WASHINGTON, DC -- He is a Latino running for mayor and considers himself an anti-establishment candidate. No, he is not Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the Chicago mayoral candidate making headlines; this time, the candidate is a Texan.
Marcos Ronquillo is challenging Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who is seeking re-election. In doing so, Ronquillo has billed himself as a candidate taking on some of the gleaming Texas city’s entrenched ways of doing business.
Being an anti-establishment candidate means taking on “the old way of thinking with respect to neighborhoods, with respect to economic development and transportation,” Ronquillo told NBC. It means rejecting the long tradition of the Dallas Citizens Council recruiting the mayoral candidates and then funding the campaign, he said.
“I elected not to seek any endorsements from the citizens council. My positions are different,” said Ronquillo, in Washington for a fundraiser Wednesday for which tickets ranged from $75 to $2,500.
With his hat in the ring for the May 9 election, Ronquillo is among a group of Latinos in campaigns for mayor in five major U.S. cities. The position has launched the national careers of other Latinos including Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who was mayor of San Antonio.
But Ronquillo said he is not looking at the position as a springboard to higher office. He has already worked in Washington, D.C., as a civil rights attorney in the Carter administration. He is 61.
He also has been an attorney to Forbes 500 companies, worked as a bond lawyer, represented city departments, the airport, the transit authority and the school system in desegregation cases. He’s worked in Argentina and Mexico, led the Mexican American Bar Association, the Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and has served on nonprofit boards including United Way of Dallas.
But Ronquillo has made his campaign about neighborhoods; he says he wants to return the focus and resources to Dallas rather than turning it into a “glorified bus stop to the suburbs.” When he launched his campaign, he stood in a pothole between a liquor store and a tire shop.
“I basically want to go back to basics. Our middle class is fleeing,” he said.
Dallas is the nation’s ninth largest city, behind Chicago. Its population is 42 percent Latino, 28 percent white and 25 percent African American.
But Ronquillo, citing information gleaned from the Dallas Morning News, said the city has seen an increase in residents living in poverty.
“We have a crisis in Dallas in terms of an economic divide. The middle class is fleeing Dallas. There is a lack of mixed income families attending public schools,” he said. “If you are getting ready to make it, and getting to the middle class levels, there is a lack of housing stock to support the middle class.”
Meanwhile the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex suburbs are doing fine. “Dallas is the hole in the doughnut, it’s supposed to be the anchor,” he said.
Against that backdrop, he has made opposition to a planned toll road a center issue of his campaign. The estimated $900 million it will cost to build, he said, could be used for other transportation needs, and parkland it would destroy could be preserved.
"I'm at the right place at the right time on the right side of the issue," he said.
Born in Tucson, Ariz., Ronquillo is the son of a Navy veteran who lied about his age to join the service and served in the Pacific. His father’s military service took the family to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Baltimore and San Francisco. Ronquillo married his high school sweetheart who is from Puerto Rico, where he met her.
His grandfather is originally from Cananea in Sonora, Mexico. His father crossed the border into Arizona and worked as a blacksmith. He raised a family of 13, including Ronquillo’s mother. Ronquillos parents are both Mexican American.
In Puerto Rico's Fort Buchanan high school, Ronquillo was a wrestling champion and played on his high school champion baseball team. He also wrestled and boxed at Notre Dame, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. He earned a law degree at George Washington University Law School.