boy

John Loza learns that making friends is easy for a city council member. Keeping them is harder.

As the May 1 election nears, the race has bitterly divided former allies. This race marks the first time that Loza's political views have cost him a friend, but he has more than just a choleric ex-plan commissioner to contend with. Albertson's proposal is pending before the council, and a growing number of East Dallas residents are joining Vaca's campaign. Increasingly, their complaints about Loza are being echoed in other neighborhoods, where residents are beginning to wonder where Loza's loyalties lie.

For his part, Loza still prides himself as an independent and says he doesn't take marching orders from the business community or anyone else. While Loza has championed big-ticket projects such as the arena and the Trinity River levees, he has resisted pressure from Mayor Kirk and his colleagues on other issues. More often than not, Loza also has supported less controversial projects favored by neighborhood associations. If not for his support of Albertson's, Loza likely wouldn't be the only incumbent with a significant opponent.

According to the latest campaign finance reports, Loza's performance at the Breakfast Group netted some contributions, but they hardly amount to a pot of gold: $500 from the Breakfast Group's PAC and an additional $1,350 from some of its members out of $12,225 in contributions. The full extent of Loza's backing from the establishment won't be known until after the election, when the next round of reports is due.

If Vaca's report is any indication, Loza now faces exactly the sort of grassroots campaign he waged to beat Brenda Reyes. A part-time student and professional mediator, Vaca has raised $7,643, most of it from arena opponents.

The District 2 race serves as a reminder that neighborhood associations have a stake in city politics and that they are increasingly impatient with city officials who embrace expensive projects while basic services, such as code enforcement and street repairs, are neglected. That, combined with the distrust generated by developers who barrage the city with requests for variances to codes intended to protect neighborhoods, has helped turn Loza's friends into enemies.

What's more, the race has spilled beyond the borders of Loza's district in East Dallas, where neighborhoods are divided by twisting political boundaries as well as by class and ethnicity.

It's a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world except for Loza.
L-O-Z-A. Loza.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the students at St. Mark's School would serenade Loza with their twist on The Kinks' hit about a boy who falls for a cross-dresser named Lola.

Life at St. Mark's was tricky for young Loza: His intelligence put him at the head of his class, and he was an honor-roll student, but it couldn't make up for his blue-collar roots. That, plus a meek personality, made him an irresistible target.

"Ah, I can hear it now," says one former classmate, who giggles as he recalls how the boys would tease Loza. "The poor guy. He had a high voice. He was kind of chubby, and he was timid. He was a dweeb. That's the bottom line."

If the Marksmen yearbook, class of 1981, is any indication, the taunting Loza endured at St. Mark's took on a harder edge. The biography of Senor Bajito, or "Mr. Little Man," as he was known to his mostly Anglo classmates, includes made-up "quotes" from Loza next to his senior picture: "Did you say Spic?" and "Now, for the last time, I was born here in the U.S."

On a recent Monday afternoon, Loza slips into Spanish as he orders the catfish plate at Azteca, a restaurant on an industrial stretch of East Grand Avenue near Fair Park. Loza's outfit of gray slacks, blue suit coat, and a red sweater pulled over a white shirt resembles his St. Mark's uniform. The prep-school look is completed with a high school ring, which he absently strokes.

Loza says the fact that he was the only Hispanic in his class was not a problem at St. Mark's, a training ground for the sons of Dallas' upper class. But his father was a mailman and his mother a telephone operator, and Loza felt the pains of class-consciousness. He was as smart as anyone in his class, but Loza was never accepted into the club.

"It wasn't so much that people were snobby. It's one of those situations where there's a difference, and you can't get around it. You know, the kids were driving really nice cars, and there I was with my '71 Chevy Malibu," says Loza, who's a bit shy on the subject. "It wasn't so much envy as much as I felt awkward," he continues, requiring some prodding before offering an example. "If I was hanging out with friends, I guess I'd rather go over to their place rather than have them come over to mine, that kind of thing."

At age 35, Loza is much thinner today than he was in high school and a bit thinner than when he was elected--a subtle change that prompted some vicious gossips at City Hall to speculate whether the city's only openly gay councilman has AIDS. In fact, when he was 28, Loza was diagnosed with diabetes--a disease aggravated by stress that can cause weight loss.

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