John Castillo, a member of the Houston City Council from 1996 to 2000, has passed away, reports the Houston Chronicle. Castillo, in addition to his duties as an elected official, was one of the most prominent Hispanic political activists in the City. His brother-in-law, Leonel Castillo, served as City Controller in the 1970s and later as the Director of the INS, both positions that John Castillo was instrumental in obtaining for him.
For every election that his brother-in-law or Ben Reyes won early on, advancing the cause of his community, Castillo was every bit as important from behind the scenes. “Leonel was the heart and soul of the Latino political movement, and John was the brains,” Reyes said about his mentor. Similarly conciliatory in his comments was Marc Campos, a local political consultant. “Back in the ’70s, we didn’t really have mentors. We were all learning back then. He was probably the first real numbers guy we had,” Campos said.
Castillo was born in 1939, the first of seventeen (that’s right, you heard it correctly) children. He was the first of his family to finish High School, much less College. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in math, only later getting into politics. He was a driving force behind the 1979 lawsuit that facilitated the Council districts, directly leading to his friend Reyes getting elected. He held the post for nearly 20 years, until he was forced out by term limits.
At that time, it was Castillo who succeeded him. He was easily re-elected twice before being forced out by term limits himself at the turn of the century.
In comments to the Chronicle, former Councilmember Rob Todd commended Castillo for being able to make such impressive inroads during his first term on the City Council. No doubt, his tenure on the Council was only the culmination of many long, hard years with his nose to grindstone.
Castillo was truly a giant among men, not only within his community, but for all of Houston. His statesmanlike work was invaluable in much of the City’s growth in the last twenty years. He will surely be missed.