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Politics

Juan Capin made mark on local politics from behind the scenes


Published:   |   Updated: September 24, 2013 at 06:07 PM

TAMPA — Juan Capin used to say that politics belong to the people.

“He believed it to the core. He felt we all had a duty to do what we could to get the right people in office,” said his wife, Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne “Yolie” Capin.

A wake is planned tonight at Ybor City’s Centro Asturiano for Capin, who died Sept. 16 from a rare and aggressive form of liver cancer.

Since his death, Capin has often been referred to as “Councilwoman Capin’s husband.” And for good reason. Yolie Capin has long been the spouse with her name in the headlines; the known of the two. In the world of politics, she was what is referred to as the “King.”

Capin preferred it that way, casting himself as the “kingmaker.” And on the grassroots level, he was one of the most effective in the city.

“Juan did not do anything out of obligation or because of what it could get for him,” his wife said.

She recalled a fundraiser they put together for then-presidential candidate Barrack Obama in 2007.

That year, the Capins formed the O-Train, a group of Tampa-based political activists who supported the Obama campaign.

In April 2007, the O-Train held its first fundraiser. They had been charged with raising $250,000 by the election’s conclusion. They hit the mark by the end of that one day.

“When Obama won, people would say to my husband, ‘You did all that work for Obama, but you received nothing in return,’ They expected him to be mad. He would just reply, ‘Yes I did. I got the president I wanted.’

“That was Juan. He really believed in this country.”

Capin was born in Spain when it was ruled by fascist dictator Francisco Franco. His family, worried their political views would bring them harm, fled to Venezuela in the 1950s. Shortly thereafter, eager for their 10-year-old son to learn English, they sent Capin to Ybor City to live with an aunt. The trip was supposed to last a year. Instead, Ybor City became his permanent residence.

He and Yolie Capin were high school sweethearts. They married shortly after graduation, and together ran a chain of jewelry stores for more than two decades. The Capins’ true calling was politics, though, and they climbed up the ladder together.

Yolie Capin said their first election experience was in the early 1980s when they volunteered for high school friend Annette DeLisle’s run for County Commission. They stuffed envelopes, answered phones and most importantly, studied the heads of the campaign’s every move, learning how a successful grassroots organization is run.

In the ensuing years, they volunteered for a campaign during each election season, always learning more and more. As their experience grew, so did their roles.

Their first major splash was in 2004 when John Kerry was running for president. It was suggested that Kerry’s Tampa team ask local artists to hold a show in support of the candidate. Capin liked the idea, but thought it had a flaw. He had long believed in supporting artists, so he proposed splitting the proceeds between the campaign and the artists.

“That was all Juan’s idea.”

The event was flooded with artwork. It raised $17,000 for the Kerry campaign and $8,000 for the artists.

Following that event, Capin was in high demand.

“Juan worked on so many campaigns that I have lost track. He was always the memory of our relationship. He could probably have told you every campaign along with dates and how much each raised.”

On Capin’s advice, his wife eventually decided to walk out from behind the curtain and run for public office; he chose to continue to work from behind the scenes.

“That was where he was happiest. But I think he would have made a tremendous public official. He was courageous, educated and selfless. And that is what we need in leaders.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

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