Cracking the Club

Latinos find little sympathy from Commissioners Court

"It's curious," observes Murray, "that John, a veteran, experienced politician about to move into a very demanding race, would get involved in what is shaping up to be a bitter fight."

Consultant Marc Campos, whose clients include Brown, Alvarado and Gallegos, vows to make Castillo a marked man in a county race.

"All they have to do is resurrect those [FBI] tapes that were played in court, of John accepting a [cash-filled] envelope," Campos says of Castillo's opponents. "To a lot of us, a candidacy by John is an embarrassment."

Can't get no satisfaction: Hispanic officials, led by state Representative Rick Noriega (right), criticize the county redistricting plan.
Tim Fleck
Can't get no satisfaction: Hispanic officials, led by state Representative Rick Noriega (right), criticize the county redistricting plan.
Can't get no satisfaction: Hispanic officials, led by state Representative Rick Noriega (right), criticize the county redistricting plan.
Tim Fleck
Can't get no satisfaction: Hispanic officials, led by state Representative Rick Noriega (right), criticize the county redistricting plan.

Campos says that after the fall city election, "I'm going to spend a whole lot of my time making sure John Castillo feels political misery as he runs for county commissioner."

Possible Anglo candidates on the Democratic side are Isbell and Steve Phelps, a Pasadena appointee to the Port of Houston Commission. Phelps is close to incumbent Fonteno, who may back Phelps if he gets in the race.

Early consensus Republican candidates are state Representative Robert Talton and term-limited City Councilman Rob Todd. Consultant Allen Blakemore is working with Todd to project a populist message to moderate Democrats and conservatives in Precinct 2. Historically, city officials who've run for county seats have not done well. Take for example former councilwoman Eleanor Tinsley, who lost to Commissioner Eversole in 1990.

Blakemore figures Todd will be an exception to the rule because of his flamboyant role as a council opponent to Mayor Brown.

"He's happy to sue the mayor, sue Metro; he's ready to go toe-to-toe with government for the little guy," says Blakemore. "Here's a guy who's ready to go kick the city of Houston in the balls at every turn."

Democrat McClung figures both Talton and Todd have drawbacks. By his reasoning, Talton is likely too conservative to win in the general election. Conversely, Todd would probably have trouble with hyperconservatives in a primary because of his council high jinks, including a much-talked-about affair with colleague Bert Keller's wife.

Blakemore admits he'd relish a Todd-versus-Castillo matchup.

"Castillo has very narrow appeal, is not a particularly good campaigner, and should have substantial difficulty raising money. Hey, what's not to like there." Isbell would be a more solid candidate, Blakemore says, but he is little known outside Pasadena and has his own set of political enemies.

"He's been so involved in the Hatfield and McCoy Pasadena politics that a sizable group knows him well and really doesn't like him."

While McClung has long-standing ties to former mayor Isbell, he sees one potential candidate over the horizon who could run the table in Precinct 2.

"Sylvia Garcia could get in it and beat anybody in the primary, and anybody in the general," says McClung. He's the man who helped talk Garcia into challenging and beating then-city controller Lloyd Kelley.

Ironically, in the bellwether 1992 congressional race, Garcia came in third behind Green and Reyes. Had she and Reyes not made the runoff, McClung and many other political observers believe, Garcia would be a congresswoman today. Those close to the controller say she's been urged to run for commissioner by a diverse group of politicos, including Metro chair Robert Miller and state Senator Rodney Ellis. Garcia is expected to be re-elected easily as controller this fall, and she could run for commissioner without resigning her city office in 2002.

Garcia plays down her own interest in the race but stresses the necessity of getting a Hispanic voice on Commissioners Court.

"Now more than ever, there's really no excuse not to have a precinct that has a majority voting population that is Hispanic," says Garcia, "because that's where Harris County is going."

And could that also be Garcia's future political destination?

"I'll think about it some more, now that people have been so flattering," allows Garcia. The controller, who had an unsuccessful race for county attorney, concludes, "I thought about going to county government before, so it's certainly not a new idea for me."

That should really give the good ol' boys on the court something to chew on.

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