Manuel R. Ferrales, a political trailblazer who served eight years as the first Latino on the Sacramento City Council, died Saturday.
He was 80 and had coronary artery disease, his family said.
First elected in a citywide vote in 1969, Ferrales was in the vanguard of political newcomers who shook up the established order at City Hall. He joined a trend toward diversity on the council during the 1960s that was set by Sun G. Wong, the first Asian American, and Milton L. McGhee, the first African American.
A Gardenland resident, Ferrales was the first Latino and first person elected from north of the American River on the council. He took his seat on a nine-member council that included five white men from the Land Park neighborhood.
He was re-elected in 1971 when the city switched to district elections to represent the Gardenland, Northgate and west downtown neighborhoods.
"He was definitely an outsider," said former Mayor Phil Isenberg, who joined the council in 1971. "He represented a part of the city and an ethnic group that had not been represented before."
An accountant by profession, Ferrales was a well-known community organizer. He was a founder and president of Concilio Inc., a social services agency. He helped found the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and supported efforts to create a community bank.
As a City Council member, he supported housing for the poor and elderly, programs to fix up declining neighborhoods and more minority hiring at City Hall. He was re-elected in 1973, when terms were increased from two years to four.
His political fortunes took a hit when his job as head of the Sacramento Diocese's Department of Mexican American Affairs was eliminated amid allegations of financial mismanagement. He was defeated for re-election in 1977.
Nevertheless, Ferrales' groundbreaking run for City Council galvanized Latinos and offered a glimpse of their political future. His campaign manager was Joe Serna, a political science professor at California State University, Sacramento, who later became Sacramento's first Latino mayor.
A teenager, Deborah Ortiz, walked precincts that she later would represent in the state Assembly and Senate. Serna's son Phil helped create campaign lawn signs designed by his mother and other members of the Royal Chicano Air Force art group.
Ferrales' victory "paved the way not just for Joe, but for Deb and me and others," said Phil Serna, the first Latino elected to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. "I stand on the shoulders of many people, and Manuel is one of them."
The eldest of three children raised by a law enforcement officer and a nurse, Ferrales was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1931. He graduated from the Chihuahua Institute of Technology.
He immigrated to Sacramento with his wife, Rosamaria, in 1955. He served in the Army before getting involved in community activities and raised two daughters with his wife of 49 years, who died in 2003.
Ferrales' election to the City Council represented a turning point in Sacramento politics. Prominent liberals and minority leaders soon followed him to City Hall, including Isenberg, Robert Matsui, Robbie Robertson, Callie Carney and Anne Rudin.
"He was a very congenial person you couldn't not like Manuel," Rudin said. "He was very popular with the people in his district. I think he made it easier for ethnic populations to elect somebody they felt was one of them."