WALLA WALLA — After numerous tries at winning a public seat over almost three decades, Conrado Cavazos Jr. will attend his first City Council meeting on Wednesday as the new District Three City Council member.
"I can’t remember how many times I ran; there have been so many," Cavazos said.
Cavazos, who was sworn in last month, previously ran for a seat in 1981, 1989 and again in the early ’90s, applied for two appointments caused by vacancies in 1991 and 1992, ran twice for a seat on the Pasco City Council while living there in the 1990s, and after moving back to Walla Walla ran again in 2007 against Bobby Hodge and current Council member Jim Barrow.
In all those years and attempts, Cavazos said the 1989 election was his closest, when he and Tom Williams were tied after all the poll-cast ballots had been counted.
"I remember being there in the courthouse when they announced all through the night, because it was a tight race," Cavazos said.
But as the absentee votes were counted, Williams pulled ahead to win with 51 percent of the vote.
Last year, Cavazos said he had almost given up on running again, but changed his mind on the last day to file.
"I wasn’t going to run anymore. Not that I was tired. I just thought that it seemed like possibly that I was never going to be voted in," he said.
Cavazos wasn’t voted in this time.
In the spring of last year, Mayor Dan Johnson made it publicly knowN he would not run for re-election. And though that announcement was made to colleagues, friends and on a local news radio show, even Johnson noted in a December interview that people were still surprised when they learned he would no longer serve on Council.
Cavazos said that on the last day to file, he too was unaware of Johnson’s plans. But he also had a change of heart that day.
"Friday, I just jumped up and ran over to the courthouse. And initially I signed up against Shane Laib," Cavazos said, noting he felt certain he could never defeat Johnson, and he believed Johnson was waiting for the last minute to file.
But later that afternoon, Cavazos said a friend who worked at the courthouse urged him to return to the Auditor’s Office. Once there, Cavazos said he met with Council members Dominick Elia and Laib.
"When I got there, Shane was there and Elia was there. And that is when they told me that Johnson is not running anymore. And I said is that for real. And they said, ‘Yes. That’s true,’" Cavazos said, noting he still waited until the last couple of minutes before filing to run on Johnson’s seat.
With the deadline past and no opponents registered for the November ballot, Cavazos was virtually guaranteed a win, providing no write-in candidate emerged. On Nov. 3, 2009, he won with 4,740 votes, or 96.40 percent.
Cavazos, now retired, has worked mostly as a social worker, counselor and teacher. He first lived in the Walla Walla Valley in 1953, as the child of migrant workers. Later, in 1960 his family settled here and lived at the farm labor camp, with some 300 to 400 other residents, he estimated.
"It is not the same camp you see now. It was an old barracks. No (indoor) water, no (attached) restrooms inside. Just rooms and a wooden stove and an ice box ... and just one light bulb. No power to run anything except a single light bulb. Just one per each room," Cavazos described.
Though he never finished high school and never received a GED, Cavazos successfully challenged and enrolled in community college at 26.
Over the next several years, he earned an associate’s degree from Walla Walla Community College, a bachelor’s degree from Whitman College and a juris Ph.D. law degree from Gonzaga University.
He has served on a number of nonprofit and community-service boards at state and local levels. He also has an interest in art, and creates water colors and paper mache masks.
"I have always been community oriented. I help a lot of community groups. But it has always been on the outskirts of everything. And you are always having to go up to somebody and ask for help ... I always had an interest of being at that level of helping," he said.