RIP Gus Garcia, Austin’s First Elected Hispanic Mayor

Civic and education leader dies at 84

Gus Garcia in 2013 (photo by John Anderson)

Tributes are accumulating upon the passing Gustavo “Gus” Garcia, who fought for civil rights and blazed a trail for Hispanic public officials in Austin. Garcia was Austin’s first elected Hispanic mayor (2001-2003) after serving nine years as a City Council member, and was also the first Hispanic Austin ISD trustee and board president.

As the news of his passing moves across the city, personal tributes on social media note his honesty, strength, fortitude, and passion. One of the briefest and most eloquent, from attorney and activist Lulu Flores, reads: “Rest in peace Gus Garcia … Your legacy lives on. Gracias por todo.”

Longtime political ally, fellow fighter, and friend Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said he’d gotten the word of Garcia’s passing early Monday. “I didn’t expect it – but when do you expect anything in this life?” he said. Barrientos said Garcia had a “soft exterior but a hard core.”

“For those of us who had come from that era,” Barrientos continued, “if you happened to be a Mexican-American, there were many obstacles to success. Gus dealt with all those obstacles, and came to a point of serving the entire community. Some leaders find it hard to make that transition, but Gus was a professional, and a leader for the whole community.”

Barrientos recalled fighting alongside Garcia for representation at Austin ISD, and later to create and support Austin Community College. Barrientos said that perhaps his friend’s training as a CPA led him to a certain kind of precision in politics. “He was always looking for an exact solution, the best solution for a specific problem.” With a laugh, Barrientos also remembered calling on Garcia, in the early days, to prepare his taxes: “All those numbers … I told him, Gus, let’s pay the taxes, but not overpay them.”

Other notable tributes on Twitter:

Mayor Steve Adler: “We feel a community-wide heavy heart as one of our greatest Austin giants moves on. Mayor Garcia focused our city as no one had, setting us on a course to seek equity and justice for all of Austin. I will miss my friend and teacher.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett: “For decades, Gus and Marina have been a great team for our community. Gus Garcia provided a gentle but forceful voice for public education, equal opportunity, the environment, and active participation by Hispanics in public decision-making and every aspect of our community.”

Former Council member Mike Martinez: “Like everyone else, I’m truly saddened to hear the news of the passing of Mayor Gus Garcia. He was a legend among legends. I will forever be grateful for his counsel and advice … but most [of all] for his friendship. RIP Mayor. Austin is better today, because of you.”

Sen. Kirk Watson: “We’ve lost a very special man with the passing of Mayor Gus Garcia. He built bridges in our community with a huge heart and a dedication to the people he served. I loved him & learned from him.”

For more on the late Gus Garcia, follow the Daily News and this week’s print edition.

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