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Interview with: Frumencio Reyes
Interviewed by: Jane Ely
Date: April 4, 2008
JE: This is an interview with Fiorencio Reyes on April 4, 2008. Frennie, let's do a little biography. Where and when were you born?
FR: I was born in a little town outside of Saltillo, Coahuila Mexico by the name of San Antonio de la Salasanas. I came to the United States . . . well, I did not come; they brought me to the United States when I was 3 years old. That is when my mom and dad came to the Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg more specifically. I grew up in Edinburg, went to the school system there until close to graduating from high school.
JE: And then where?
FR: I never graduated from high school.
JE: You never graduated from high school?
FR: No. Janie and I got married, she was a junior, I was a senior and at that time, married couples were not allowed to go to high school. We got kicked out. Ultimately, I received a diploma from American Schools in Chicago, a correspondence school. It is now called home school. And that is how I obtained my high school diploma.
JE: Did you all move to Houston after you got married or did you stay in Edinburg or did you stay in Edinburg?
FR: No, we stayed in Edinburg until our first daughter was 8 months old. Then, I worked at a service station, a grease monkey, car wash sort of deal for the first year. Then, I got hooked up on a job in Chicago in 1960. My younger daughter was about 9 months. We moved to Chicago for 1 year supposedly and we stayed until 1970. 10 years.
JE: What did you do there?
FR: When I moved to Chicago, I worked for; it was what they called non-scheduled airlines, 3 airplanes that we flew from New York to Los Angeles. It was a non-sched competing with Continental Airlines then. Ultimately, they were put out of business, a cease and desist order from the federal courts. But I worked mainly in doing reservations, ticketing with that particular agency. When the company went out of business, I went to work for a travel agency with a couple named Eisenberg - Jewish folks. Quite an experience in working with them. Then, I went to work for an Irishman and his wife, who opened a specialized wholesale travel agency, wholesale meaning we sell to retail travel agents and that is ultimately where I worked up until the time that we moved to Houston. Now, during the time that I was working and raising a family and all, I was going to night school. I went to night school from 1960 to 1970, 2 or 3 times a week. Saturdays. Sometimes Sundays. I went to what is now known as Malcolm X Junior College _________. It used to be called Crane Junior College. Then, I transferred to a junior college that opened downtown which was a few blocks from where I used to work, more convenient. I got my AA degree. I continued on at the Chicago State University, previously known as Chicago Teachers College. I did that, got a degree in undergraduate, but I had researched the idea of moving back to Texas because I wanted to go to law school. Now, during the time that we lived in Chicago, Janie was very active in the community. She continues to be today. Involved in precinct work. She ultimately became a precinct judge.
JE: In Chicago?
FR: Yes, and that is powerful.
JE: That gives me more insight into Janie than I have had otherwise.
FR: And we worked very closely with Mayor Daly, the old mayor. Richard Jr. and I had some classes together at DePaul University night school. He knew that the mayor was very fond of Janie. He said, "You stay here. We will get you through law school and we will set you up, and you can be whatever you want to be here." Well, Janie's family, all 16 brothers and sisters and cousins and other 50, 60 of them, they had all moved from the Valley to Houston and we had always planned to come back to Houston. I saw the perfect timing of me leaving Chicago to come to law school, and certainly, I really did not want to go to law school in Chicago, become licensed in the north and probably never move back to Texas. So, when that came to be, we decided to move. Now, I had 156 hours that I had completed but I could not fit 126, 129 hours into a degree plan. But I learned in Texas that at that time, you could get into law school with what used to be known as the 90 hour rule, meaning if you had 90 hours towards a degree, the law schools in Texas would admit you. So, I applied under that theory at U of H. I did not knew that TSU existed. So, I came to U of H early August of 1970 and U of H was evaluating my transcripts. They had me going every day to the English department, the business department, and they had me running like a chicken with my head cut off. I came to the Law School at U of H and I was 1 of may 2 or 3 Hispanics. My hair was a lot darker, a lot longer, down to my shoulders, and a lot curlier, and I just did not feel very comfortable at U of H as all of the clean-shaven, short-haired, Anglo-Saxon males and very few females. I did not feel comfortable. So, I am in the process of looking for a job and Robert Nino, an old friend of mine from the Valley who had already graduated and was a practicing attorney says, "Look, I went to law school and I used to work full-time at night at the post office. why don't you check with the post office and see if you can get yourself a job and do what I do?" I said, "Yes, that sounds like a good idea." I went to the post office downtown on San Jacinto and I walked in there, walked to the back and I wanted to find out how I would go about applying for a job. There is an older lady, Hispanic, in the back. I told her what I was doing and what I was looking for and she says, "Have you applied at TSU Law School?" "No. Where is that?" She said, "It is right by U of H." She says, "I understand that the Ford Foundation just awarded them a couple of million dollars and they are out recruiting Hispanics, females and African Americans. They got a grant." So, one day . . . I lived here on North Main, a few blocks from this office, and the only way I knew how to get to U of H was taking Main all the way down to Wheeler, making a left, and I used to go through the campus but I never knew it was TSU. So, once they gave me the directions, one morning, I am traveling, still hunting for my transcripts at U of H and I stopped at TSU, I parked, I went upstairs, Hannah Hall, the oldest building standing over there at TSU. That is where the law school was located. I go upstairs. Roberson King was the acting dean at that time. I walked in, he received me, and I said, "I understand that you are looking for students. I am very interested in it." And, of course, it was black . . . I went to all black schools in Chicago . . . I felt right at home. We started talking and I said, "I am married. I have 2 little girls that go to Catholic school. I have a wife that has never worked in her life but she is going to be working to help me go through law school." We talked about my background. He said, "You know, you are the type of student we are looking for." I was 31 at the time. "Would you like to come here?" I said, "Yes." He went and typed the application, the admission application himself. The secretary was out to lunch. He comes back and says, "O.K., you are in." I said, "Do you need my transcripts?" He said, "Yes, you can get them to me later." He says, "Are you looking for money also?" I said, "Yes, either that or a job." So, he called the financial officer, Juanell Williams was his name. He came with a packet and he had the names of students here on the left-hand side and in the right-hand margin, he had the amounts that they had been awarded. He said, "This young man needs money. We have to find some money." And I remember him flipping through the pages and taking off $1,000 here, $2,000 there, and I wound up with more money than I ever thought I would get from the Ford Foundation. And that is how I got into TSU.
JE: In other words, you had that money to live on?
FR: No, I worked 2 jobs, going to law school full-time.
JE: But they paid for your school.
FR: No, they gave me the grant and I could use that money for living expenses and all that. It helped me out tremendously but I still worked 2 jobs at $2.50 an hour.
FR: I worked as a cashier in the cafeteria of Methodist Hospital together with Sonetta Burney (sp?) and I worked as a student assistant for none other than Jean Harrington and a couple of other professors, and I would average about $90 a week. Janie took a job at Foleys as a salesperson and she supplemented with another $100 and we made it. I went straight through. Instead of 3 years, I finished 1 semester early. I just went through the summer. I had gone to undergraduate for 10 years. I did not want to do that in law school. I was too old. I was 31 when I started law school.
JE: When did you get out of law school?
FR: It was in 1973. That is when Janie started undergraduate. That is when Janie took a GED, undergraduate then law school. It took her 6 years to complete what took me 13.
JE: Is she practicing at all?
FR: No. Janie is a volunteer for everything under the sun. She is on the Sports Commission right now. United Way, Commission for the Homeless. She does a lot of political work, political ______.
JE: When you first came to Houston, how did you get involved in the politics?
FR: I had the knowledge of organizing. I attended Saul Alinsky's School of Organizing in Chicago. Six week training. I was pretty wild. I knew how to do a lot of things differently than when I came to Houston. We were talking about Leonel Castillo earlier. We got here the first week in August. School was to begin around the 19th, 20th, 23rd of August. I am sitting at home listening to the radio and I hear that a group of Hispanics of the Mexican-American Education Council, is having a meeting here on Fulton across from Moody Park and the Hispanic leader by the name of Leonel Castillo is organizing a _______. This is before I started law school. I go over - just curiosity - I go over and I introduce myself, and he put me to work with a group of about 8 or 10 Rice University students. No Spanish at all. And sent me out to a neighborhood - Magnolia - to register ______ house to house. And I served as a leader and mainly as interpreter for the kids that were doing it. I told Leonel . . . he wanted me involved. At that time, Paso was the organization for the Hispanic community if you recall that. He wanted me to get involved and I said I will when I finish what I came here for. I did not come here to run organizations or to politic. I came down here to get my law degree. Once I finish, you can rest assured that I will get involved with it. So, the first year, I was a ghost writer for Leonel. We talked on the phone a lot. I did a lot of research for him and all. I did not get involved until my second year in law school and, at one time, chaired PASO and worked for Leonel on his first campaign - all of that.
JE: Well, when you got out of law school, did you just start your own practice?
FR: I had a professor in law school by the name of Joe Moss. Joe Moss had been an assistant district attorney for about 20 years. He would talk to several of us and say, "Look, if you plan to be trial lawyers, you need to go work for the DA's office. It is the best experience that you can get," and I believed it. I knew that that would be a fun place to work. So, Joe would call Carol Vance who was the DA at the time and based on his recommendation, you were hired. So, Joe says, "Stop by the office, make an appointment and go see Mr. Vance and talk to him." So, when I came in, I said, "Mr. Moss referred me to you." He said, "Oh, O.K." We talked a little bit. "You are hired." I was so excited that I had a job. I am still waiting for my Bar results and I already have a job. So, I come home and I tell Janie. "Guess what? I got me a job!" So, she said, "O.K., that is great. How much are you going to make?" I said, "I forgot to ask. I don't know." "Well, don't you think that would be nice to know? After all, you were making close to $50,000 a year in Chicago. We gave all that up where you sold your interest in the company to pay the bills and all and we came down here. Don't you think it would be interesting to know how much you are going to make?" I said, "Yes, I will find out tomorrow." I go back the following day to Carol Vance and he said, "Oh, are you back again?" I said, "What is the salary on this?" He says, "$18.5K." I said, "No, I can't take it." He said, "Why? It is a hell of an experience." "I would not live. I go back home and I tell my wife that I put her through hell for 3 years working, leaving the girls alone and all this and I want to start at $18.5K? It is not going to work." So, I called myself a traveling lawyer. I used to carry a box with files in the trunk of my car and I would visit people at home, at restaurants, never at bars but at corners, and I would go and collect my fees. I would get the paperwork that I needed typed by a secretary that we knew and we would pay her piecemeal. My first year, I grossed a little over $100,000 operating out of the trunk of my car.
JE: Well, you never were a criminal lawyer, were you?
FR: I started off doing everything and finally settled in _______ criminal defense there.
JE: You did? I did not think you did that much of that. I have always thought of you as a civil lawyer. Are you still criminal defense?
FR: I do mostly criminal defense work. You remember me . . . I got suckered by Ben Reyes and other folks to file a lawsuit against the City of Houston. I was licensed September 23, 1973, and the lawsuit we filed against the City of Houston to redistrict City Council was filed the first week in October. I did not know what I was doing. I did not know what the hell I was getting myself into but it only cost $18.50 to file it so I thought it was a good deal. And we litigated that case from 1973 and settled it on the 9/5 (sp??) in 1979 and collected attorneys fees in 1986. It was a career ordeal. But I did it for fun. I never thought I would make any money off of it, that I would ever see any returns on it. All I saw was expenses that we had to incur as a result of it. And that is how I got into the civil side. That is why I began doing work in federal court. I am one of the few lawyers in Harris County that starts off practicing in the federal court before I practice in state court. I would do a lot of administration work. I was working with EOC cases, Title 7 cases, and most of those were filed . . . all of them were filed in federal court where they had a ________ at that time. So, I got to meet Judge Woodrow Seals, John Singleton, Judge Black and others that saw me at the courthouse all the time during the Civil War. And Woodrow Seals pulled me into his chambers and he says, "Would you like to participate in the appointment process of criminal cases?" He said, "We don't pay very much but it is a good experience." I said, "Yes." And that is how I got to sit through in cases with Racehorse Haines and some other folks, old-timers that I considered to be excellent in that field. But I did not start doing state court cases until about 1-1/2 years, 2 years after. And I fell into that groove. I have been doing that ever since. I still get myself involved in the redistricting issues, Congressional redistricting, the State Senate, the State House. I have done some work in the Galveston City Council school board, Baytown, Fort Bend.
JE: You are the single member of the District of State. Well, let's see, 1972 was the first year we had single member . . .
FR: That is when Benny and Craig and Mickey and all those guys - yes. The first Hispanic that we have ever had elected at large, Harris County, was . . . I cannot think of his last name. But then, when redistricting came, he ran in the District and Ben defeated him. Ever since, we have had that one district. Then, later on in the 1980s is when we got involved with the Legislature in creating _______, the second Hispanic district. And then the 145 _______.
JE: Well, I always remember in those early years you and Benny and Leonel, you had kind of a loose organization that you . . . I mean, you all used to paint, do signs.
FR: We did not have the know-how nor the computerized advantage that we have now. We used to run campaigns from warehouses over in Denver Harbor (sp??). We would silk screen most of our signs. We would put those signs together on stakes and we would have our sign crews go out and put them up through the night and take down the opponent and do all . . .
JE: You were a wicked sign ________.
FR: Yes, we were. I was recalling my daughters at the time, the older one, the one that is municipal court judge now, was going to UT and she would come on weekends during the campaigns. And sometimes, she would not let us know that she was coming into town and we are out there in Denver Harbor at one of the headquarters, and there is my daughter making signs. She flew in straight to the headquarters to make signs. Every now and then, they got stopped with Mark Campos. He was the driver. He had a bunch of kids in the back putting up signs. My other gets caught stapling a sign on the telephone post and the police come by and she's got the stick in her hands. The police officer that knew me, he called me and said, "Will you tell your girls not to be doing that? It is not legal." I said, "Yes, just cut them loose and I will talk to them." We used to take a lot of signs down.
JE: You took a lot of signs down.
FR: Yes. Do you remember when Ronald Waters ran against Jack Hawk (sp?) for Senate District 15? Well, Janie ran Ron's campaign. My mom and dad were living with us here in the Heights. They lived upstairs. We followed the sign crew for Jack and they were traveling westbound on Cavalcade putting signs in the median. And we followed them like 2 blocks behind taking them off and putting them in our truck. And this is like 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. We took down a couple hundred signs. We did not know where to dump them. Our office across the street, we did not have enough room there so I said, "Well, let's take them home. I've got a two car garage that is not used where my parents lived upstairs," so I threw a couple of hundred signs, Jack Hawk signs back there. My dad knew that I was very involved. He was elderly. The next morning, he gets up at 6 in the morning and sees all the signs there and he put signs in my front yard, Jack Hawk signs, thinking that he must be one of my son's candidates and I am going to put signs up for him. So, in the morning, I wake up and go in the front to pick up the newspaper and I see all these signs. __________ would go out and put the opposition's signs in my front yard and I go I am taking them off and screaming bloody murder. Dad comes in and says, "Why are you taking them off?" I said, "These are the opponent's signs." "Oh, I put them up this morning when I got out of bed." But we used to do a lot of that shit. This is where Rick Noriega and all those younger politicians, Mark, grew up. _______ putting up signs, taking down signs. We had everybody involved in doing that.
JE: Yes, the only people that competed with you were the fire department. In City elections, the fire department was just something else.
FR: Yes, we always had a very good relationship with the fire fighters. Janie ran one of the campaigns for the pay increase with Bill Holliver. He worked for Mickey for a while. Yes, but those guys are mean. You never wanted to be on opposite sides of them.
JE: They used to tap phones. They tapped mine one time. My daddy was sick and I got on the phone and said, "Would you take this tap off while I call my daddy in the hospital?" They gave me about an hour to call daddy until it came back on. Well, when you started out, I mean, I associate you mostly with Benny and Leonel and, I don't know . . .
FR: Hector Garcia, John Castillo. It was just all part of the family. When I was in law school, I used to associate/run around with ________. I was telling him earlier I used to call Leonel "Mexican Social Worker," or "MSW." The kids, his kids, Evelyn and Efrain, always looked up to Janie and I. They loved us and we loved them. Evelyn is my God-daughter. She used to tell Leonel and Evelyn, "I don't want to be a social worker, I want to be a lawyer like my godfather." And ultimately, she became a lawyer and worked for ___________. Gordon ________. And the boy, Efrain, wanted to follow the footsteps of Donna, my youngest daughter. She is a doctor. He is a doctor. So, we had a lot of influence on them as kids and we still see each other a lot. So, yes, we were very close with them.
JE: Well, as I also recall, you and Benny especially were involved in a lot of those transportation elections, created Transit Authority. You almost had a company, didn't you? I mean, didn't they pay you for that?
FR: No. It was all volunteer work. When MTA was created under the Hofheinz administration, Fred had the first opportunity to name members of the board to MTA. I was the Hispanic representative that was named to the board. However, I had filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston, so Frank Mahan (sp?), Mancuso, Guyan (sp?), all those folks, did not like me very much. So, they would not confirm my appointment to Metro unless I agreed to dismiss the lawsuit. And, of course, I said, "Fred, I don't need to be on the Metro board. I am in a different gang over here. I am going to make it hard for you guys to keep electing 8 old men from the west side of Main" except for Mancuso I think was the only one that ________ and I caught all kinds of hell on that. I was not confirmed and my seat went to Ninfa Laurenza, if you recall. And, of course, she was noncontroversial so she _______. And Fred brags about that, that that was his first appointment that never made it. But yes, we worked very hard to pass those referendums to create Metro; later on, to do the kinds of things that needed to be done with Metro. I had a lot of input into that with Fred and later on with McConn because Janie and I had lived in Chicago for 11 years before and we never had a car. We never owned a vehicle. We got around the city of Chicago on public transportation. We understood the transportation issues and how important they would be for a city like this and worked with McConn then with Kathy until we got to Lanier. When Kathy made Lanier chairman of the board of Metro, everything stopped. But yes, we had ______ some good input, some good things going on for the city of Houston. A lot of benefit that could have derived. As a matter of fact, I think the original plans that had been approved by the Metro board back in the early 1970s or late 1970s, a lot of that stuff went to Dallas and Dallas outsmarted us and got Metro and they've got one of the best in Texas, I think, systems. They bought all the right-of-ways from the existing railroads and they said their business right on them did not cost them very much. It is something that we failed to do and as a result, here we are with 7-1/2 miles.
JE: What does PASO stand for?
FR: PASO was the Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations. It is a consortium of a lot of groups. We tried to bring them under the one umbrella for purposes of political . . .
JE: What groups?
FR: LULAC, GI Forum, Mexican American Education Council. There were a lot of loose organizations that were attempting to do pretty much the same. We felt that if we could bring them all under the same umbrella and all had influence in the board, that we could accomplish a lot more and it worked for a while.
JE: I don't recall LULAC and certainly the GI Forum as ever being that active in Houston.
FR: That is one of the reasons I have never been a member of LULAC. I have never worked with LULAC per se. I had some council members when I first started coming out and raising hell in Houston, some of them referring to me as "that Communist from Chicago."
JE: Especially since you went to Saul Alinsky.
FR: I was too radical for them and I felt and I still feel that LULAC is a very conservative organization. I like to deal head-on with the politics. I am a political animal. I don't fall for any of these 501(c)(3) nonprofit . . . I like to tell it as it is, be it the mayor, be it the governor.
JE: Well, what is the name of that group that you and Janie have each been president of? Is that Tejano Democrats?
FR: After PASO went under, we created what was known as the Mexican American Democrats and that, too, later on had a big hassle in Austin at one of the conventions and a split was created between Roberto Alonso, state representative from Dallas, and Senator Barrientos from Austin. And that thing was dissolved. Later on, Gonzalo made an effort to bring it back under Tejano Democrats. And that is what we are now. Tejano Democrats. A state organization with chapters existing right now: Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, the Valley, Corpus Christi. We are supposed to have an organization, a chapter in each one of the 31 senatorial districts. To date, there are only 22, 22 senatorial districts that have a Tejano chapter and that is what we operate on.
JE: I thought it was city wide.
FR: Well, we have the county one, the Harris County Tejano Democrats. We are the ones that put out the roast and toast every year toasting some of our better known politicians including Bill and Sheila and Mario and Jean Green, John Whitmire, Rodney Ellis.
JE: Yes, I have been to a couple of those. They used to have them at the . . .
FR: We still do. At the Sheraton right there on . . .
JE: You started out in city politics here, didn't you?
JE: Let's go with city politics for a while. You supported Hofheinz or was he already elected?
FR: We worked on his first campaign.
JE: The one he lost to Welch?
FR: Yes. Then, the second one in 1972, 1973.
JE: 1973, I guess. Well, how did you get tied up with him?
FR: Through Leonel Castillo.
JE: And Leonel just knew him?
FR: Yes, Leonel was, I think at that time, eyeing his position as city controller.
JE: Had he already won city controller?
FR: 1973. That is when he won. I was telling him earlier I still have some bumper stickers from his campaign when he first announced he was running for city controller. The bumper sticker was city comptroller. And I teased Leonel, I said, "We were so dumb about what the hell you were running for that we could not spell controller correctly."
JE: That used to be a big . . .
FR: That is when we first got involved in putting together the campaign effort in the Hispanic community for Fred Hofheinz. And we worked on McConn's later on, then Kathy.
JE: And then?
FR: After Kathy, Lanier, then Brown.
JE: You did work for Lanier, didn't you?
FR: Yes. I put in a lot of time on his campaign. I did so for Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez. I was Orlando's nemesis. I was charged with that responsibility, making it hard for him.
JE: Well, evidently you did.
JE: Well, didn't Gracie ______ run? Who did she run against?
FR: Yes, she ran . . . I don't recall the year but she ran at large . . . I do not recall the year that she ran.
JE: She ran against Lee Brown.
FR: For mayor.
JE: For mayor, yes.
FR: Yes, we went for Lee Brown from the outset. Again, holding true to our coalition of politics with the African American community that we . . . well, Benny is the one that really started that with Mickey and we all fell on that side supporting one another. And that is how the lawsuits were filed against the City by Hispanics and African Americans.
JE: But the African Americans were not for Lanier.
FR: No, Lee Brown did not run against Lanier.
JE: I know but who were the African Americans for? Lanier did not get them originally, or maybe he got them and did not get Hispanics. No, he was with Hispanics . . . he won with Hispanics but he had to make inroads with, I can't remember who.
FR: The blacks.
JE: I guess they stuck with Kathy.
FR: I don't recall, but I do remember Mark Campos was leading the effort on Lanier's staff. I mean, he was on staff working his campaign.
JE: And he beat Kathy.
JE: The African Americans stuck with Kathy and the Hispanics went with Lanier. Why?
FR: I think that Kathy pulled some shenanigans with some of our folks, some of our elected officials. I don't have any recollection of exactly what it was but I do remember there being a departure of the friendship between Kathy, Leonel, John, myself, Ben Reyes and those folks, and the decision was made to support Lanier in terms of the promises that Lanier had made that he was going to make certain changes, not only city structure, employment, more positions and commissions and boards and that sort of thing. I think that is what sold the Hispanic leadership and in turn, the community in supporting Lanier or Kathy.
JE: Well, didn't you and Benny have a falling out before . . .
FR: Benny and I had a falling out in the early 1980s. The history behind that . . . I was involved in litigation . . . first of all, in the Legislature in the creation of District 148 which we called the second Hispanic legislative district. And we had agreed from the outset that Janie was going to be the candidate for 148. L. Franco Lee carried that Bill in the House side. Mario and Whitmire and Rodney working on it in the Senate. We got District 148 created. Before that, Janie was working for Bob Eckhart. She was Bob Eckhart's legal assistant. During that interim, Bob Eckhart lost his congressional race and Janie is out there without a job. So, Janie gets called by Fontino that there is a position that is going to be opened for director of personnel at the County and wants Janie to look for someone to apply for that job. Hispanic preferably. Male or female. So, Janie is out there hustling looking for folks that fit the job description to apply. And I tell her, "Why not you?" She has always been geared towards human resources. She said, "Do you think so?" I said, "I think you will like it." All this time, we are working on the district that is being created in Austin. So, she applies and there are 5 or 7 males, Hispanics, that also applied. Well, Janie gets the position over all 7. One of them files a lawsuit against the county on discrimination that he is better qualified and he should have gotten the job, not Janie, that Janie got it because of politics. So, they are in litigation on that. When the district is created and we have to announce . . . Janie said, "Well, it is going to be difficult because I am involved. I am the subject of the litigation and I do not want to let these folks down [the county]." And I said, "Well, we have been working on this thing for 1 year or so for you to run for state rep." He says, "No, we can solve that very easily." I said, "Oh, yeah, we can?" He said, "Yes, you run." I am not the candidate type and you know him." "No, no, no. I am not going to run. So, she finally convinced me that I should. Well, Ben had committed himself to Janie. Ben was on the program. When I became the candidate, it was a different story. I was too old and we needed somebody young. And that is when, Roman Martinez was recruited by Denton to run against me. That is politics. But Janie took it very personal. She was hurt because Benny and his family were like our family. We considered him like a brother. All his kids call me "Uncle _______." They still do. And Janie took it pretty bad and we split. And we ran the campaign: _____ Solis, Jim Mendoza, somebody else, myself and Roman. I came tops on the first race, 46%, 47%, and Roman second, and so we got into a runoff and that is when I lost by 13 votes and then on the recount and the lawsuit, we narrowed it down to 11 votes. So, I lost that race by 11 votes and spent a whole bunch of money defending it.
We stayed away from Benny. Did not work with him. Did not associate with him for 8 or 9 years until Benny ran for . . . the other district that we worked very hard in the Legislature to create the 29th Congressional District, that is when Sylvia and Aldona (sp?) and Jean Green - they all jumped in there to run and Benny came to see me. I said, "I don't have any problems but I certainly am not going to go against the wishes of my wife, so if you can convince her to support you, I am on board but I am not" . . . so we arranged for a meeting with Ben and Cami, Jamie and myself and some of the folks here. They talked and Janie cried and they made up and Janie agreed that we would work, and that is how we got involved again with Ben's campaign and worked at 3 races in 1 year.
JE: You got a lawsuit going there, didn't you?
FR: Yes, we found crossover Republicans in the primary that came out on the runoff to vote for Jean Green and we busted _______ and, of course, we could not get that reversed to make Ben the winner but we did get the third election and that third election is what got Jean elected. And after that, if you remember, Ken Benson was the chair of the Democratic party in Harris County. Ken called me about 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning after it was decided that Jean Green had won, he said, "Frommie, I am going to ask you for a favor. You can turn me down if you want to but are you agreeable to having a press conference tomorrow morning at 10, 11 o'clock at the courthouse and endorsing Jean Green?" I said, "Of course. He is the winner, the Democratic winner. I will do it." So, for a week or so after that, I was getting all kinds of shit from Ben and his people because I had supported Jean Green. But, I mean, he was a candidate and then, we went that say so . . . it has been interesting political work here in Houston with all these _________.
JE: Are you still with John Castillo?
FR: No. There were a couple of elections, specifically, the Orlando Sanchez campaign that he went to work with Orlando's campaign and to us, basically he became Republican and with that, we parted company.
JE: How did you get interested in politics?
FR: I think it has always been in my blood. My mom and her family come from a political family in Mexico. My mother's brother, the oldest of the boys, ran for the State Senate equivalent in Coahuila back in the early 1940s and was assassinated on election day after he won the seat. He was going home by horse and he got shot. I have an uncle, second uncle, that was governor of the state of Coahuila - my mother's second or third cousin. My other uncles from my mother's side worked for the state government or for the national government in Coahuila. So, my mom was very savvy in politics. I grew up in the Valley in Edinburg and I remember getting paid 50 cents or 25 cents to go and leaflet the courthouse for Lloyd Bentsen from Mission, Texas when I was 14, 15 years of age. And then, they had the rallies there in front of the courthouse tents and all that. We would go by there to drink Cokes. And so, I guess it was in me. But I got deeply involved, both Janie and I, in Chicago. This is around 1960. Janie was a clerk at the precinct and she got an invitation from the precinct judge that could not come to this meeting at a hotel downtown where a young man from Massachusetts was going to be recruiting volunteers for his brother's race, Bobby Kennedy. Janie says, "Do you want to go?" I said, "Yes, let's go." We got a babysitter and came downtown to hear this young man speak on behalf of his brother that was running for president. We talked to Bobby. He took time. He talked to small groups. Spent about 30 minutes, 40 minutes talking to him about what they were planning on doing, their philosophy and all and we got hooked onto hardcore politics. And from that day on to the present time, we have never been out.
JE: Well, you worked for Kennedy then in Chicago?
FR: Yes, we worked the campaign for JFK. We also worked the campaign for Bobby when he was running for president in organizing in Chicago.
JE: Well, did you help count those votes in Chicago that got him the election?
FR: I was not that high ___________.
JE: Well, were you there for the 1968 convention?
JE: What was that like? What did you do?
FR: We were working with the mayor's staff and we caught some of that shit that was thrown around. Looking back, I was on the other side. I was working for a travel agency that was composed of a Greek attorney, a Puerto Rican investor that had 7 or 8 radio stations in Chicago and about 20 travel agencies. Claudio Flores was appointed as one of the members of the Human Rights Commission in the mayor's office and Claudio was never around to do any work with that at all, so me being the junior partner in the agency, he designated me as his replacement and I am the one that used to deal with those issues. So, part of the duties or responsibilities of that office was to keep gangs in check. The Young Lords and the Black Panthers were killing each other, one a week. They crossed over the lines and killed the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers would come over and kill The Young Lords and part of our responsibility was trying to bring those 2 factions together to cool it. I remember what we used as an attraction to help us. Cesar Chavez at the time was fighting the great war (??) and picketing, I don't recall the name of the chain store, and we came out with a plan to use the energy of those young people. I was not much older than some of those guys were. They were mean. Well-armed. Just homicides. So, we developed a plan to try and get those gang members to help us on the picketing around those stores. Of course, we had the unions that were very actively participating in it and we created some human chains around those stores with The Black Panthers, The Young Lords and union folks. Very successful. For 1 month or so, no killing. It worked out real well. But it did not stay that way long. And so, yes, in doing that kind of work, it helped me develop a lot of understanding of the politics involved, especially multiracial politics. It helped me tremendously when I came here and started working the neighborhoods here.
JE: You said that you came to Houston primarily because Janie's family had all lived here?
FR: No, primarily because we wanted to get back to Houston. We wanted to get back to Texas. If I was going to practice law, I wanted to practice law in Texas. I have always had this belief that law and politics really helps our folks get out of the rut. I started with that premise, not that there were not any Hispanics or enough Hispanics in Chicago but I wanted to get closer to where I grew up and I wanted to get close to where most of Janie's family had moved to. They were all here in Houston. So, it was one of those deals where if I stayed in Chicago and became a lawyer in Chicago, I probably would never have moved back to Texas. I would have stayed in ________.
JE: Well, when you came in the early 1970s, that was about the time you know that I got started in politics really and so I do not know for sure but were the Hispanics that well organized before you all started?
FR: No. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of things that I talked to Leonel and to Hector Garcia, John Castillo . . . the manner in which we used to do water restriction in Chicago. Of course, the precinct judges in Harris County and Houston are not cohesive. They don't work together. They don't work the precincts the way we used to. Janie worked her precinct every day of the week. We used to get a note from the mayor's office that so and so just moved into your precinct. We would take that and we would go visit, introduce ourselves. Janie mainly. "I am your precinct judge," or "I am precinct assistant here and we want to welcome you to our precinct, and if there is any need for services from the city, you let me know and I will make sure that you are taken care of. Lights. Trash. Trees. Jobs." That is the power of the precinct judge in Chicago. Mayor Daly had a switchboard where they telephoned a number assigned to a precinct judge given that designated telephone and Janie could call to that phone number and it is answered by the mayor's office _______ to the mayor any time.
I remember one of the functions when JFK came, when he was running for president, that we attended in Chicago and the mayor was telling the story about how he made JFK wait on the phone. JFK is telling the story that Mayor Daly was the second person, next to his father, that he told that he wanted to get his approval. The second person was Dick Daly in Chicago. And Dick put him on hold for maybe a minute or so but the story goes that the time got longer and longer. And he put him on hold because "I am talking to a very important person in my city that has precedence over you and that was a precincter." That is how much he thought of that position. But yes, Janie had some very good rapport and all the precinct judges that were on his side were very well taken care of.
JE: O.K., so you get down and you all got together and you started organizing everything but weren't you an office holder, weren't you vice-chairman of the state party?
FR: That came later when Bill White became chair. I was on the SDEC. When Bill went out, was it Beth Malcolm, the female who became . . .
JE: Yes, Molly.
FR: Molly Beth. When Molly Beth became chair, I became vice-chair of the Democratic party. I was elected to the position. But that was . . .
JE: Decades later.
JE: So, when you got here though, single member districts for the State House were going into effect.
FR: They were just going into effect.
JE: And did you all elect Benny . . . did you do any work for Craig and Mickey and Anthony?
FR: We did a joint campaign for all the minorities that had gotten elected or were running for those individual districts. Yes, Craig, Mickey, Symphonia (sp?), Ron Waters, John Whitmire, Ben. There were about 8 or 9 of them. We put a campaign together to run.
JE: We are talking about Ben Reyes, a former state representative who became city councilman and Leonel Castillo who was one time the city controller and he then went on . . .
FR: With the Carter campaign as the director of INS, Immigration and Naturalization.
JE: John Castillo who has been active in local politics.
FR: Also City Council.
JE: And was a city councilman and ran for county commissioner against Sylvia Garcia who was a municipal . . .
FR: He ran for constable in precinct 6 against Trevino. Victor Trevino. Kurt Washington, state representative later on . . .
JE: State senator before . . . and then to congressman who lost to Sheila Jackson Lee.
FR: Mickey Leland, state representative later on U.S. congressman.
JE: He was killed in a plane crash in Africa. Anthony Hall was a state representative. He ran against Mickey Leland for the congressional seat and lost and then won a city-wide City Council seat and now is Chief of Staff for the current mayor, Bill White who was the Former Estate Chair of the Democratic Party and is now mayor of Houston. I think we have covered them all but we will try to do better about that. You have always been real big on coalitions of black and brown.
FR: Yes, that is true.
JE: Has it worked fairly well except for the Lanier race?
FR: I think the strongest coalition era was during the time when Mickey, Craig, Ben Reyes, Leonel were much more actively involved in the politics. I think we still hold that coalition but it is not as strong as it was 10, 12, 15 years ago. We still adhere to a lot of the formulas that were set at that time. The understandings we have between communities. If an African American is running for a certain position, try not to have an Hispanic running in the same position opposite the black and vice-versa. A lot of that has become, with time, much more difficult to adhere to simply because the younger generations both in the African American community and the Hispanic community do not relate back to those formal understandings that we had and they really could care less about it. We have what we call "crazies" in politics, jumping into a race that they really should not. The only way we have to control that is by not supporting those individuals that do that. And they pay the price down the line by not being considered for another elective position or appointed position. That is the way we take care of it in politics.
JE: Would you classify Gracie Sarnes as one of those? She was a council member who ran against Lee Brown and you suggest she would have trouble winning any other office?
FR: Yes, and then especially when they start toying with the idea that City Council races are nonpartisan. Those of us that believe strongly in the Democratic Party do not see it that way at all. If you are supporting an Orlando Sanchez who is a well-known documented Republican and you support that individual against a known Democrat, you have departed from grace and we just do not consider that individual.
JE: I have forgotten - did Orlando Carey, so-called Hispanic, vote?
JE: Which is the most difficult one to define in any demographic thing you try to set up.
FR: He made some very strong ________ because of the _______ but did not.
JE: This is Orlando Sanchez, City Council member who ran against Lee Brown for mayor and then, the next time, ran against Bill White but in the first time when he ran against Lee Brown, he got the support of President Bush 41 and I don't remember but maybe 43 even said good words about him, Bush 43. He was very much identified as a Republican in that race and lost.
FR: And is now County Treasurer.
JE: Which he won after running against the incumbent, Jack Cato, who was a Republican and then Jack died and Orlando ran a special election and won that race and has never been heard of since.
FR: No. The only time I see his name is on the checks issued by the Treasurer's office from the account.
JE: Do you get many of those?
FR: No. My clients do. John Castillo works for him.
JE: Oh, does he? I did not even know that or if I did, I have forgotten it. Other than mayors, with whom have you been the most closely associated, and then going beyond that, with ones you liked the best?
FR: Well, you know, I have had some very good relationships with, and I have served in one capacity or another as advisor on Hispanic issues to Fred Hofheinz, to Kathy, to McConn, to Lanier, to Brown, and I chaired the Hispanic Advisory Committee for Mayor White now. They all have different ways of managing the city and the most admired mayor for me is Bill White. Bill is about the most transparent person that I have dealt with in all the years that I have dealt with mayors here in Houston and mayors in Chicago. Of course, in Chicago, we dealt with one mayor all the time we were there. But, you know, things that were done for the city started with Fred. I think Fred had a vision for the city, for the future of this city, and really bringing the City of Houston to the 21st century back in the 20th century by putting forth the effort to create the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the dream that he had, the plans that he had for this city to become that sort of city. I thought he had a lot of foresight, a lot of drive, and he was a good mayor.
JE: What about Bill White? He seems more transparent? What do you mean by "transparent?"
FR: Bill goes out of his way not to make it appear that he is paying back a political favor with contracts or with appointments to commissions or to directors in the city. He has a process by which he evaluates all those things and based upon those evaluations, the person best qualified to do that particular job is the one that gets it. The same thing with contracts out of the city on minority contracts and all this. He has a process and he follows that to the T. And I have dealt with him on a lot of those issues simply because I dealt on those same issues with Lee Brown and I ran into those issues most recently with Lanier. Let me just give you an example. Bob Lanier . . . there is a problem with, let's say, an Hispanic farm has put in a bid for a certain contract and we know that based on the evaluations and based on the process, there is some hanky-panky going on; that the person that got the contract is someone that is closely associated or related to and there was favoritism done and that is how the contract came about. I remember with Lanier, I would go over and talk to him about certain things happening. I said, "Look, this is what I see here and this is what happened and I do not think it is right. I think this guy has a better deal for the city, has much more to offer on this contract." Well, Lanier's way of taking care of that . . . he called the Director of Public Works on the phone. He says, "I would like to see you in my office right now." And he would come and we would discuss this and it was taken care of right then and there. Lee Brown, a little bit like Lanier, with the issues at the airport, the new construction and no set asides for minority contractors, we had a hell of a time up there, 2 or 3 times. We talked to the mayor. We would present the information we had. He would have the director come, make his presentation to us so we had an opportunity to the Hispanic Advisory Committee to question this and get a little bit more out of it. Bill White - you cannot do that. No. Bill has his process. This is the way you go about it and ultimately, it comes down to me but I know that I cannot go to Bill and say, "Hey, Bill, this is happening." Cannot do that because Bill would not accept that.
JE: And you like that?
FR: I think it is best for everyone in the city. I am not saying that some of that favoritism or some of that cronyism that has existed in the city of Houston is gone, no, but it is a lot better controlled. And as a result, those firms that perform or can show that they are the better person to receive the contract, they have to fight for it. They have to go and make their arguments to the folks that are going to be approving those contracts. And I think it makes for a better business run-type operation at the city of Houston. And it is good. I deal with the fire department, the employment issues at the fire department. The police department. We are helping the police department develop ideas on how to go about recruiting for more Hispanics to apply. And through those meetings and those discussions with the city, with HPD, we found that a lot of the reasons that Hispanics do not make it through the process are that many of our youth have some prior criminal records. Even if it is a very minor record, a theft or possession of marijuana, all of that automatically keeps you out of the department. And heretofore, with the other mayors, all of that was overlooked or all of that was, if it is someone that comes from a certain influential politician or someone in the community, it would get done. Bill gets it done but gets it done in a way that it does not appear that there is favoritism.
Kathy, of course, we loved her. Being a woman. I have always been very pro-women especially involved in politics . . .
JE: It made for a happier marriage, didn't it?
FR: Yes. You know, you remember Jim, Kathy's husband? Jim, I first met at TSU when I was going to law school. Jim was teaching in the school of business at TSU. He used to teach economics. I used to go from the law school to have lunch over at the cafeteria in the business school because I wanted to get away from all the law students there. And I met Jim. He sat at the table or I sat at the table that he was at and we started talking. We talked about politics and we talked about Kathy. Then, later on, we met Kathy and Janie met Kathy and Janie used to tell Kathy, "Why are you pushing Jim for city council? He ran several times and Kathy is not there promoting Jim." She says, "You are the politician. You should run." That is what Janie used to tell Kathy. And Kathy said, "No." Janie said, "I want to make sure that he gets elected to this ______." Well, as it turned out, Jim got sick and ultimately passed away and Janie and Kathy remained close friends and talked. And sure enough, she decides to run and we all jumped on the bandwagon and she won. She brought something to the city that the city had never had. I mean, that woman's touch. Rough and tough but brought that feminine feeling in the city __________. And I guess that I why I am supporting Hillary Clinton because I feel pretty much the same way, that we need someone up there with a different perspective in terms of how people should be treated. She played a good role. She pissed us off a couple of times here and there on some of the decisions that she made; one of them with me frankly was appointing Bob Lanier to chair the Metro board.
JE: I think she felt the same way after reflection.
FR: And the reason for that . . . you cannot put somebody up there that is pure concrete because that guy is going to fight you all the way. If there is conflict between rail and concrete, it is going to be concrete. And sure enough . . . and that is why we are 20, maybe 30 years behind rail and this is as a result of that decision.
JE: Over the years, like in the early 1970s, there were the Brown Berets and then there was Moody Park where, I don't even remember what the issue was at Moody Park.
FR: The issue that resulted in the riots of Moody Park started off with Travis Morales, if you remember, the young man, Socialist Party . . . and it all started because of the issues of police brutality against Hispanics, African Americans, minorities - a lot of stuff that was happening with the police department and the short.
JE: They alleged that they drowned him, didn't they?
FR: Well, Joe Campos Torres before then, there had been a young man by the name of Webster that was shot as a result of a burglary or theft at a car dealer place and the police officers put a gun in his hand, a gun that was traced back to the police department's property room. Lupe Salinas is the one that traced it back but it was the U.S. Attorney's office. Joe Campos Torres was arrested and was beaten up a little bit and fortunately for that issue, there was a group of older police officers working together with a group of younger police officers. The young police officers could not stomach what had occurred. They handcuffed him and dumped him in Buffalo Bayou, right around 49 ______. Supposed, he jumped and he drowned on his own trying to get away. He was found with his hands handcuffed to his back. That started off a lot of demonstrations. We demonstrated, took a march from the north side to the federal building, then started one from Denville Park, too, at the same time, and Felix Salazar, the judge from Magnolia, and we merged at the federal building raising hell about that. The Cinco de Mayo celebration at Moody Park. I had my daughter, the younger daughter, they had a booth at CYO, Catholic Youth Organization from St. Patrick's. They were selling sodas or ice-cream or ice cones at the park when that happened. I got called and I knew the back entrance to the park. I did not even know it existed until then. We drove in and we see police cars overturned and set on fire and all this kind of shit. I got in there . . . Franco Lee who is the first state rep that appeared in shorts . . . I was concerned because my daughter was there. Janie finally got to her, picked her up and got her out. I stayed in there together with Franco and some other folks from the community where I looked where the bush area for people to get out of there, to go home. There were some shots that were fired and things that were going on. A lot of crime. Kids and women and older men. We were in there until the following morning but what the police had set up to do was do a sweep with full geared officers that organized themselves at the corner of Patton and Fulton. That is where they set the command control. The mayor was speaking at Hermann Park.
JE: Which mayor was it?
FR: McConn. John Castillo was his first assistant. I had John Castillo over here trying to dissuade the police force to stay where they were, not to come in because Morales was inciting folks closer to the park, Doneraki's area, all that, that the cops were coming and they were getting ready to do a confrontation and it was going to be a slaughter. So, John finally got McConn on the phone and brought him back from Hermann Park by helicopter, landed right there at the corner of Patton and Fulton. The chief at that time, I do not really know who it was but the chief was out of town, was in Minnesota at some conference, and the assistant chief in charge of this was ready to go in and do a lot of damage. And the mayor, the only one that could override that, he came down and moved that post to ______________. Well, at that point in time, Morales and those folks really were upset that there was no confrontation and that is when they set fire to the store right at the corner across the street from Doneraki's. It used to be a Cuban bakery. They set that on fire and then people started throwing bottles and doing all kinds of shit, and a lot of arrests resulted because of that. But thank God we were able to diffuse that, otherwise, it would have been a lot more serious.
JE: Because you had your hand in so much. What was the thing at San Jacinto High School? Was it San Jacinto High School? I remember it was a civil disobedience thing that the students did. They wanted better books or better teachers.
FR: I remember a group of students getting kicked out of Hogg Middle School here in the Heights that I participated in, putting a group of volunteer lawyers through the Mexican Bar Association to defend those parents and those students. I do not remember San Jacinto.
JE: I may be making up the high school but there was some high school that a whole bunch of kids went up and they marched, they were in some sort of . . .
JE: No, it has been . . .
FR: Oh, O.K., because recently, we had the walk-out on the Immigration issue on. Ana Hernandez and I went downtown with a group of students. Both of us are immigrants so it was very appropriate that we would be supporting that issue.
JE: Well, maybe it was that.
FR: This is about 2 years ago, maybe 3.
JE: No, this was longer ago than that. Anyway, the only time that you were actively involved in politics was when you ran against Ramon Martinez?
FR: Yes, that is the only time that I have taken that step to be a candidate. I never wanted it before and I never wanted it . . . Mark White appointed me to one of the benches when he became governor and I had to tell him no, but no thanks. I did not go to law school to become a judge. I went to law school to be a hell raiser. And that has been very comfortable and very happy doing that. Besides, I have the utmost respect for my hemorrhoids and being a judge, I would suffer great pain sitting there listening to all the bullshit that other lawyers are going to be throwing at me, and Richard said it did it twice. And I said to him, "Are you my friend or are you my friend?" "What do you mean?" I said, "Why would you want to do that? Do you want to shut me out? The Republicans would be happier than ______ if you did that. As a judge, you cannot respond. So, I can't do it. Besides, I will starve to death. I am going to have to send Janie back to work on the salary that judges get." Yes, she was a great woman. A great governor.
JE: I take it you strongly supported her?
FR: You know, Janie and I have supported the same candidate all our lives since age 18. Jim Maddox was a very good friend of mine when Ann Richards ran and I supported Jim Maddox and Janie supported Ann Richards. And she never forgave it. Jokingly, she always stuck it in my back. "I am doing this, not for you, for Janie." I said, "As long as it gets done." You know, we ran a campaign that second time from North Main here across the street from the Salvation Army and we ran into some financial problems. The campaign had promised us a certain amount of money for us to get on the phones and hire staff and all this and then, they backed down on us and I had to fly out to Austin. I said, "Look, I don't mind you cutting us down and all but don't cut us out completely because all I have to do is make one phone call and that office is shut." I said, "You are not going to have any visibility in the Hispanic community." So, she made a couple of calls and some of the lawyers here in town came to the rescue and helped us out. But she was a great woman, too.
My younger daughter, the one that is a doctor now, worked for Ann Richards when she was State Treasurer, when she was going to undergraduate at UT. So, she grew up with Cecile. They are the same age. When Ann ran for governor, Cecile used to come down - sometimes she would stay over at the house with us so, yes, we had more than just a pure political friendship. We formed an extra family relationship with the kids. And, of course, her husband and I were involved in some of the redistricting cases in West Texas and South Texas way before Ann ran for governor.
JE: Dave was an interesting fellow.
FR: Yes, he was.
JE: The researcher who prepared some questions for you talks about your sending Governor George Bush prepaid phone cards as a birthday present.
FR: No. The issue was Colonias in the Valley. The slums. We were wanting to know if George Bush had ever been down to visit our folks in the Colonias. And we knew he hadn't ________ so we decided as a good gimmick, that I would buy two round trip tickets on Greyhound from Houston to the Colonias for him to go and visit them. We had a press conference at the post office on Heights and 11th and delivered the 2 tickets, special delivery, dropped them at the post office for him to utilize for purposes of going down to the Colonias. Never used them and we never got them back either, so we lost our $46 or whatever.
JE: O.K. When you came here in the early 1970s, what was your sense of the city? What did you think of us?
FR: My wife and I used to come down at least once a year for a week, 2 weeks at a time. My impression of Houston as compared to the compactness of Chicago was a big, large horse town, and folks in Chicago, our friends - mostly Irish and Italians that lived in the neighborhood - always used to tease us about do you still have horse hitches and do you still hitch your horse when you go downtown and all this kind of stuff. And then, they would see the parades from Texas and all this and ultimately, there are always horses and cowboys. So, yes . . . we found ourselves with a lot of difficulty to adjust to Houston simply because of no public transportation here, and the vastness of the spread here. One of the first things we did when we decided to move to Houston was to buy a car because when we get to Houston, we are not going to be able to move anywhere without a car. Never had a car for 11 years in Chicago. The first thing we did was buy a car and we drove it here.
I think, from the political angle, the organizing, the political organizing, the precinct organization, as I saw it in 1970 or with my first involvement here with Lunelle was nonexistent. And I did not learn about the precinct organization until later that it was really nonexistent. Precinct judges here think of themselves as working on election day, getting paid $75, $100, and they go home and wait until the next election takes place. I had not been exposed to anything like this in Chicago, especially that my wife was actively doing voter registration, like I said, almost on a daily basis. So, yes, I think that was very difficult for us to really adjust to, in the political sense. We also found it very difficult getting around Houston. We had too many streets that changed names, too many streets that ended in the middle of nowhere. There is a bayou, the street ends, you cross it and it is another street, it is not the same.
JE: Has that changed or have you just learned which ones . . .
FR: I just learned to avoid and go around them.
JE: But, see, in Chicago, the way you gave directions, they'd say, "Where do you live?" "Oh, I live 2200 North and 1900 West," and then you take that from the center of State and Washington and move 2200 North, and that is where I lived. Very easy. Streets are straight, have the same name from beginning to end and here, you know, Studewood, it says Studewood - it is Studemont, Montrose, Wheeler, Elgin on this side, Wheeler on that side. Main is the only one that remains constant.
JE: Well, it is Westheimer, Elgin and Wheeler.
FR: Right. So, yes, we had some difficulty with that but it did not take us long to adjust. The other adjustment which was not hard to overcome was the weather. We grew up in the Valley, hot weather. We lived in Chicago where 4 to 6 months out of the year, we were snowed in. That was gratifying, moving back to Houston where we could enjoy sunny days at least 360 days of the year.
JE: Where did you live when you first came back?
FR: I rented a house at 209 Walton which is about 3 blocks on the left-hand side of Main next to, there is a bar in front and there is a bar on the side. And that is where we rented when I was going to the law school. I studied at night after I got home from work at 11 o'clock at night until 1 or 2 in the morning and there was many a night that there were shoot-outs on the side of the house or in front of the house at the bars across from Shipley's Doughnuts. I had a police officer who became a good friend of mine named David Galindo who is retired - I used to go in the mornings at 6 o'clock, going to buy doughnuts for breakfast for the girls and for me, and I ran into David there. He was always there drinking coffee. He says, "You know, at night if you ever have any problems, don't bother calling the police department downtown. This is the number here. Just call here. There are always police officers here." And sure enough, one night, there was a murder that happened across the street at El Paso or Que Paso Lounge, something like that. I looked out the window and sure enough, there was a guy being thrown into a truck. I heard some shots. So, I called Shipley's. They ran across the street and they arrested the folks right there. So, it did work.
JE: So, you have always lived in this general neighborhood?
FR: Yes, since we came here in 1970. From 1970 to the present time. We lived there for 3 years while I was going to law school and then we bought a house in Woodland Heights which was 5 blocks, 2 blocks from Travis Elementary and we have been there since.
JE: Presumably, you like Houston. You have stayed here.
JE: What do you see for it in the future?
FR: I see, and I hope to see, the first Hispanic mayor during my lifetime. I hope to see a Metro system and I have been working very hard on these new lines that have been created for the north side, for the east, the south, Westpark. I hope I live long enough to see that dream that we had back in the early 1970s come to be. I think the potential for this city - it is a new city, it is a new baby. I think we've got the best combination of . . . the diversity of people in this city is the greatest. I think that is one of our greatest assets that we have, not only a great diversity of people but that we have learned to coexist and live with one another respecting our differences whether it be religion or ethnic background. I think the conflicts that existed or were created in Chicago between the Panthers and the Young Lords and the burnings of West Chicago during the riots and all that have not occurred in Houston as a result of people with vision like Reverend Lawson from Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and others and the Catholic Church, that have worked together to diffuse a lot of that from happening. I think this is the greatest city in the United States to live, raise your family and do good not only economically but socially and every other way. I hope to die right here and my cemetery plot is already purchased across the way at Hollywood Cemetery. And that way, I can visit the office, whoever is here at night to make sure things are running the way I would like them run.
JE: Just the office?
FR: No, that will probably be my grandson or some of my grandsons that would be lawyers, come and visit them, make sure they are running the ship the way they are supposed to. If not, I will pinch them.
JE: Send them out to be active?
FR: I have 3 grandsons and only 1 of them is thinking of being a lawyer. The other 2 are Notre Dame and Purdue - they are in engineering schools so hopefully . . .
JE: Do you think they will come back here to live?
FR: They are going to travel. The one in Notre Dame is already starting off by going to Bangladesh. He is on a boxing team at Notre Dame and they have about 12 or 15 missions there and he is going for a month as soon as he gets out of school in May. He is one of 20 students that are being sent there to work with the missions . . .
JE: Could you talk him into coming back to Houston? Would you talk him into coming back to Houston?
FR: No, I think that I would like for them to go out and ultimately, the same way I did with my daughters. I gave them all the space they needed to go away and both of stayed here. They had opportunities to work elsewhere and they chose to take a job in Houston because they wanted to be close to mom and dad. And I hope being that way with the grandkids, they, too, later on will decide to settle here.
JE: You talk about the diversity of Houston. Do you think that we should keep the diversity in the sense that we have Hispanics and we have African Americans and we have Anglos and we have Asians and Middle Easterners . . . do you think that we should keep those identities and live together?
FR: I think what I have seen in the last 10, 15, 20 years, every new community, every new segment of the population here and I can probably . . . more specifically the Asian community, back in the early 1970s, we had one-half of one percent of the population showed up as being of Asian background. I think this latest census update were up 9%. That community, the Vietnamese community, is the fastest growing in the Asian community - has adapted and has worked with the Hispanics. I can talk about the southwest part of Houston where they are very well integrated. I have. I know of a lot of people, a lot of folks, Hispanics, whether it be Mexican descent, Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, intermarriages with the Vietnamese folks. They have a great relationship ______. We helped them. We had a group of young Hispanics working his campaign to get him elected against the guy he defeated . . .
FR: Yes. We made great bonding with that community and we understand the differences in not only our ethnic background but also religion-wise and I think they made great strides in working together, living together, that has really enhanced the value of the city. I think that pride of being whatever you are - Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Polish, African American - I think that pride is going to exist forever, and I think instead of trying to . . . using the melting pot concept, that is not going to work. I think we can live together, we can learn from one another, we all have many, many things to offer one another. We have language, we have cultural, we have tradition to offer to the Anglo community, to the African American community, and we need to learn to respect those things that are important to each one of the segments of the population. I think that this city, and I can tell you comparing this city, in that respect to Chicago, this city has done a magnificent job, with the type of mayors that we have been electing here - people like Bill White. I mean, this guy grew up with our folks in San Antonio. He understands the Mexican American population, the Mexican American culture. He is very proud of telling you that he first worked for Joe Bernal in San Antonio in the State Senate, that he walked the streets for him. His mom and dad taught Hispanic kids in school. Those are the kinds of people that I think we have in Houston, the type of people that really make us feel good and make everybody feel good. And, as a result of that, I think we have a great city.
JE: Good enough. Thank you.