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Councilman Chuck Silcox dies at age 65

FORT WORTH --Chuck Silcox, the longest-serving city councilman in town who was also celebrated as the orneriest man in local politics, died late Friday at the age of 65.

He was hospitalized at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Monday for complications of prostate cancer.

"He was just an old junkyard populist," said Jim Lane, a former councilman who served with Mr. Silcox in his early days.

"He was the kind of guy, once he believed something, he wasn't going to back down. Once he said he was going to support you, he'd support you. Once he said he wasn't going to support you -- you didn't have to worry about that."

Charles Ray Silcox was born Oct. 8, 1943, in Fort Worth.

He graduated from Paschal High School in 1961 and attended Tyler Junior College and Texas Christian University, although he did not receive a degree.

He worked at General Dynamics from 1965 to 1970, then worked for two janitorial services before starting his own company, Quasar Services, in 1985.

He and his wife, Brenda, were married in 1980.

A fiscal conservative

Mr. Silcox was elected to the City Council in 1991. He defeated William Garrison, a veteran councilman who was found to have violated conflict-of-interest rules in 1989. His 17 years on the council put him ahead of long-time members Louis Zapata (14 years) and Becky Haskin (13 years).

Garrison raised and spent $50,000 in the election. Silcox ran a low-budget campaign, mostly financed with personal loans.

"I think people are saying they want something to change at City Hall," he said at the time.

Shortly after that, he started pounding away at the four themes that defined his career -- the Southwest Parkway, fiscal conservatism, attention to the needs of his neighborhoods and a street-fighter's joy in a good political feud.

"Basic services, I want to see adequate. Everything else needs to be cut," he declared during his first round of budget talks.

In 1993, Mr. Silcox faced a well-funded challenge from oil industry executive Steve Palko. Silcox got 54 percent of the vote. From then on, he was re-elected easily every two years, and didn't even draw an opponent in 1999 and 2005.

Even when Fort Worth was awash in street crime in the early 1990s, Silcox railed against spending tax money on social programs, such as the Comin' Up gang prevention program. He spent much of the 1990s bumping heads with then-Mayor Kay Granger and former Police Chief Thomas Windham.

A colorful politician

Mr. Silcox tooled around southwest Fort Worth in a GMC Suburban that grew increasingly battered over the years, hitting neighborhood meetings and sometimes showing up at crime scenes.

He was easy to spot in a crowd.

Mr. Silcox was tall, loud and dressed in clothes that were 10 years behind the times. He hated flying, so he never went on any of the junkets that council members took to foreign cities. When he ate in restaurants, he told the cook "nothing green on my plate," Lane said. If he didn't like what the caterers served at a City Council meeting, he'd send his assistant out for a sack of fast food.

He was even at odds with the rules of grammar -- he'd start a sentence, change the subject and end a third sentence all in one breath. He consistently urged men in their 50s to get a "prostrate exam" with an extra "r."

Mayor Mike Moncrief once said Mr. Silcox was "so conservative he squeaked." Mr. Silcox voted against tax abatements for big businesses, even those that were supposed to attract jobs. He opposed the Trinity River Vision project, a multimillion-dollar plan to redevelop the north side by diverting the river and removing the flood-control levees.

He was close to the police and firefighters associations, and fought to give them more bargaining rights. He also protected their interests as a member of the city pension fund board.

"Chuck Silcox was a true friend in every sense of the word to police officers, firefighters and the citizens of Fort Worth," said Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers' Association.

The Southwest Parkway, also known as State Highway 121-T, was one of the few big-ticket programs he supported. He was close to the late developer Cass Edwards and state Rep. Charlie Geren, whose families owned a lot of land in the path of the parkway. In August, he said the parkway should be named after Charlie Hillard, a longtime car dealer in southwest Fort Worth who was another backer of the parkway.

On Saturday, Moncrief called Silcox "a strong thread in the fabric of this community."

"If you take a look in Chuck's office, you'll find a toy bulldog on his desk. It's an ideal representation of Chuck's tenacious approach to fighting for the people who he was elected to represent," Moncrief said. "Whether it was lower taxes, the care of animals or something as small as bagging grass clippings, Chuck was a fighter."

Political fights

Naturally, Mr. Silcox had to deal with some payback from all that head-butting. When he got a little too vocal about the Trinity River Vision, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger wrote a letter to the Federal Highway Administration raising questions about the Southwest Parkway.

In 2006, Moncrief engineered a vote that stripped Mr. Silcox of a largely symbolic title, mayor pro tem. Mr. Silcox took it in stride:

"I will look forward to being the old Silcox. Democracy is asking questions," he said at the time.

In 2005 and 2007, Mr. Silcox pushed for tighter rules on natural gas drilling in the city. Mostly, it seemed that he wanted to protect neighborhoods from the downside. But it also irked Moncrief, which Mr. Silcox seemed to enjoy.

Sometimes, it looked like modern times were about to overrun Mr. Silcox. In 2007, he told the crowd at a Republican rally to support Chris Turner in a City Council race instead of the openly gay Joel Burns.

"He's married to a female," Mr. Silcox said, referring to Turner, "and the other's married to a male. You make your own mind up."

It was ironic because in 2000, Mr. Silcox voted to extend the city's anti-discrimination ordinance to include gays.

"This is an anti-discrimination ordinance, nothing more," he said at the time.

Burns won the election. Mr. Silcox came to his victory party.

Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks pointed out, though, that Silcox often voted for economic development projects in her inner-city district.

"It's all about neighborhoods, kid," she remembered him telling her. Silcox also pushed for a ban on smoking in restaurants, she said.

"He was much more complex than perhaps people thought," she said.

Hicks said he could play-fight, too. Silcox once dinged her with a confetti-filled Easter egg, leading to all-out war.

"It was a free-for-all in the middle of the council meeting," Hicks said.

Mr. Silcox was treated for prostate cancer in 2007. In June, he announced publicly that the cancer had returned, and that he was being treated at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston.

A month later, Mr. Silcox made another shocking announcement. He voted to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of city money on a long-range plan to help the homeless. The reason, he said, was because his brother had been in and out of homeless shelters for decades. Mr. Silcox described how he and his wife would help his brother get treated for alcoholism, help him rent an apartment, only to have him relapse.

He agreed to support the city's long-term homeless plan as long as the city pursued the plan, instead of putting it on a shelf.

"If it sits, I'll take my vote back," he said.

Funeral arrangements were not available early Saturday afternoon.

Silcox's council seat

Chuck Silcox served City Council District 3, which covers southwest Fort Worth.

Under the City Charter, Silcox's position remains open until the next regular election day, which is May 9, City Secretary Marty Hendrix said. The city can fill the position sooner by asking the governor to call a special election, but it's unclear if city officials will do that.

Until the election, the council will have eight members. In the event of a 4-4 tie, any motion that's up for a vote will fail.