BY DINA ARÉVALO
AND FRANCISCO JIMENEZ
WESLACO — David Fuentes won a decisive victory in his re-election bid for Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner, defeating Olga Noriega, a fellow Weslaco native, in the March Democratic primary. With no Republican challengers, Fuentes’ reelection in November is assured.
“I’m very happy that the community, the voters, have agreed that we’re the right choice,” Fuentes said outside Weslaco City Hall last Tuesday, shortly after learning he had won nearly three-fourths of the votes from ballots cast in early voting.
By the end of the night, Fuentes had amassed 11,847 votes (70.56%) to Noriega’s 4,943 (29.44%). Results remain unofficial until the election is canvassed.
It was a calm scene just after the polls closed at 7 p.m., and while several voters remained inside casting their ballots, Fuentes stood quietly, surrounded by supporters whose faces were alit by the glow of smartphones as they continually refreshed the elections department website in anticipation of the early vote tallies.
Soon a cry of elation went up from the crowd, as one supporter handed Fuentes a phone to see the numbers for himself. The commissioner smiled, then began shaking the hands of those who helped him get re-elected. He turned to find his family — his wife and children — and paused to give each of them a hug and a few quiet words before continuing on to receive congratulations from others.
In a sea of celebration, Fuentes was a center of calm.
Afterward, he remarked that maintaining a “level state of being” is simply who he is, but that it didn’t diminish his appreciation of the win. “I know it’s a big deal. I’m not going to underscore how badly we wanted to win this race,” Fuentes said.
“I’m just so thankful to be able to continue this journey that we started three years ago.”
That journey remains incomplete, Fuentes said, describing the myriad projects currently in progress or under development which he started and now has the chance to see completed. “We had a lot of things under development, and without this extra term, we wouldn’t have been able to really see them through,” Fuentes said.
Among those are a slate of road improvement projects, as well as dozens of drainage infrastructure projects scattered across the precinct — many of which have been funded by the November 2018 passage of a $190 million bond.
Fuentes is particularly keen to see one of the most ambitious projects on the list completed: a 225-acre detention facility north of La Villa at the nexus of where the International Boundary and Water Commission’s floodway turns north, then east on its way to drain into the Laguna Madre. County leaders call it the Delta Reclamation Project.
“I think that we’re gonna have enough time now to see that reservoir built to where it will have 100% impact to the people that live in the Delta area, and that’s monumental for us,” Fuentes said.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Fuentes’ challenger, Olga Noriega, stood surrounded by a small group of supporters awaiting the final election tallies.
The former Weslaco city commissioner thanked her supporters for their votes, but conceded the race. “I was surprised by the votes, but I believe that people spoke and that’s what they wanted,” Noriega said.
Noriega said she was spurred to run to correct what she sees are injustices that have occurred throughout Precinct 1 — residents going unheard, infrastructure needs going neglected, taxpayers not getting the proper bang for their tax dollar buck.
“I hope that he (Fuentes) thinks about that and sees that we should be there for the people and not the select few,” Noriega said, referring to the “compadrismo” she feels plays a role in some infrastructure projects.
“I hope that that changes, that they give the people the services that they deserve because at the end of the day, we all are taxpayers and we deserve the same quality of service,” Noriega added a moment later.
As his supporters prepared to celebrate his win Tuesday night, Fuentes reflected on why public service is so important to him. “This is what I believe my ministry is, is to serve my community in this capacity and to be their voice. … I just feel like it’s something that I was called to do,” he said.
In the Precinct 3 race for county commissioner, challenger Everardo “Ever” Villarreal narrowly eked out a win over incumbent Joe Flores.
Flores, who is completing his fourth term as commissioner, was looking for a fifth chance to run Precinct 3.
As the final tallies went public early Wednesday morning, Villarreal emerged the victor by just 87 votes. He won 10,031 votes (50.22%) to Flores’ 9,944 (49.78%), county records show.
Attempts to reach either candidate for comment were unsuccessful as of press time.
In a campaign video posted on Facebook, Villarreal described himself as someone who had “built a better West” through designing developing, financing and constructing homes and infrastructure throughout his community.
Flores has also claimed on social media to have invested millions of dollars into his community, including $500 million on road repairs, $10 million to fix drainage and $2.8 million to fund local organizations.