St. Petersburg Times: For the Disadvantaged and Against Scientology

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: June 25, 2006

Gabe Cazares spoke out, whether it was as Clearwater mayor, to promote civil rights or to fight Scientology.


CLEARWATER - Former Clearwater Mayor Gabe Cazares, a civil rights advocate, champion of the disadvantaged and archenemy of the Church of Scientology, died Friday (Sept. 29, 2006). He was 86.

As a politician, Mr. Cazares led the local Democratic Party and won public office at a time when few Hispanics even lived in Pinellas County.

As a community activist, he worked to help the poor and build bridges across racial lines in Clearwater during the early years of integration.

But after the Church of Scientology came to town in late 1975, Mr. Cazares became an outspoken critic. That led Scientologists to hatch plans to smear him with sex allegations and a phony hit-and-run accident.

Mr. Cazares questioned the church's motives, its quiet purchases of downtown property and the way its security guards carried billy clubs and Mace.

"I am unable to understand why this degree of security is required by a religious organization, and my concerns are shared by many other citizens," Mr. Cazares said in January 1976.

Within months, Clearwater was enveloped in a hostile, polarized environment marked by spying, sharp rhetoric, protests and smear tactics - some of them targeting Mr. Cazares.

Federal investigators later found Scientology internal memos outlining plans by church leaders to control public opinion in Clearwater, concoct a sex smear campaign against Mr. Cazares and infiltrate the local media and other institutions.

Scientology documents also revealed that church members had staged a phony hit-and-run accident with Mr. Cazares in an attempt to discredit him.

A criminal investigation led to prison sentences against 11 high-ranking Scientologists for breaking into federal offices in Washington.

When the smoke eventually cleared, a $1.5-million lawsuit filed by Mr. Cazares and his wife against the church was settled out of court in 1986. It was one of several suits between Mr. Cazares and the church over the years.

"Gabe saw Scientology as a threat to the city and very aggressively pointed those potential problems out to the electorate," said Ron Stuart, a former editor of the Clearwater Sun, also targeted by Scientologists.

"He quickly got on the Scientologists' enemy list," said Stuart, now the spokesman for the Pinellas-Pasco judicial circuit. "That was the atmosphere in the city at the time. Gabe didn't let it faze him. He stayed on it."

In the end, Mr. Cazares' work as a civic leader will be his legacy, family and friends say.

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