Lonely at the top?

January 6, 2009 3:35:52 PM PST
With a new sheriff in town, Houston has a new seat open on city council. The city has yet to fill the void left by Adrian Garcia, and that's creating somewhat of a problem for the only Hispanic member left on the city council. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

In a city where more than a third of the population is Hispanic, there is currently only one Latino member on city council. That has led to more work for him, and a bigger effort to recruit future candidates.

At the cafe that bears her name, Bertha Flores talks about James Rodriguez -- the neighborhood kid who grew up to be a city council member.

"His mom and I went to kindergarten together and graduated together, so to see James at this particular level, I'm so proud of him," Flores said.

The freshman council member has found himself in the unexpected position of being the only Latino member of Houston city council. That means he's not only looking after his own district, but getting a lot of calls from Latinos across the city.

"It's something I take very seriously," Rodriguez said. "I want to be a good advocate for my district, but also for the Latino community."

Rodriguez remembers a decade ago when there were four Latino members on city council. Eyewitness News political consultant Dr. Richard Murray says the biggest challenge these days is convincing good candidates that running for public office is worth the effort.

"One of the problems is that council seats aren't that attractive to up and coming people now," Dr. Murray explained. "You only serve six years. If you're 30 years old, why put a tremendous effort into something that's not going to last long?"

It's an issue that the Houston Hispanic Chamber is trying to address, holding workshops and trying to attract solid candidates, so that Rodriguez won't be the only Latino voice on council.

Dr. Laura Murillo with the Houston Hispanic Chamber explained, "I think finding the folks that are very qualified that are willing to go through what is a very challenging process, whether it's from a fundraising standpoint or the scrutiny that is so often part of running for political office."

The special election to fill Sheriff Adrian Garcia's seat is scheduled for May. Our expert says a Latino will most likely fill that seat. In addition, two more district council seats are scheduled to be added to Houston city council by 2011, which would increase diversity.

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