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Latino leaders express anger over violation of ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

In a show of support for Council Member Mike Martinez, leaders of the Austin Latino community held a press conference yesterday to denounce what they see as a violation of the so-called gentlemen’s agreement by white candidates running for seats currently held by minority Council Members. At the same time, they urged the city to move forward with single-member districts.


“I think that I can safely say that since those years in the late 60s and early 70s, I have never seen a group of across-the-board representation of the Latino community like this here today,” said former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos.


A coalition of several dozen Latino leaders and activists were in attendance. This included Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, Barrientos, former Mayor Gus Garcia, and Richard Moya, who was the first Hispanic on the Travis County Commissioners Court.


“We’re all tired of hearing about a gentleman’s agreement. So let’s coalesce and heal as a city and pass this 10-1 plan. Let us ensure that an arcane measure such as this is never allowed to breathe life in a progressive city such as ours again,” said Jose Velasquez.  “But until we pass the 10-1 plan… let there be no misapprehension. We will vehemently defend Place 2 and we will stand in commanding resolve in front of my friend, mi hermano, Council Member Mike Martinez.”


Martinez also spoke, saying, “The message today isn’t ‘Vote for Mike because he’s Latino.’ The message is, ‘We deserve and demand Latino representation on the City Council.’ And the system that we’ve been put under, the system that I inherited as a Council member is that one seat is held for a Latino. There is no other Latino on the ballot in this race.”


Austin’s gentleman’s agreement has ensured minority representation on City Council since the 1970s. This year, both the Latino and African-American seats are being challenged by candidates from other ethnicities.


Council Member Mike Martinez faces opposition from Laura Pressley, and Shaun Ireland is challenging Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.


Contacted later, Pressley told In Fact Daily. “I promise you, I would not have even ventured into this without the Latino support and endorsements. Because I knew how serious this is. This is not a game,” said.


Pressley went on to say that her decision to run against Martinez was based on a suggestion by LULAC District 12.


In January, they offered their support, and have stuck by Pressley’s campaign. “They have kept their promise and El Concilio… (has) endorsed us formally. Mexican-American Democrats have endorsed us, and the Greater East Austin Neighborhood Association has endorsed us. And so from a Latino standpoint, I think we actually have more endorsements than Mike Martinez right now.”


It is worth noting that there are two LULAC districts in Austin that seldom see eye-to-eye. Martinez has received numerous endorsements, including the Austin Tejano Democrats and the South Austin Democrats, each of which has substantial Latino membership.


“Basically, Mike has not represented East Austin. And that’s with regard to the African American community, that’s with regard to the Latino community,” said Pressley. “I think we have really progressed and it is amazing that East Austin wants someone who represents them, regardless of their skin color and regardless of their… cultural or ethnic background. I think that’s where we are today. We need to have people that represent us regardless of our skin color. The only criteria that we should be looking at is: what is the candidate going to do for the community.”


In his speech, Martinez spoke about his wife’s father, Ed Wendler, Sr., who was instrumental in crafting the gentleman’s agreement in the 1970s


“While he was extremely proud of being a part of that…he worked until the day he died to try and change it. Because he knew it had to evolve, just like Austin had evolved,” said Martinez. “And he worked on single-member districts until the very end.”


Pressley told In Fact Daily that she “was for 10-1 before 10-1 was cool.” She said that Martinez had not made his support for the 10-1 plan known until recently, as noted on ANC and RECA questionnaires.


“Now he’s committed. And I think it’s because we have put a lot of pressure, as a candidate, against him, and the community has spoken loud and clear… He has now decided to go to 10-1. But if you look at the historical documentation, he has not been there the whole time. We have,” said Pressley.


Martinez told the crowd that he had worked on single-member districts prior to being elected to City Council. On the RECA questionnaire he stated that he supported change, and responded positively to all the single-member district plan proposals, and on the ANC questionnaire, he stated that he was “reserving any final position after much more public input and discussion.”


Martinez also told the press that he opposed the challenge to Place 6, saying that he took personal exception to that as well. “I ask all of you to stand with me and to say that we will support Council Member Cole. We will support the African-American community.”

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