Alice Rodriguez, 69, has long represented South Waco, including Baylor University, in District 2 on the Waco City Council. She served on the council from 1991 to 2001, then returned in 2005. She is local chapter president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Q Why are you running for another term?
A Much of the development is happening in my district, starting from the convention center all the way down to La Salle and the river and up. A lot of development is for student housing, much of it connected with Baylor. This involves Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and 10th streets south between Clay and the interstate. Folks come to me with their concerns. I like that people are comfortable with me. For instance, one person who lives at Eighth and Cleveland got a letter and didn’t understand it. He got the idea from someone else who looked at it that the city was going to take his home. So he got upset and comes to my office at Ninth and La Salle. He was crying when he got there. “Alice,” he said, “I’ve voted for you. Why do you want my house?” He was telling me this in Spanish. I looked at his letter and all it was was a letter from the Plan Commission saying they were going to rezone around his area. That’s all it said.
Q What percentage of your district is Hispanic?
A It’s not as high as it used to be. After redistricting, we had lower numbers than ever because of the housing and all the development and Baylor students. My understanding is that City Council member Toni Herbert’s district now has higher numbers of Hispanics than mine.
Q What are your thoughts regarding Prosper Waco?
A It’s something that’s been needed. We’ve talked about it and talked about it. Of course, we all know that education is what’s going to get us out of poverty, but right now we need jobs.
Q But why has this movement suddenly gained momentum?
A When Mayor Virginia DuPuy was working with the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance, I was working with the Waco Independent School District but I was still a council member. So Virginia and I talked about getting things going. She asked me for help. She didn’t ask any of the other council members, just myself because I worked for the school district and worked in the dropout prevention program. So we got some people together. I think that’s where it started.
Q What must happen for this initiative to work? There’s a lot of very different pieces — everything from education to economic development to this Reintegration Roundtable to put ex-offenders back into the workforce and the community. But is there one piece that must fall into place for the rest to succeed?
A Bringing good-paying jobs — those from $10 an hour and up. I know a lot of families struggling to make ends meet. My family was one of them. Now, we have education in place already, such as the MAC grants and stuff that go to kids who live in McLennan County, so they all know they have a place to go. The Hispanic dropout and pregnancy rate is huge, but not as bad as it has been. And LULAC stays on top of that. But education is a big part of it. And this reintegration initiative is important. A lot of our sons and daughters are in prison and we feel as a minority that a high number of them get sentences.
Q Isn’t that because of poverty?
A Yes, because if you get out and can’t find a job, what are you going to do? You’re going to go right back and do what you know you’re not supposed to do. As a council member, I think we can move the city to vote and make resolutions to help move this forward. I’m glad, for instance, all the local elected entities got together recently for the first time to talk with one voice to state legislators.
Q Last year the Tax Increment Financing District board allocated $35 million for Baylor Stadium, which generated several letters to our paper — not just about the scope of money but the fact it was going to a private entity that doesn’t pay property taxes.
A Oh, I got the same criticism over that. But we’ve been criticized for a lot of things. I understand that everything I do is not going to please a lot of folks. But we have to do what we think is best for the city of Waco, and as long as we have that in our heads and minds, all these criticisms will just bounce right off our backs. I understand some of the criticism, such as there being only six or seven football games a year, but Baylor folks say they’re going to have a lot more events at this stadium. Plus, all this talk we’ve been doing on the council about wanting a big anchor for development of the Brazos River — well, this is it. This is something we have been asking for — the big anchor for development along the Brazos River.
Q The city and the county split on Medicaid expansion. Are you still solidly behind the idea of expanding it?
A I know too many folks right now who aren’t covered. Some of them have babies and they can’t take their babies to the doctor, so they go to the emergency room and let somebody else pay for it. I see that all the time. I mean, a lot of things can be said pro and con, but from my perspective I’d like to see it here in Waco. My mother recently had an emergency and we took her to the emergency room and that place was packed with babies, sick babies. You sit there and listen to them and you hear the conversations of folks there: “Well, I had to bring my baby because he’s sick and I don’t have money for a doctor and I know if I come here, I’ll be seen and I don’t have to pay for it.” And the doctors have to see them. It’s another crucial aspect of our poverty initiative.
Q There have been a lot of complaints that backyard breeding is happening in ZIP codes in your district, which adds to the overall problem of unwanted pets in Waco.
A The only thing we can do is what we’re doing now by having free clinics for spaying and neutering. Of course, the people this all applies to won’t go.
Q Why don’t they go?
A They don’t read the paper and they don’t care about the news.
This interview was conducted by the Trib editorial board, then condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker. Election Day is May 11. Early voting begins Monday, April 29.