Early voting got underway Tuesday in the runoff election for Place 4 on the Mercedes City Commission.
Incumbent Rubén “Chano” Guajardo is facing former Commissioner Jose Gomez after the four-way contest in May yielded no clear winner.
Candidates must win more than 50% of the vote. With 498 votes, Guajardo won more votes than the other three candidates vying for Place 4, but that tally amounted to only 37.87% of the total. Gomez, on the other hand — with 440 votes — came in at 33.46%.
Speaking after the May 8 election results came in, Guajardo said he was unsurprised by the outcome. For Gomez, the runoff was all part of the plan.
“My goal was keep it under 40% and let’s move from there, build from there. And that’s exactly what we did,” Gomez said Friday.
Gomez was optimistic ahead of the start of early voting, saying he and his campaign feel strong and ready to serve.
Guajardo was equally upbeat, saying that all elections are “tough battles,” but adding that he was excited and ready for the election.
Gomez previously served two terms on the commission. His tenure came to an end after an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2017.
In a city with citywide elections, Gomez had his choice of which race to enter. He chose to run against Guajardo because he felt he could present a stronger challenge to the incumbent.
“Chano is strong, but his way of leading and my way of leading are two different ways,” he said. “I believe that I could be the stronger challenger to him.”
Guajardo — the current mayor pro-tem — disagreed with his challenger on the breadth of their political differences, saying he felt Gomez’s motivations for running against him were instead personal.
“If you go back to our voting records, ma’am, former Commissioner Gomez and myself … probably voted alike well over 97, 98% of the time,” Guajardo said Friday. “But, if you ask him and his supporters, I’m the worst thing that ever happened to Mercedes.”
It was those supporters who factored into Guajardo’s campaign strategy prior to the May 8 election, he said. Not wanting to be drawn into what he called “negativity” on social media, Guajardo chose not to campaign on those platforms. It’s a position he has since re-evaluated ahead of the runoff.
“It’s okay to criticize constructively. And it’s alright to have your own personal opinion, but it’s not alright to be able to think that, just because you have a keyboard that you can say whatever you want without ramifications,” Guajardo said.
Aside from venturing into the realm of social media campaigning, Guajardo said his team has also ramped up block walking efforts — increasing their walks from weekends to daily block walking, he said.
Gomez, too, has increased his efforts to meet with voters one-on-one. “We’re walking, we’re knocking on doors and just letting people know that we are here to serve and be transparent as much as possible,” Gomez said.
Being as transparent as possible is one of Gomez’s primary campaign goals. He spoke of his concerns over the number of issues the commission chooses to discuss behind closed doors — in executive session — rather than in open session before residents.
“It is the people’s money and they should know what’s going on and how we’re working to make Mercedes a better city,” Gomez said.
Too, should he win the runoff, Gomez said he wants to bring renewed focus to economic development, saying that Mercedes’ growth has become “stagnant” while the rest of the Rio Grande Valley has seen development boom.
Though he lamented the lack of “big box retailers” in Mercedes, Guajardo’s thoughts on the city’s economic outlook were a little different than his challenger.
“The beauty is on top, what people can see, but there’s always a lot of beauty underneath and that people can’t appreciate because they don’t see it, they don’t recognize it,” Guajardo said.
The mayor pro-tem spoke of strides city leaders have made in forging relationships with Hidalgo County officials — entering into interlocal agreements for improvements to the city’s drainage, sewer, and irrigation systems among others.
He spoke, too, of new housing developments that have sprung up throughout the city, including a new subdivision planned on the north side of town, past the outlet mall.
Guajardo credited the retail center for Mercedes’ ability to grow while simultaneously reducing the property tax rate.
“From 2005, our tax rate … prior to the outlet malls was 87.5 (cents per $100 valuation),” Guajardo said. “We’ve been able to decrease 13-and-a-half cents, invested well over $30-$50 million worth of improvements into our community, while still lowering taxes.”
Guajardo said revenues generated by the outlet mall have allowed the city to invest in public infrastructure, which has, in turn, allowed the city to become more attractive to developers — both business and residential.
Gomez agreed that the sprawling plaza of retail shops located just north of the expressway is essential to the economic prosperity of the city. The sales tax revenues it generates are vital to the city’s maintenance and operations funds, he said. However, he wondered if officials are properly maintaining the city’s relationship with the retail giant.
According to Gomez, the city must remit a portion of its sales tax revenue to the outlets; however, the city has not done so consistently, he said.
“Apparently, the city was not paying their part to the outlets — the (Rio Grande Valley) Premium Outlets — and that’s six-and-a-half million dollars,” Gomez said.
“I don’t know why it happened, but that would be one of my priorities to look into.”
Early voting by personal appearance began at 7 a.m. Tuesday at the Mercedes Civic Center, 520 E. Second St. With the exception of Sunday, June 2, when polls will be closed, early voting will continue through the next Tuesday, June 4.
Election Day is Saturday, June 9.
“I do see a real need for real leadership that is really for the people and stands by the people,” Gomez said.
In a similar sentiment, Guajardo said he looks forward to the outcome of the runoff.
“At the end of the day the democratic process will unfold before our very own eyes and at the end of the day, the people are the ones that elect any elected official,” he said.