Fort Worth school board race proof of change in Texas politics

Posted Saturday, Apr. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy Three outspoken north siders are running for the Fort Worth school board.

None is named Zapata or Valdez.

As proof that Fort Worth's single-member elections have come of age, three 40ish leaders are waging one of the most energetic campaigns in years.

"It almost brings a tear to my eye," said former Mayor Pro Tem Louis Zapata, now 78, the leader who opened doors downtown for Fort Worth's original Hispanic neighborhood.

"Everybody's out there trying to make a difference. It's like a new generation is spreading its wings."

School board Vice President and elementary school teacher Carlos Vasquez, 45, faces board predecessor and podiatrist Camille Rodriguez, also 45, and juvenile probation officer Jacinto "Cinto" Ramos Jr., 38.

In forums, both Vasquez and Rodriguez have taken a share of the credit for improved achievement scores at schools on the north side, where all three candidates live.

Ramos brings new ideas from his career dealing with young people.

(The remapped district now also includes Rosen Heights, Diamond Hill and west-side neighborhoods Linwood, Alamo Heights and Arlington Heights east of Clover Lane.)

The son of Brownsville teachers, Vasquez is a former south and southeast Fort Worth principal who has outspoken views about the district and takes them to the campaign trail.

Rodriguez and Ramos, both from long-standing north-side families, speak energetically about dropout and truancy problems and promoting student achievement.

Frankly, this is one of the best lineups in decades.

Now retired after 30 years as a Tarrant County justice of the peace, Manuel T. Valdez, 66, remembers when he and Zapata ran lonely campaigns.

"There were many years when there was just no involvement or representation," he said.

"It was the same two or three people running all the time. I like politics opening up and younger people getting involved."

Zapata pointed to new enthusiasm stirred in part by Dallas Democrat Domingo Garcia's ongoing congressional campaign.

But political science professor Jim Riddlesperger of TCU credited the single-member system itself.

"You used to have one downtown group controlling the whole city, but now the leadership is closer to the people," he said.

Fort Worth and Texas will see more strong Hispanic candidates, he said.

"Texas is changing in a way most voters and even some politicians haven't noticed yet," he said.

So is Texas politics.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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