A seat at the leadership table is just what local Hispanics thought they’d gotten when schools trustee Juan Rangel was chosen as Fort Worth’s first Hispanic school board president, with the support of a multi-ethnic coalition. After serving for two months in an interim position, he was officially named board president in February.
In a school district where almost 60 percent of the students are Hispanic, Rangel’s elevation — coupled with the board’s hiring of Walter Dansby as its first African-American superintendent — was hailed by browns and blacks alike as a major step forward.
The euphoria didn’t last long. On May 8, in what Vasquez called a coup, the board voted 5-4 to replace Rangel, a 12-year board incumbent from the Near South Side, with T. A. Sims, an African-American from the far Southeast Side. Sims has been a trustee for 28 years.
Trustee Tobi Jackson, an Anglo, made the motion to replace Rangel, with support from two other Anglos, Judy Needham and Norm Robbins, and both black trustees, Sims and Christene Moss.
“Not one of the Latino members of the board was named for a top position,” Rangel said. “This has not been lost on the community. People are watching, they are not stupid.”
The action could have “a major impact” on the congressional race, he said. “What happened to me will cause an outpouring of the Hispanic vote in 33,” he said.
Rangel and others see his ouster as an indicator that the Anglo power structure in Fort Worth is scared of losing its grip. Their surrogates on the board took aim at him in order to weaken the movement toward Hispanic political influence, Rangel said.
Even black leaders such as Luther Perry were stunned. Perry, a founder of the Black, Brown and Tan Coalition that was the moving force behind the hiring of Dansby, spoke on Rangel’s behalf at the meeting.
Vasquez said a divide-and-conquer tactic is being used in Fort Worth.
“Both Juan and I looked past color in selecting the superintendent. … But for those who voted to oust Juan, their fear of Latinos [is] evident,” he said.
Rangel said Anglo business leaders had hoped not to wake the sleeping giant of Hispanic electoral power, but “that’s exactly what’s been done.
“It is backfiring,” he said. “What happened to me will be a game changer, not just in 33 but in [District] 90 as well.”
It’s no surprise that the racial politics of District 33 are spilling out of its wonky Etch-A-Sketch boundaries. Lon Burnam, whose statehouse district includes much of Fort Worth and northwest Tarrant County, hadn’t had a Democratic primary challenger in 16 years — until school trustee Carlos Vasquez decided to run. The potential Hispanic influence in Burnam’s District 90 is even stronger than in the new congressional district: 71 percent of voting-age residents versus District 33’s 61 percent.