|Monday, November 22, 1999||
Volume 65, Issue 65
Cougars take care of business
|UH's Vasquez in
City Council runoff
By Ken Fountain
Gabriel Vasquez, a UH communication professor elected two years ago to the frying pan of the Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees, jumped into the fire of city politics this year when he began his campaign for the District H City Council seat.
After a fiercely fought race that pitted him against much of Houston's established Hispanic political leadership, Vasquez will face restaurateur and former Metropolitan Transit Authority board member Yolanda Black Navarro in a Dec. 4 runoff for the Council seat being vacated by Felix Fraga.
UH Communication professor Gabriel Vasquez will face challenger Yolanda Black Navarro in a Dec. 4 runoff election for Houston City Council District H.
District H encompasses the Anglo-majority Heights area, where Vasquez lives and which he carried in the Nov. 2 general election, as well as the city's Near North and east-side neighborhoods, which are heavily Hispanic and where Navarro led.
Vasquez, who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in public relations at UH, was criticized by many in the Hispanic community for his role in crafting -- with Republican HISD board member Jeff Shadwick -- a new bilingual education policy that emphasizes "the ability to read, write and speak English as rapidly as possible."
"The policy is a multilingual policy which states that all children in HISD should have the opportunity to learn multiple languages by graduation," Vasquez said.
He said the policy came about when the school board looked at Texas Assessment of Academic Skills scores and other test scores, which showed Hispanic students in bilingual classes were scoring well on Spanish tests but performed poorly in English reading and writing.
Vasquez's opponents claim that the policy, approved last summer, is geared toward promoting an "English-only" learning environment.
Although Vasquez denies the charge, the dispute over bilingual education drove a wedge between him and several Hispanic politicians, particularly state Sen. Mario Gallegos, whose district encompasses City Council District H.
Gallegos led an "anyone but Gabe" effort during the election and admitted to having helped put together a mailer that called Vasquez a vendido, or sellout. Vasquez said he believes the material was slanderous and illegal.
"Part of the conflict has nothing to do with bilingual education," Vasquez said. "My opponents are upset that I'm an independent person who's not trying to be part of their political machine."
Vasquez maintained his campaign is taking the high road and stresses neighborhood improvement, health and safety concerns and neighborhood-friendly economic development.
Vasquez was less clear regarding his future at the University should he win the runoff. If he wins and steps down from his teaching position at UH, he will take a pay cut to serve on the Council. Taking a leave of absence could jeopardize Vasquez's tenure, which he is scheduled to receive in the fall of 2000.
If Vasquez wins the election and remains at UH, he will not be paid for his Council service due to a constitutional amendment approved Nov. 2 that forbids state employees from being paid for holding public office.
Vasquez noted that HISD board members receive no salary. His four-year
term on the school board expires in 2001, but he would have to relinquish
the seat if elected to City Council.
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