Gabriel López, an Iraqi and Afghanistan veteran and the regional manager and deputy director of the Texas Veterans Leadership Program, has launched his campaign for the District II City Council seat.
He will run against incumbent Vidal Rodriguez in the November 6 general election. López has structured a “People first — Mission Always” platform that invites District II residents to speak up about their needs and to make them part of the decision-making for services and amenities that are a priority to them.
“There’s a price to pay for being silent,” López said, adding “If everyone in every district was proactive, we wouldn’t have a lopsided distribution of resources. If there is corruption, we are the ones who allowed it by who we elected and by letting them get away with it. When we are silent, they become bold.”
He asked, “When is enough enough? At what point do we turn this ship around and start doing what is right for everyone and not just a few? This Council makes decisions that are not right. They know the right thing to do, and yet they vote as though they do not. Take the maquinita moratorium they shot down. Everyone knows those are money laundering businesses, and yet the Council opened the door wider to permit more of them. Tell me how they are good for Laredo.”
López said there is a perception that City business is decided well in advance of meetings. “I learned something really valuable from Dr. Peter Haruna when I was earning my Master’s in Public Administration at TAMIU. Once you have heard all the arguments for and against an issue and established that it is not for the betterment of the community, you have what you need to make the right decision. Reason does not have to fly out the window.”
He said that his years in the Navy taught him the downside of not putting forth a best, good faith effort to accomplish goals. “There’s something wrong with not trying. There is even a lesson in failing,” he said.
López said his priorities center on the safety of families, including streets that are safe for children to walk to school. “We want our parks to be safe. We want traffic
to move safely. We want policing that controls reckless drivers,” he continued.
He considers the people of Laredo “the City’s best resource, all of them in every district.” He said they need to be part of the process of setting priorities. “Their voice counts. They need to be informed and involved. They need to take ownership of their City. It’s our job to empower them with skills and tools they can use to participate. I hold the Constitution very dear, especially the freedom of expression at the podium,” he said.
According to López, there are many excellent City employees and administrators who deserve recognition for their good work. “But there are also some fulltime City employees who work and manage their own private businesses on City time. That has to stop. That is theft of time,” he asserted.
The native Laredoan, the son of Laurentina and the late Jorge López, recalls his childhood as a migrant worker who traveled with his parents and siblings to Wisconsin and Oregon.
He said there were lessons gained from all his life’s experiences — including interrupting his school work to travel with his family across the country to harvest corn or asparagus. “The Texas Migrant Council and some good, kind teachers had our backs,” he said.
Lopez said his family’s circumstances changed and he left high school in San Antonio to go to work. López completed his GED in 1987 and joined the Navy, taking basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois. The Navy would teach him aerodynamics, advanced avionics, electronics, and the maintenance of search and rescue helicopters. In 1990, he began a tour of duty on the U.S.S. America that would take him to service in Desert Storm.
In the 2003 surge to end the reign of Saddam Hussein, he volunteered to go in-country as a convoy driver of supplies from Kuwait to Iraq.
In 2004 and 2005, he served aboard the carrier U.S.S. George Washington preparing F-18s for catapult.
“I completed a Bachelor’s degree in human services management in 2005. It took me 18 years, but I got it done,” he said, adding that the military made him more disciplined and more focused to detail.
He returned stateside to the Naval base in El Centro, California. He was diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome and “a fever of unknown origin.”
López retired in 2007 with the rank of Petty Officer First Class.
The illnesses and his expectations for steady employment back in Laredo, eroded at his notion of a good transition to civilian life. Nonetheless, he was relieved to be reunited with his wife and daughters Lizette, Karina, and Xochitl.
“It turns out my return was a textbook example of what can happen to you upon re-entering civilian life. The military doesn’t really prepare you. I experienced challenges to be understood, that how I projected myself affected others in ways I didn’t know. My self-confidence wasn’t where it could have been. I wrestled with the image of myself. Time has taken care of a lot of details,” he said.
López lost his oldest daughter, Lizette, in 2011 — a loss that pitched him into a deep depression, derailed his life and destroyed his marriage. “I was so angry and lost. I blamed myself. Her death was an unnatural thing to happen, out of the order of things. I was homeless for a while. I’ve learned to accept the things God sends you, and I am at peace now. I shaped up and asked my other two daughters for forgiveness,” he said.
His job as regional manager and deputy for the Texas Veterans Leadership Program under auspices of the Texas Workforce Commission allows him to help veterans who are transitioning to civilian life. “We discuss all the barriers they might be facing to find employment, including the state of their mental and physical health. I help them find resources for counseling and school. I talk to them about the inequality of wages in Laredo, what jobs might be available at $7.25 an hour and how to work toward the $15 an hour the military paid them,” López continued, adding, “Job placement is the ultimate goal.”
He said that assistance for Laredo’s 9,000 veterans is a “patched up proposition” in which every providing organization “means well and does their best.” López said that legislative policy at the State level would be the driver for better services. “Veterans are not receiving the quality assistance they deserve,” he said of the care offered the City’s hundred World War II survivors, the large population of Vietnam era veterans, and the survivors of Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
He speculated that many veterans, especially those of recent service, are mis-diagnosed for mental and physical conditions. “There was a meeting we all attended at which we brought the meds we had been prescribed. It turns out the Veterans Administration was giving all of us the same meds for different conditions. The universal med was to control fear. That revealed a lot about how the government is dealing with us, and maybe it explains the suicide rate among veterans,” he said.