McALLEN — Campaigns for city, school and utility board races will kick into high gear Monday, when Hidalgo County residents head to the polls for early voting.
With McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling running unopposed for mayor and Pharr’s elections canceled altogether — nobody bothered to run against the incumbents — the off-year election has been sleepy.
Six candidates have filed for two seats on the Mercedes City Council, blanketing the town with homemade signs. Meanwhile, Hidalgo school district voters will head back to the polls for a do-over after an election lawsuit and mistake by the Hidalgo County Elections Department convinced a judge to throw out the November 2012 election results for two seats.
Otherwise, the action has focused on McAllen’s city, school and utility board races.
Without a marquee race, McAllen voters have been focused on three contested City Commission seats.
Banker Omar Quintanilla has mounted a strong challenge to Commissioner Hilda Salinas, a three-term incumbent who hasn’t drawn an opponent since 2001. Both have spent weekends walking District 3, which covers west-central McAllen.
Commissioner Darling’s decision to run for mayor forced a special election for District 6, which covers McAllen’s southeast side. The winner will serve a two-year term and run for re-election in 2015.
The race pits banker Sonia Falcon against Veronica Vela Whitacre, who manages Lee’s Pharmacy. Both have mounted strong campaigns. The race has contrasted Falcon’s financial background and experience on city boards with Vela Whitacre’s deep social connections and work with local nonprofits.
In District 1, which covers northeast McAllen, the race has become a referendum on the city’s relationship with the McAllen Police Association, the department’s largest union.
With backing from the police union, Ruben Daniel Elizondo, a 25-year-old student at the University of Texas-Pan American, has challenged two-term incumbent Commissioner Scott Crane. They sparred Thursday over police issues at a candidate forum hosted by the McAllen Citizens League.
Utility Board Trustee Trey Pebley, vice president at McAllen Construction, is running unopposed for District 2, which covers northwest McAllen.
Candidates running for seats on McAllen’s largely apolitical Public Utility Board have mostly agreed on the issues, urging conservative budgeting and emphasizing the need for water conservation and re-use.
Attorney Hiram Gutierrez has challenged utility board Chairman Charles Amos, an electrical contractor. Utility Trustee Ernie Williams faces another challenge from Jaime Enriquez, a former utility board trustee who narrowly lost to Williams two years ago. Contractor Albert Cardenas is running unopposed.
The McAllen school board race has been similarly subdued, though tension over the dismissal of football coach Tony Harris has been a re-occurring issue — though seldom discussed in public.
The nine-day early voting period starts Monday and ends May 7. McAllen has three early voting locations:
>> The Old Police Department at 1504 W. Pecan Blvd.
>> The Palmview Community Center at 3401 Jordan Ave.
>> The Lark Community Center at 2601 Lark Ave.
For a full list of early voting and Election Day polling locations, visit co.hidalgo.tx.us/elections/
Dave Hendricks covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4452 or on Twitter, @dmhj.