Ray Garza, executive director for the Spanish Speaking Affairs Council.

John Croft, Star Tribune

Former St. Paul council candidate Roy Garza dies

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • April 27, 2012 - 11:07 AM

Former St. Paul City Council candidate Roy Garza, who was the first Hispanic to run for the position, has died of complications following a motorcycle accident. He was 60.

Garza ran for the council in 1989 but lost in a recount. Mayor Chris Coleman ran Garza's campaign during which the candidate had a life-threatening stroke between the primary and general election.

"But for the stroke, there's no question he would have won," Coleman said on Thursday. "His great skill was connecting with people, and that's one of the things that was affected by the stroke.

"He was just a great guy, very charismatic, empathetic and had great values," said Coleman, who lived in the Frogtown neighborhood at the time and knew Garza through his work there. The experience was the mayor's first real job in politics.

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Garza moved to Minnesota after graduating from Lubbock High School. He earned a master's degree in social work at the University of Minnesota and a master's in business administration from the University of St. Thomas.

In the early 1990s under Mayor Jim Scheibel, Garza ran St. Paul's Community Services Department.

Garza's parents were migrant workers who decided in 1970 to settle at McDonough Homes, a St. Paul public housing project. Then 18, Garza joined his parents and his eight brothers and sisters in a five-bedroom unit. He lived at McDonough for 10 years, working as a social worker for five.

"It was pretty tough living there -- real tough," he said in a 1990 interview with the Star Tribune. "The dream was to get out. Sometimes it was all you could think about."

Part of Garza's role with the city was to reach out and help Southeast Asian immigrants. "I'm convinced we don't think big enough," he said. "We should do more than hire translators. We should begin the training services now to help them become social workers, doctors and lawyers."

Garza also headed the Spanish Speaking Affairs Council from 1993 to 1995, when he resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment made by four women.

Garza's funeral will be at noon Friday at Eagle Brook Church, 2401 E. Buffalo St., White Bear Lake.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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