Farmers Branch Has Spent Five Years and Millions of Dollars Trying to Keep Out Mexicans. Is It Time for a Truce?

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On a recent afternoon, an investment adviser and Farmers Branch Rotary Club president named Jack Viveros lumbered up to a table outside the local Starbucks and eased into the chair. He's a bluff, enthusiastically profane man with a whitening goatee, and his 6-foot-3, nearly 300-pound frame scarcely fit into the chair.

He says he isn't afraid of any man, least of all the kind of man who allegedly threatened him when Viveros ran for council member Harold Froelich's seat last year. He claims Mayor Pro Tem David Koch called him up after he announced his candidacy. "[Koch] said, 'Hey, I can't believe you're actually running. That's very disappointing.'"

Koch, he claims, said he'd get him appointed to a board if he dropped out.

Koch disputes almost every aspect of his story and says Viveros called him, asking for help. Nor, he says, did he ever offer Viveros a seat on a board in exchange for dropping out. "If you call that offering a position, I told him to submit an application and see what happens. We have people applying regularly for a board."

The morning after his alleged conversation with Koch, Viveros claims someone called his cell phone. "It was Sam [Aceves, a Latino and City Council gadfly who was a fierce supporter of the immigration ordinance]. He said, 'Do you know who I am?'" Viveros said that he did.

"'It's in your best interest that you do not continue your campaign,'" Viveros claims Aceves said. He then informed Aceves that he had recorded their conversation. Viveros declined to produce the recording for a reporter, but Aceves was later indicted on charges of coercion against a candidate. He declined to discuss the charge.

"The feds followed me for the last six weeks of the campaign," Viveros says with a chuckle. "They wanted to make sure I made it to the election. I thought it was comical that they'd want to spend that much time and money, but he was interfering with an election."

The Department of Justice had been monitoring elections in Farmers Branch for three out of the last four years. If true, the incident fit in with a political climate that had grown acidic. But the only other indignity Viveros claims he suffered during the remainder of his campaign was a question at a candidate forum leveled at him alone. Reading from a card submitted by someone in the audience, a moderator asked, "Because of your nationality, would you be any more lenient on illegal immigrants, and if so, why?"

"I was livid. I said, 'First of all, let me explain this to you. I was born in Corpus Christi. My parents filed proper paperwork and became citizens. I find it offensive you would ask me that.'"

But nationality or, rather, ethnicity, was clearly on everyone's mind, and when the votes were tallied, Viveros lost by some 400 to Froelich, becoming the latest in an unbroken line of unsuccessful Hispanic candidates, most of whom say they were intimidated in one way or another. There was Ruben Rendon, a school psychologist, and Elizabeth Villafranca, owner of the Mexican food chain Cuquitas, who had earlier been denied entry into the Rotary Club. The very first, however, was José Galvez. Galvez pours slabs and sells concrete. In 2007, he ran against Tim Scott. A naturalized citizen, born in Mexico, Galvez shared a ballot with the ordinance referendum that turned out voters en masse. "It was a little bit rough," he says. "When I would visit households, they'd say, 'Hey, you illegal immigrant, get out of our country!' It's just unfortunate."

Galvez lost the three-way race with a scant 14 percent of the votes. Though Latinos now held the majority in Farmers Branch, they represented only 24 percent of eligible voters. With 66 percent of the eligible vote, whites maintained an unshakable grasp on City Hall.

Still, there are signs that some in Farmers Branch are working to unite the divided city. As early voting kicked off in May, Galvez ambled up to candidate Jeff Fuller in the City Hall parking lot. He had just cast his vote for him. He shook the hand of Rick Johnson, who supported both Fuller and the immigration ordinances. He's often described as a former O'Hare-faction lackey, accused of following opposing candidates as they conducted knock-and-talks. (For his part, Johnson says that while he campaigned on O'Hare's behalf, he didn't take instructions from the candidate and doesn't consider himself a lackey. He also denies he ever followed opposing candidates.) The two men share a bitter history, and this handshake was no mean feat.

Even that day, there was little common ground between them on the issue that looms over the town. Johnson still believed the town's Spanish-speaking enclaves are a breeding ground for crime. Galvez still gets questioning looks when he walks through the aisles of the grocery store in dusty work clothes. But both were voting Fuller. "I've got people in my campaign that two or three years ago weren't talking to each other and hated each other," Fuller says.

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Brantley Hargrove