Updated: April 12, 2013 6:36AM
EL PASO, Texas — Raymond L. Telles, El Paso’s first Hispanic elected mayor and a former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, has died. He was 97.
His daughter, Cynthia Ann Telles, said he died Friday in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where he’d been living.
Raymond Telles served as El Paso’s mayor from 1957 to 1961 and was later appointed ambassador to Costa Rica by President John F. Kennedy, for whom he became a close adviser.
Mr. Telles is credited with opening the highest political offices in the Texas border city to other Hispanics by running the city government effectively during his two terms in office. While in office, he pushed the fire and police departments to hire more Hispanics.
“He was the model for a whole generation, the one who absolutely proved that it could be done, that you could win elections and that you could break the mold,” Alicia Chacon, a former county clerk, who also held other local offices, once told the El Paso Times.
Mr. Telles’ election as mayor of a major city was groundbreaking for Latinos in politics nationwide, his biographer Mario T. Garcia said in a 2005 interview, according to 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, an El Paso native and professor of history and Chicano studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Prior to Mr. Telles’ election, whites had dominated El Paso’s politics, but Mr. Telles devoted himself to public service, also serving four terms as El Paso County clerk.
A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Mr. Telles was born in El Paso on Sept. 5, 1915.
Bert Williams, who Mr. Telles hired as city attorney, called Mr. Telles a great citizen.
“As a person and a politician, he always took time to listen,” Williams said. “He was very polite and very friendly and always was willing to help others.”