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Chron Mayoral profile: Adrian Garcia

Here’s the third in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston, in this case on Adrian Garcia.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

The youngest of six children born to poor Mexican immigrants could soon occupy the mayor’s office of the nation’s fourth largest city – an unlikely success story that started in a tattered neighborhood on the near north side with a hand-me-down childhood in which English was a second language.

In truth, of course, the 54-year-old Garcia has already defied expectations. He did that when he retired from the police department and was elected to Houston City Council in 2003. On the surface, such a move seemed a Herculean jump for someone without money, political capital, or high-voltage connections. But the personable ex-cop who had worked the streets for decades knew everybody who was anybody, and many who weren’t, in his lifelong turf of District H.

Four years later came another huge leap. As 2008 dawned, the administration of Sheriff Tommy Thomas was on the verge of imploding, with allegations of ethical lapses, an embarrassing lawsuit that cost the county millions, and a controversy regarding racist and sexist emails. Garcia remembered reading an article about inmates dying in custody and thought he could do better.

He had never thought of a countywide office and was far from sure he could win. He knew he would be outspent and that he might struggle for support outside of Houston proper.

Once more fortune smiled. For the first time ever, the unions representing deputies pulled their support of the incumbent and backed him. With Barack Obama sweeping into office and carrying Democrats everywhere with him, Garcia was a shoo-in. He trounced Thomas to become Harris County’s first Latino sheriff, then easily won re-election in 2012.

Now he is hoping to be the “first Latino to …” once again. And true to form, it appears his timing – some might call it luck – could not be better. There is no incumbent in the non-partisan race, and Garcia’s six mayoral rivals do not include a major political or business figure. His fundraising totals have been impressive.

This is one of those rare times where I might have liked to have seen a ton of quotes from the various pundits, politicos, and self-styled experts in this town as a major part of the story. Garcia, more than any other candidate, has big positives and big negatives. He has indeed raised a crap-ton of money from a broad and diverse group of donors. Having been elected twice countywide in Presidential years and serving as Sheriff for seven years, he has more name recognition than any other candidate, and for sure has had more people vote for him in an election than anyone else on the ballot. He does have the “first Latino to…” historic potential, which gives him a clear edge among one bloc of voters and which may help entice low-propensity voters to come out. Against that, there are real questions about his qualifications and his record as Sheriff. A lot of Democrats are pissed at him for resigning and handing the job to a Republican, who has already undone several of Garcia’s accomplishments and generally been a big step backwards from our perspective. Immigration activists have been fiercely critical of Garcia for his support of 287g and Secure Communities, which could blunt any enthusiasm for him in the Latino community. I don’t know how to evaluate all these things – I can take my guesses, but who knows? I often don’t see a lot of value in news stories that are mostly the talk of professional talkers, but this is one of those times where I’d have liked to have read as many opinions as could be stuffed into one article, just to see what I could glean from it. It’s nice to know more of his personal story – having met Garcia back in 2003 when he first ran for District H, I knew some of it but not all of it – but the story of his Mayoral candidacy remains mysterious to me.

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