That’s the question, isn’t it?
It took only a few minutes at the District H candidate forum Thursday morning for discussion to turn to the elephant in the room.
“District H is supposed to be a Hispanic district,” said Edgar Colon, chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Political Action Committee, reading a question on behalf of an audience member. “Should it be represented by a Hispanic?”
In what is shaping up as a hard-fought runoff campaign between Houston police officer Ed Gonzalez and former public high school teacher Maverick Welsh to fill the City Council seat vacated by Adrian Garcia, that question looms as large as any other in a district originally drawn to elect a Latino.
Stace gives a nice answer to that.
I’ll be the first one to say it. No! It doesn’t have to be represented by an Hispanic. But when you have a highly qualified, progressive-minded product of the district, why not?
As a highly-educated Chicano myself, I’ve been proud to click on a Anglo candidate running against a brown person, especially when the brown person is not a progressive (cough-cough, Roy and/or Danny More-or-Less Mexicano). So, no, it’s not about race, or in this case, ethnicity. As a voter, I’m interested in having a highly qualified candidate with whom I can identify, whether it by that candidate’s story, or something else.
Stace supports Ed Gonzalez. As you know, I broke the tie in favor of Maverick Welsh. You can’t really go wrong either way. I was at that forum, and I thought both candidates answered the question deftly, without getting trapped by it. The right answer to me is that this district, like all of the others, should be represented by someone who can serve the needs of everyone in it. One could just as easily ask the question should District G be represented by an Anglo? Who should represent the city, in which no racial or ethnic group comprises a majority? I say the answer is the same across the board. In this particular case, we have two candidates who I think would fit the bill nicely. It’s up to all of us to ensure that whoever wins lives up to that.
Currently, District I Councilman James Rodriguez is the only Latino among 14 council members, in a city where Hispanics make up nearly 42 percent of the population.
The Department of Justice helped create District H when it forced the city to undertake redistricting in 1979, part of an effort to correct historic voting inequities in Houston and ensure more minority representation on the council. But the district, which includes the Heights, much of the old Second Ward just east of downtown and a wide swath that extends midway between the inner and outer loops around Interstate 45, has undergone dramatic changes since then.
Here’s something you may not know. I didn’t know it until I went looking through the historical election returns on the City Secretary’s webpage. The first election for District H in 1979 was won by Dale Gorczynski, who is now a Justice of the Peace in JP Precinct 1. Here are the returns from that election:
James M. Goins 1,181
Willie D. Hatchett 1,719
Herman Lauhoff 3,977
Russel Stanley 305
Anne Wheeler 2,824
Dale M. Gorczynski 3,274
Gorczynski won the runoff, then held the seat through the 1991 election, after which he did not run again. The first time that a Hispanic candidate won the District H seat was as far as I could tell the first time that a candidate with a recognizably Hispanic surname ran for it, in the open seat contest of 1993 in which Felix Fraga emerged victorious. I knew Gorczynski had been the District H member before Fraga, but I hadn’t realized he was the original Council member.
You can make of all that what you will. I found it interesting that this district that was drawn to be represented by a Hispanic has only recently been actually represented by a Hispanic for a majority of its existence. David Ortez has some tangential thoughts.