By Alex Hinojosa
The Mayoral is seat open, and eight candidates are running for a chance to be the city’s next leader.
The new mayor will enter into a position during a time when the city council is currently under investigation by the Texas Rangers for a meeting they held behind closed doors in December concerning the development of a potential $180 million arena in the Union Plaza area that could affect residents of the Durangito neighborhood.
Early voting begins April 24 and ends May 2. Election day is May 6.
Contenders on the ballot for Mayor include City Representative Emma Acosta, 1966 NCAA Champion Willie Cager Junior, former Republican State Representative and Texas Education Agency appointed EPISD Board President Dee Margo, former Boys and Girls Club President David Saucedo; Retired postal worker and chair of the public policy committee at the El Paso Historical Commission Charles Stapler, and Elisa Morales and residents Jorge Artalejo and Jaime O. Perez who have run for political positions before. Perez ran against U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke twice, in 2014 and 2016, for the district 16 House seat as a Libertarian. Through email and phone interviews, City Beat asked each candidate to respond to several questions about their reason for running and their political aspirations. Only Saucedo did not respond to City Beat by the magazine’s deadline.
The questions asked of each candidate, are not all identical
Question: Why have you decided to run? What makes you stand out?
Acosta: To lead this city, the next Mayor must work tirelessly to gain the confidence of every part of our city! And I have a head start, I’ve worked with all the diverse communities that make up the fabric of this city. During my terms as City Councilor, I helped approve several programs and projects in District 3 which include: the first Park Pond in the district, Saipan/Ledo with another one to follow in the Lower Valley, Vocational Park/Pond, the Jose Cisneros Cielo Vista Library, the first gold LEED building, the Fountains at Farah, the Medical Center of the Americas Economic Development Program Grant- attained through a Franchise Fee collected from the El Paso Electric Company, which is helping the MCA are grow and create good paying jobs, the Uber Ordinance, Hawkins median beautification, the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Celebration, the MCA Transit Center, Walk & Bike trail along Viscount, Clardy neighborhood Streets reconstruction, Glenwood Street Construction, Movie Under the Stars in District 3 via partnerships with local businesses, the El Paso International Airport Cargo Facility. … I will work hard to help unite people towards common goals for the betterment of our great City, tackle the challenges that our city may face, and balance fiscal responsibility to ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely.
Artalejo: As the city has evolved from the prior election of my candidacy, clearly the city has not improved by the election of the year prior as evidenced by all manner of controversy about council without specific mention of incident in doubt of the integrity of council. Therefore one to position of leadership must be one of no doubt to integrity as member of council for council to operate as legally expected of council to interest of citizen of city. I harbor no design on council to my benefit, unlike what has recently been witnessed of others of council. As such, with no fault found, there is no disqualification to office for me. The more qualified because of previous political experience to office.
Margo: I am most proud of the work I did as President of the Board of Managers of EPISD. We solved a $20 million budget shortfall without a tax increase, and without layoffs. We did a complete turnaround from a District that had failed children and taxpayers, to one with improved governance and new leadership – restoring faith and financial stability to our largest school district. After completion of my term, I was approached to run for Mayor. Although I served in our Texas legislature, I believe our most important work is done at a local level. I have been successful and effective in building teams, and I will continue to deliver for this community.
Cager: To make a change in the city – period. I need to try and make a change for the city and work for the kids – they are our future.
Morales: I think the people will find my educational experiences and my experience within the healthcare industry along with my policy background ideal for the position of mayor. I have an MBA and have participated in study-abroad programs in Ireland where I got to study technology clusters.
Perez: I speak to realism and practicality. I do not subscribe to telling people what they want to hear but, rather, what they need to know. In this way, we can participate in and make the best decisions for the community as a whole.
Stapler: No one knows me. The thing is that all the candidates are known somehow and they don’t all necessarily have a great reputation. But the people don’t know me, which is good in a way. S, I have an advantage – and the people that know me and know me well, like me. And the people that don’t know me will get to know me.
Question: If elected as Mayor, what would be your first priority?
Artalejo: As a Mayoral candidate the platform I espouse is balance of management of city departments as the interest of the city as the city is composed of the citizen of the city is dependent on the proper management of the departments under the purview of the individuals specifically charged with the task of the management of these interests.
Acosta: With the Texas Rangers Investigation overshadowing the many accomplishments of this city, I propose more Ethics training for elected officials on a more frequent basis. I propose a stronger ethics ordinance that will impose tough sanctions for those elected that violate state and local ethics laws!
I propose giving government back to the people by bringing government to you. As Mayor, I will hold town hall meetings in every part of El Paso; East, Mission Valley, Central, South El Paso, Northeast, and the West Side….I propose no less than quarterly Evening City Council Meetings to bring government to you, so you can be involved in the votes that city council takes. Quality of Life also means Quality Jobs. I propose creating a climate that encourages businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in their ideas. That’s why I propose helping start-up businesses with tax reductions. This will encourage new business and new jobs, with more tax reductions for those companies that pay at least $10 an hour!
Cager: We need to fund our police department and emergency crews. It’s not being done. I would like to make a change for the city. We need to address the streets and fix the potholes. There are things that need to be done and right now it’s not getting done – plain and simple.
Margo: El Paso is on the cusp of tremendous growth and I want to provide strong leadership to city council, so we can have a successful governing body who holds management accountable. I believe the Mayor should be an ambassador for jobs so we can continue with the momentum of job creation. As CEO of JDW insurance, I grew the company from six to seventy employees in 30 years, and I have successfully worked with the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce and REDCo (now Borderplex Alliance) to recruit companies to our community. Education is also key to our success, and we must work with our school districts to ensure our students are prepared to succeed in the workforce. We also need a better grasp of our tax dollars and how they are spent. I am committed to strengthening city oversight and board accountability in many of our partner institutions, to ensure we get the most of our tax dollars. I focus on results.
Morales: Not only have I been talking to a lot of people about the economic revitalization in El Paso, but I got to see hands on what an industry cluster looks like and it’s moving parts. I got to go to Brazil and study bio-diversity – and one of the opportunities that I see for El Paso is innovating in our waste management. In Brazil I got to go to factories where they almost had a zero carbon footprint; and they recycled the dirty water to make smaller items; so they are very creative in their urban planning.
Perez: Retool city policies and priorities and prepare for an economic hit given US policies that want to eliminate NAFTA and deport migrants and the general global economic decline.
Also, organize citizen round table discussions to vet and set new priorities for the region. We must prepare for a decade of economic contraction. There has been no economic recovery nor will there be for the foreseeable future. On the contrary, there will be massive unemployment on the border.
Stapler: One of the things that really bugs me about City Hall is the fact that all the decisions on major issues have come before the council during the last year or tow – have always been a done deal; and the next thing you know they are voting on it. And no one has a chance to reach out to them – and those that do reach out to them (the council) the council does not listen to them. One of the things I’d like to do is to have town hall meetings in different parts of town and different times of the year so that people know what’s going on in their neighborhood. I’d like to bring the news to the people. (…) I love this town and I love it’s history. You’ll find that I am the chair of the public policy committee at the El Paso Historical Commission. I really understand there’s a lot of money to be made in heritage tourism. We could do a lot better in this town, there are so many people out there that select their history – and you can’t select history – it’s the good, bad and the ugly.
Question: There is an ongoing controversy regarding the location for an arena. What is your stance on the arena?
Artalejo: I expect as office holder to completely sit aside all aspects of the development of Durangito apart from aspects of development that enhance the existing neighbor as a point of designation by the community to the downtown area as the area exists on this writing. The area was publicly wronged by council by first action toward the area, and continues to be wronged by member of council blinded by fantasy of El Paso in an altered light.
Margo: I have not read the study, but if you pay experts $650,000 for a study, it should be thoroughly vetted and transparent. A previous 2006 study, also paid for with taxpayer dollars, pointed out the same location. Decisions need to be made and implemented. 70% of El Paso voters approved our 2012 Quality of Life Bonds – our citizens deserve results. No signature projects have been completed in almost 5 years.
Morales: There’s a lot of information on the arena and it has been done in a way that there is so much information and not enough real information. So, it’s hard to have an exact stance now. One of the tings however, is that you have to start out in an area where everyone agrees upon; and I think all the city council and El Pasoans agree that we need to expand our convention center – so, let’s start there. And then we can look at this whole downtown area and arena – and then look at the capacity of the market. We need to ask the question – do we have the capacity for a family to have season tickets to the Chihuahuas, the UTEP games, and the ability to go see the Rhinos (hockey team) and also go to events at this arena?
Perez: Move it to the Northeast. Easy to get to and avoids tremendous expense.
Stapler: One of the things I proposed to city council two times in a row was don’t put it where out at the airport. There are several reasons for placing it there – number one – they have the land out there and they can get it done a lot faster. But if they do this in Duragnito these people will put up a fight. And sure, there might be one or two left by the time it’s all said and done – but they will delay it and then continue to fight it through perhaps lawsuits. And that may delay it even further to three or four years down the road.
Acosta voted for the building of the arena in the Duragnito area in October, and has since asked other members of council to make a decision after the neighborhood was taken off the table; and then reconsidered again as a potential location for the arena. The back and forth led to a closed door meeting between four council members that is now under investigation. Acosta is not among those council members.
Question to Acosta: What is your opinion of the current investigation?
I want to set the record straight because many citizens believe that all of City Council is being investigated by the Texas Rangers regarding the Open Meetings Act when in fact it is four members and the current Mayor being investigated. I am not being investigated by the Texas Rangers.
I do believe the constituents of El Paso want the investigations to be finalized and for the great City of El Paso to move forward so that we could all focus on what is important like our neighborhoods, our streets, our public safety, and stimulating our economy to ensure that we have good paying jobs for everyone and for our children when they become of age to work.
Although Saucedo did not respond to City Beat’s email request, according to his website, Saucedo’s platform includes developing locally owned jobs, while preserving historical and open space. Saucedo also plans to ensure government accountability and transparency – although his website does not specify how. Saucedo also wants to control rising property taxes and is an advocate for public-private partnerships for major quality of life projects. Another goal Saucedo wants to achieve if elected, according to his website, is to prioritize the investment in the city’s fire and police departments in an effort to keep up with the growth of the city and decrease emergency call wait times. Other priorities include “capitalizing the emerging aerospace industry, expanding the El Paso film industry and promoting historical tourism and entertainment.”