But Burnam isn’t convinced skin color will play a pivotal role in the race.
“As much as I would like to see Latino turnout increase, that Rangel and Vasquez think that their internal, divisive squabbles will inspire voters just shows how out of touch they are with our community,” he said.
Vasquez said he’s “amazed by the hypocrisy” of Anglo elected officials complaining about minorities voting based on race.
“For how long has that happened with Tom and Jones and Smith and all the other races?” Vasquez said. “Give me a break here. I would hope that those people turning out for me will do it because of my record and what I’ve done for the school district.”
Aracely Chavez, the fireball leader of the Tarrant County Tejano Democrats, said that Rangel’s ouster prompted her group and others Latino organizations to mount get-out-the-vote campaigns with volunteers going door to door to register voters.
“There are 1.5 million Latinos in the Dallas-Fort Worth region,” she said, and it is “time [for them] to have representation. …There is nothing wrong with Latinos voting for Latinos.”
Local African-Americans already have representation, Vasquez said. “Marc Veasey is a good guy, but you know what? They have representation in Congress, and I believe that’s Eddie Bernice Johnson out of Dallas,” he said. “And it amazes me that the Dallas Morning News and the Star- Telegram are endorsing Veasey, because it always seems like they never seem to find a good quality Latino.”
Not so fast, said Eddie Griffin, another longtime community and political activist and former Black Panther who has turned his early radicalism into a positive force by mentoring young black at-risk students, working in campaigns, and volunteering in the district’s schools.
Griffin supports a true long shot in this crowded District 33 race — Kyev Tatum — and sees another side of the minority vote coin. Griffin predicted that the sheer number of Latinos on the ballot will work in Tatum’s favor.
“There are so many candidates with Hispanic surnames [six out of 11] that I see the Hispanic vote splitting every which way, neutralizing their vote,” he said.
He also believes the other two black candidates, Veasey and Hicks, will split the traditional black vote, thereby giving Tatum, who has had a visible presence in the community for years as a civil rights activist, minister, and grassroots organizer, a chance to make the runoff.
On the city council, Hicks represents a predominantly black and brown, low-income area. Veasey’s statehouse district is also heavily minority and low-income. A recent Hicks mailer featured a picture of a large shark with its mouth open, a jab at Veasey’s wife, Tonya, who owns a public relations firm and has lobbied on behalf of payday loan giant Cash America.
Hicks battled the payday loan and pawnshop industry, which had more businesses in her council district than any other in the city. She criticized Tonya Veasey for her successful push two years ago to get the city to loosen restrictions on additional such businesses opening up there.
“Money from Cash America’s feeding frenzy has helped fund Veasey’s campaigns in the past,” the mailer said.
Veasey countered that Hicks, too, has accepted money from the pawn industry in the past, and he said his wife no longer lobbies for pawn and payday lending.
“You don’t want the proliferation of any one particular industry to cluster like that,” he said.
Hicks is seeking the congressional seat despite widespread support for her to continue on the city council. She’s a candidate with a skimpy campaign budget but plenty of drive and optimism about her chances.
Her council district “is very diverse, and it’s the same with ,” she said. “The issues in many cases are the same, when it comes to education, jobs, healthcare, women’s issues. That’s exactly why I’m running.
“As someone who has experienced discrimination, not only as an African-American but as a woman, I cannot walk in the shoes as a Latino but I certainly understand a number of the issues,” she said. “There is no one who will work the issues and be engaged more than I will.”
J. R. Molina, a Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer and former assistant district attorney and municipal court judge, is one of the six Hispanics on the ballot. He noted the “horrendous” dropout rate of Hispanic students and the fact that there is no four-year state university in Fort Worth. He is against shutting down funds for the production of Lockheed’s F-35 in spite of the Pentagon’s decision not to buy the plane and the project’s ballooning price tag.
“This could lay off thousands of folks, and that just can’t happen in this economy,” he said, adding that he believes there are plenty of other countries that will buy the aircraft.
Candidate Jason Roberts, the only Anglo man in the race, is a restaurant owner, information technology professional, and a primary organizer behind the revitalization of Oak Cliff.
Steve Salazar served on the Dallas City Council for 14 years and touts his humble origins as the son of migrant farm workers who made Dallas their home in the 1950s. Salazar received his law degree at 23 and runs a law office in Dallas. Since 2000 he has also been Texas president for the Mexican-American Democrats.
Carlos Quintanilla is a Dallas-based activist for children and immigrants. He made a name for himself as “a champion of in-your-face activism,” as the Dallas Observer put it, and has spent years calling for better political representation of Hispanics and fighting against gang violence and drug peddling to teenagers.
Chrysta Castaneda is a Dallas attorney and the only Anglo woman running. She has worked as a volunteer with her husband, the executive director for Turtle Creek Recovery, a mental illness treatment facility. She also devotes her time to promoting early childhood education and encouraging women to run for office.
Tatum said he is running to “hold those accountable” who have for too long denied minorities and the poor a place at the table, echoing the sentiments of Rangel’s constituents.
“District 33 has opened that door,” he said.
Tatum grew up in Fort Worth’s now-demolished low-income housing project, Ripley Arnold. His was the first black family to integrate the project, built in the 1940s for whites only. His single mother supported her large family as a maid and school bus driver. Tatum, a graduate of Trimble Tech, said he escaped poverty by attending college on a football scholarship.
Tatum’s focus is on health and education issues for those who have “never had a seat at the table,” he said, pointing to the district’s deep poverty, one of the highest infant mortality rates in North Texas, and more than 100 low-performing schools, according to the latest demographic data.
Today, along with his ministerial work, he has a part-time job at Tech as a mentor to students, runs after-school centers for kids, and is CEO of Urban Public, a consulting firm that focuses on urban education, public policy, and community development.
In a district where the average income is $31,000, Griffin thinks the very fact that Tatum is not raising or spending thousands of dollars is a positive.
“He can raise his voice [instead of raising money] and show his people the work he has done in the field,” Griffin said.