Raymond L. Telles, 97, El Paso's first Latino elected mayor and a former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, died Friday at the Sherman Oaks home of his daughter Cynthia Ann Telles, according to KTSM-TV of El Paso. He had been in failing health in recent years.
Mayor of El Paso from 1957 to 1961, Telles was then appointed ambassador to Costa Rica by President Kennedy and remained in that post until 1967. A Democrat, he became head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Nixon administration.
Telles is credited with opening the highest political offices in the Texas border city to other Latinos by running the government effectively during his two terms. As mayor, he pushed the fire and police departments to hire more Latinos.
His election as mayor of a major city was groundbreaking for Latinos in politics nationwide, his biographer, Mario T. Garcia, said in a 2005 interview with the El Paso Times.
"As the Hispanic population of this country continues to grow, Ambassador Telles will surely be recognized as one of the founding fathers of contemporary Latino politics in the United States," said Garcia, a professor of history and Chicano studies at UC Santa Barbara.
Born in El Paso on Sept. 5, 1915, Telles served in the Army and the Air Force. He was El Paso County clerk for four terms. Before he became mayor, whites had dominated El Paso politics. He was elected with the support of a grass-roots effort based on registering Mexican American voters and getting them to the polls, along with some crossover white votes, according to Garcia.
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