Cazares' Blend Of Fire and Kindness

Source: Tampa Tribune
Date: October 3, 2006

Gabe Cazares never shied from a fight, regardless of how powerful the opponent. But he was as kind-hearted as he was feisty, and his community benefited because of his service.

In the 1970s the former Clearwater mayor and Pinellas County commissioner - who died last week at 86 - took on the Church of Scientology and overcame the church's efforts to smear him with a phony hit-and-run accident.

In the late 1990s he confronted Taco Bell for commercials that featured a talking chihuahua. He didn't care that some thought he was overly sensitive. He found the commercials insulting to his fellow Hispanics.

Cazares couldn't stand to see people belittled, especially minorities and the poor. He brought attention to the plight of migrant workers and spent long hours collecting food and necessities for them.

A longtime member of the NAACP, Cazares promoted equal rights at a time when such a stance meant political suicide for many Southern politicians. But the gregarious, straight-talking veteran had a way of winning people over. People could see that he lived his beliefs.

A Democrat who attained success in a Republican county, he was mayor from 1975 to 1978 and a Pinellas commissioner from 1980 to 1984. But the impact he had on this region transcended his years in office.

With his rare blend of fire and compassion, Gabe Cazares made a difference, and for that he will long be remembered with fondness by a grateful community.