GADDI VASQUEZ BOWS OUT : For a Lifelong Star, an Unwanted First : Profile: Onetime rising GOP Latino luminary touted for state or national office will leave board under cloud of bankruptcy.
Gaddi H. Vasquez always has been the first or the youngest, a man whose early career was gilded with superlatives.
At 19, Vasquez was the youngest police officer in the history of the city of Orange. A few years later, he became the first Latino member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the state’s highest-ranking elected Latino in the Republican Party. Then just 33, Vasquez was a rising GOP star, touted by party gurus as a man with almost unlimited political potential at state and national levels.
But Wednesday, Vasquez added a different kind of groundbreaking role to his resume, becoming the first supervisor tarnished by Orange County’s devastating bankruptcy to opt against a return to office.
Ever since the bankruptcy in December, Vasquez and the two other supervisors in office at the time have been buffeted by a storm of criticism over their inability to foresee the brewing crisis.
For the most part, Vasquez remained stoic, stating repeatedly that he would not step down despite threats of recall and repeated calls for his resignation; he owed it to the county, he said, to help steer it through its turmoil.
But the controversy appears now to have taken a toll, contributing to Vasquez’s sudden announcement to leave the hot seat he has occupied as board chairman in the months since the bankruptcy, friends said Wednesday.
“I just think he wants to spend more time with his family and wants to get back to having more of a private life,” said lobbyist Randy Smith, a close friend. “I think the bankruptcy had something to do with it, but probably he’s also just looked at his priorities and realized that he’s devoted the better part of his life to public service, and frankly, that’s probably not been as much fun lately as it was before.”
The decision appears to signal an early departure from a political career begun with much fanfare, when Republican leaders focused on Vasquez as a Latino hope for the party, an articulate speaker who could bridge the gap between the GOP and the fast-growing Latino community.
A bedrock conservative, Vasquez was a man who spoke of his own experience in explaining his beliefs. He spent the first years of his life in a farm labor camp, then in the barrios of Orange County, experiences that together with his polished presentations made him political gold to California Republican leaders.
A graduate of the University of Redlands, Vasquez became an aide to then-Gov. George Deukmejian. In 1987, the governor appointed him to the Board of Supervisors, and the next year he easily won election in a victory that underlined his potential to political leaders in Sacramento and Washington.
Within days of his election, Vasquez was being considered for state appointments. Some even talked of a bid for governor one day. And in August, 1988, Vasquez was chosen to address the Republican National Convention on the night George Bush was nominated for President, the first of two speeches the young supervisor gave before successive conventions.
But by Wednesday, when Vasquez announced the decision not to run for reelection in March, the political career begun with such promise had not reached the heights that many expected.
“The leadership ability didn’t seen to be there,” said Barbara Kiley, a Yorba Linda city councilwoman. “The charisma was there, but the leadership was not there.”
Kiley said that she and other elected officials were proud of Vasquez when he appeared on national television at the 1988 convention. “We were proud he was representing us,” she said. “We saw him as having a future. Gaddi was going somewhere.”
In recent years, though, Kiley said, Vasquez seemed to shy away from controversial issues and did not show leadership skills.
At this point, several observers said, it would be difficult, although not impossible, for Vasquez to return to politics.
“I think if he were calculating a return to political office, he would stay there now and try to redeem himself this next election. Then, if you can pull that off, you’re back in the fold pretty much. But it seems very difficult to me otherwise,” said Bruce Nestande, a former county supervisor who is now a political business consultant. Vasquez served as Nestande’s executive assistant in the early 1980s.
Still, others cautioned against writing Vasquez’s political obituary, saying that he might yet choose to re-enter the arena.
“You’re talking about the guy whose great political hero was Richard Nixon,” said Larry Thomas, vice president of the Irvine Co. and a former Vasquez colleague in Sacramento. “And how many times was he counted out?”
Times correspondent Shelby Grad contributed to this story.