WESLACO – After a brutal election, Weslaco’s majority slate appeared to cling narrowly to its majority, even as its critics took two seats Tuesday.
For mayor, David Suarez beat Adrian Gonzalez 54 percent to 46 percent, according to unofficial returns of all votes cast. In District 6, Fidel Peña won a decisive victory over Commissioner Joe Martinez 60 percent to 40 percent.
Both men campaigned against the current City Commission with the support of minority member Olga Noriega.
But incumbent Commissioner Lupe Rivera appeared to hold his seat against Suarez and Peña ally Letty Lopez by a mere 16 votes. Lopez said Tuesday night that she intended to challenge the loss and hoped the numbers would change as they are finalized during canvassing.
Weslaco has seen particularly fiery politics in recent months, including fights over city control of the Economic Development Corp., commissioners suing other commissioners and information wars via anonymous propaganda on both sides. Two weeks ago, a lawsuit claimed Commissioner Jerry Tafolla had offered Suarez a $50,000 bribe to kill an EDC contract with a political enemy.
Several voters called the cost of the city’s water treatment plant their top concern in Weslaco. Drinking water problems from decrepit infrastructure and water rate hikes to pay to replace it have been major city issues. A Monitor investigation in September found the new plant’s construction was fairly expensive relative to other area plants.
Peña called his and Suarez’s wins a victory for change, saying “the people of Weslaco stood up and said ‘no’ to this commission.”
Suarez said Tuesday night that he hoped to leave the political infighting behind.
“I’m ready to work with every commissioner there, and the city manager and the employees,” he said.
He added that the first thing he hoped to do as mayor was get support to move public comments from the end of commission meetings to the beginning.
Farias, a political newcomer, and Martinez both said they had no regrets about how they ran their campaigns and said they intend to run again in the future.
Rivera was joyful at a party with his two less-fortunate allies after polls closed.
“I predicted that I was going to win by 34 votes,” he said. “It just came to me and I told my wife, ‘It’s going to be close.’ And I won by half that. It feels good.”
He said he didn’t blame Lopez for challenging the results, but said he was confident his win would hold and, if the numbers changed, it would be by only a few. Lopez noted that she would have won were it not for Rivera’s 72-vote lead in mail-in ballots.
Spurred by the contentious races, Weslaco saw particularly high voter turnout. Some 4,118 people cast votes for mayor — an increase of 265 from the last mayoral race in May 2010.
Residents who showed up in the evening to the Weslaco Visitor & Event Center on Thursday waited more than an hour-and-a-half to vote. Technical problems with a computer there for about 30 minutes contributed to the long line.
“I think there’s more people voting here than the presidential,” Doug Wells, 55, said wryly as he waited in line. “The only thing I’m interested in is seeing the city united and not divided.”