Archive for June 17th, 2014

Former City Council Member, political strategist, Latino activist John Castillo is no longer with us. John was a true pioneer in Latino politics here in H-Town.

John was one of the most knowledgeable individuals I ever ran across. He was a fun guy to be around. He had a great sense of humor and was one of the best at wisecracks.

He was at the forefront in the fight for City of H-Town City Council single member districts and helped draw up the original lines.

He helped usher in the Latino voter engagement effort in Harris County. He knew where to go find Latino votes.

He was an Executive Assistant to two H-Town Mayors. He headed up a few City departments and agencies. He was the consummate City Hall insider and helped get us a seat at the table in city politics.

There may have been a couple or so times when we were not on the same side in a political campaign, I don’t ever recall where we didn’t get along though. That’s the kind of guy he was.

When you go over the history of H-Town modern day politics, John was a significant figure and pioneer for sure. Here is the Chron story on John:

John Castillo, a longtime architect of Latino political involvement in Houston who served three terms on City Council and helped guide successors into the District I seat he held for six years, died Sunday. He was 75.

“John Castillo was among the early political leaders in the Latino community,” said Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez. “Along with his brother-in-law, Leonel Castillo, they paved the way for so many young people.”

John Castillo’s campaigning and influence helped propel Leonel into the office of city controller, just as he did for numerous other Latino leaders from Houston’s East Side. Leonel Castillo died last November.

Ben Reyes, known as the godfather of local Latino politics before being convicted of bribery on City Council, said the deaths of John and Leonel Castillo solidify the end of an era.

“Leonel was the heart and soul of the Latino political movement, and John was the brains,” said Reyes, who was recruited into politics by John Castillo. “The two of them set the pace for all the rest of us.”

Local leaders said John Castillo was the first in Houston to develop a strategy to mobilize Hispanic voters, train candidates and guide them through elections. They lauded his role in a 1979 lawsuit against the city that led to the creation of single-member districts and opened the door for greater minority representation on City Council. Others recalled a successful scheme to sneak dozens of false delegates wearing fake badges into the state Democratic convention in a bid to add Latino voices to the board.

“Back in the ’70s, we didn’t really have mentors,” said Marc Campos, a consultant who often worked alongside and for Castillo during his decades in politics. “We were all learning back then. He was probably the first real numbers guy we had.”

Born Juan Felipe Espinosa Castillo, the first of 17 children of John V. and Enriqueta Castillo, John Castillo was the first in his family to attend college.

Attempts to reach family members Monday were unsuccessful.

He told an interviewer for an oral history kept at the University of Texas at Arlington that his family lived east of downtown in a six-room home “in a barrio called El Alacran,” or “The Scorpion.” He said he appreciated the negotiation skills he learned living in such a large family and his parents’ emphasis on learning, paying for him to attend private Catholic schools.

Castillo credited his father’s involvement in starting a local autoworkers union as his first introduction to politics, but said his interest and skills solidified over the seven years it took him to pay his way through the University of Houston as a mathematics major.

Lifetime achievement

As he was graduating, he worked on the campaign of Lauro Cruz, the area’s first Mexican-American state representative. He also was instrumental in the campaigns of Roman Martinez, Mario Gallegos, Tina Reyes and Ben Reyes, earning him a Hispanic Heritage Award for Lifetime Achievement from Mayor Annise Parker in 2010.

“I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at the council table,” Parker said Monday. “He was a calm, patient man who had excellent institutional memory. Though he faced legal difficulties, he never wavered in his commitment to the people of Houston.”

Shortly after taking office in 1996, Castillo was accused along with two other councilmen in a bribery scheme to influence a city contract for a convention center hotel project. Two federal trials ended in hung juries and the prosecutors dismissed the charges in 1999.
The scandal, which led to the conviction of Reyes, did not deter District I voters from twice re-electing Castillo to City Council.

‘He was a gentleman’

Rob Todd, a former councilman elected the same year as Castillo, said he appreciated his professionalism, even when Todd voted against the hotel contract at the center of the FBI investigation.

“He always worked with me. He never took it out on me,” Todd said. “He was a gentleman.”

He chuckled as he remembered Castillo’s first term and his immediate ability to lead while Todd and other freshmen still were learning the ropes.

Former councilman James Rodriguez said Castillo did not hoard his institutional knowledge, sharing it freely with the campaigns he supported and leaders he mentored.

“On several occasions he had set aside time to go over and help me out on the city budget,” Rodriguez said. “I had a leg up out of all the other candidates.”

Even before Castillo was elected to office, a decision that divided the Latino political establishment that did not want to lose one of their best men behind the scenes, he wielded significant authority.

“If you wanted to get something done with an elected official, it was best to go to John first and get his blessing,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, who said she respected Castillo even when they were on opposite sides of an issue. “He had a way of being the intellectual voice of every campaign, and once he was at City Council, he was seen as very statesmanlike.”

After a failed bid for Harris County Precinct 2 commissioner in 2001, Castillo slipped into a quiet, personal life, friends said.

Funeral arrangements by Crespo Funeral Homes are pending.

I for one appreciate John’s contributions to our community and our politics.

No MLB question today.

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