WHEN A GUNMAN WALKED INTO A DINKY SAN ANTONIO OFFICE last September and ended 53-year-old Eddie Garcia’s remarkable life, more than just a man died; so did the good ol’ amigo network that had run parts of the city for two decades. Although the network’s demise was long in coming, Eddie’s murder was the last straw. Typically, he was on the phone at the time, making a deal. He was the consummate dealmaker in a community where the public and the private sectors are inextricably linked. The San Antonio media christened him the Bingo King, a tribute not only to the fact that he owned three profitable bingo parlors but also to his skill at manipulating the politics of the game, which he learned from his sponsors and mentors in the back rooms of the West Side. Others called him Fast Eddie. They marveled at his ability to spot an opportunity, joking that he would rather make a bad deal than no deal at all. That’s why everyone assumed the killer had to be a professional: Otherwise, Eddie could have talked him out of it.
“If anyone wanted to smoke Eddie, it would have been easy,” says his longtime friend Jack Pytel, a former assistant district attorney of Bexar County. “Everyone knew where he worked, where he ate lunch. He was a creature of habit.” But why would anyone want to smoke him? The question has been asked countless times in bars, grocery stores, pool halls, and gyms, as well as in the corridors of city hall and the state capitol.
Eddie’s murder stunned San Antonio, a city that’s seen it all. A crowd of nearly one thousand, including a few of his current and past girlfriends, packed San Fernando Cathedral to say good-bye. Regulars at Callaghan Plaza and the two other bingo halls that Eddie owned put aside their felt card markers and bowed their heads for a moment of silence. The high and the humble gathered in clusters on street corners or in cantinas, sharing memories and swapping theories of who could have done it. “It was almost as if Luca Brasi had been hit,” one acquaintance of Eddie’s says, referring to the loyal but unlucky foot soldier in The Godfather.
WHO WOULD HAVE DREAMED THAT a poor kid from the South Side could have come so far and gone so swiftly? Eddie Garcia was exactly the sort of ambitious drone who energized the power structure behind the scenes and helped it take root in the seventies. Before then, the city was bonded to the Good Government League (GGL)—that is, the white business community—whose mentality and social conscience were perfectly summed up in 1970 by then mayor Walter McAllister when he told a television interviewer, “Our citizens of Mexican descent are very fine people…they love beauty, they love flowers, they love music, they love dancing. Perhaps they’re not quite, let’s say, as ambitiously motivated as the Anglos to get ahead financially, but they manage to get a lot out of life.” The league’s lock was broken in 1973 when grocery tycoon Charles Becker bolted from the old guard and won the mayoralty. Two years later young Henry Cisneros, the GGL’s mexicano choice for city council, won his race and immediately declared his independence. Six years after that he was elected mayor.
During the same period, the venerable Henry B. Gonzales was establishing himself as a power player in the U.S. Congress, having won his seat in 1961 with the invaluable support of an old friend, Morris Jaffe. The two had met during World War II, when Jaffe drove their mothers to mass; they grew close soon thereafter as Gonzales was starting his political career and Jaffe was piloting an airplane for the president of Mexico and beginning to accumulate a fortune in oil and gas exploration. Jaffe was one of those worldly, resolutely cantankerous characters who make San Antonio so unique. He had a Jewish father and a Spanish mother and the disposition of an Army mule; nothing seemed to stop him. He was equally comfortable sipping whiskey at the country club or swigging beer in a barrio cafe where the left half of the menu was Mexican and the right half Chinese. He became a friend of Lyndon Johnson’s and a force on the national political scene, conferring daily with Texas Democrats in Washington, D.C.
The network came together largely because of Jaffe’s access to wealth—his own and others’—and his ability to pull together disparate interests. Rather than monolithic, it was like an extended family: Its members didn’t have to like or even trust one another, but they had to work together, the theory being that unity was strength. Eventually the network elected a second congressman, Albert Bustamante, while supporting the ambitions of numerous Hispanic politicians, including the triad known as Los Tres Panchos: Frank Madla, who was elected to the state House before he moved to the Senate; state legislator and, later, U.S. congressman Frank Tejeda; and former San Antonio city council member Frank Wing, Cisneros’ right-hand man in San Antonio and eventually in Washington.
To succeed in the barrio, one needed a patrón, someone older, wiser, and better- connected. Eddie Garcia’s patrón was a prominent West Side businessman named John Monfrey. Through Monfrey, Eddie was introduced to nearly every important person in his life. Eddie had grown up hustling odd jobs, selling fireworks and peddling nickel-and-dime insurance door to door to help his working-class family. “He never had time to join a gang,” recalls Henry Rodriguez, a onetime neighborhood tough who is now the district director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “He was a talker, not a fighter.” Later Eddie sold ads for a radio station, a job that put him in the company of radio and TV personalities. His big break came in the early seventies when he was hired on at Monfrey’s Falstaff beer distributorship. Monfrey was something of a rake, a gambler and horse-racing proponent with impressive connections;