Weslaco District 4 election headed to runoff

City of Weslaco District 4 Commissioner candidate Guadalupe ÒLupeÓ Garcia campaigns outside of Weslaco City Hall Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)
City Weslaco District 4 Commissioner candidate Adrian Farias campaigns outside of a polling place at Weslaco City Hall Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)
City of Weslaco District 4 Commissioner candidate Guadalupe ÒLupeÓ Garcia campaigns outside of Weslaco City Hall Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

WESLACO — The race to fill the District 4 seat on the Weslaco City Commission continues as none of the four candidates earned the requisite 50% plus 1 vote required to win the election outright last Tuesday.

Now voters will have to decide between the two candidates who earned the most votes: Adrian Farias and Guadalupe “Lupe” Garcia.

According to the unofficial election results posted on the Hidalgo County elections department website, a total of 644 ballots were cast. With 285 votes, or 44.25%, Farias earned the most votes. Garcia came in second with 175 ballots, or 27.17% of the vote.

Humberto “Beto” Chavez won 123 votes and Roy Hernandez Jr. won 61.

“I feel good, you know. I think the people are speaking about who they want in there,” Farias said while preparing for a post-campaign celebration at Pork Belly’s less than hour after the results were posted.

Farias added he was excited about the upcoming runoff with Garcia. “It’s gonna be a little bit harder this time, but hopefully we’ll be able to get it done,” Farias said.

Meanwhile, outside the polling place, Garcia took a moment to speak with Chavez after the results were announced, commending him for running.

As for the runoff? Being one of the top two vote-getters was all a part of Garcia’s plan, he said. “We were just trying to get in a runoff, honestly,” Garcia said. “We knew it was gonna be difficult with four well-known candidates in District 4.”

After two weeks of early voting, only 505 people in District 4 had cast their ballots prior to Election Day. An additional 139 ballots cast between in-person votes and mail-in ballots last Tuesday.

County records show some 4,012 registered voters in the district, making voter turnout in the special election just over 16%.

At least one of the four candidates felt the low voter turnout may have been due to voter fatigue and a sense of mistrust of public officials. After all, the special election to fill the unexpired term for District 4 came about after former Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla announced his resignation in late May.

In April, Tafolla pleaded guilty to federal programs bribery in connection with the $38.5 million rehabilitation of the city’s water treatment facilities.

His plea is part of a larger scheme that has thus far ensnared an additional five men, including former District 2 Weslaco City Commissioner John Cuellar, former Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, attorney and Rio Grande City school board member Daniel Garcia, Weslaco businessman Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla, and former Rio Grande City municipal judge Leonel Lopez Jr.

Like Tafolla, Lopez also pleaded guilty to federal programs bribery. His sentencing hearing — which had been scheduled for July 15 — has instead been delayed indefinitely by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa.

Tafolla’s sentencing hearing has similarly been postponed; U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez last week granted Tafolla’s request to delay sentencing until January of next year.

Meanwhile, the other four men accused of involvement in the scheme are being tried jointly in Alvarez’s court. Jury selection in that case is set for Dec. 2 of this year.

“Lately, there’s been a lot of corruption, you know, and the community gets fed up with that,” Humberto Chavez said in the parking lot of the Business Visitor & Event Center as the final hour of voting ticked away last week.

Chavez said he had encountered “negativity” while block walking from residents “fed up with corruption,” he said.

However, perceptions differed for the two candidates who remain in the hunt for the District 4 seat.

“I haven’t gotten that feeling, honestly, from the public,” Garcia said.

“When I talk to people, they have a lot of issues, but that has been maybe mentioned one out of 10 people I’ve talked (to),” he said, adding that he doesn’t think there’s a sense of mistrust in the community.

Farias, too, said most residents he’d spoken with had shared concerns over other issues, such as the city’s drainage problems. “Drainage is the issue and streets,” Farias said.

He added Tafolla’s resignation from the commission is not what motivated him to run. “Whatever happened with that, I’m not trying to think about that. But there’s also stepping stones, or lessons that we need to learn from,” Farias said.

“I’m running because I want to help… the city grow,” he said.

For Garcia, running means an opportunity to finish what he started in November 2018, when he was the lone challenger running against Tafolla. “My decision was made long before any of that happened, any of those issues came about,” Garcia said.

“That’s why we decided to do it again and just finish what we started.”

Hernandez, the fourth candidate vying for the seat, was not present at the polls last week.

The date of the runoff has yet to be set.