Elected amid fractured politics, Hidalgo mayor eyes re-election, strikes conciliatory tone - The Monitor: Local News

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Elected amid fractured politics, Hidalgo mayor eyes re-election, strikes conciliatory tone

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Martin Cepeda

Posted: Saturday, March 15, 2014 7:36 pm

HIDALGO — Mayor Martin Cepeda wants to fly above Hidalgo’s hyper-partisan politics and stay focused on economic development projects.

First, though, Cepeda must win re-election May 10.

“I’ve learned a lot within the last almost two years about city government, and I know that if I get four more years Hidalgo is going to prosper even more,” said Cepeda, 50, a motor vehicle fraud investigator with Hidalgo County. “But this is not just me. It’s everybody. We’re all in it together.”

Cepeda joined the Hidalgo City Council in May 2012 after serving 22 years on the Hidalgo school board. He won the four-way race to replace Mayor John David Franz, who resigned amid political infighting.

Once elected, Cepeda stayed largely apolitical and unsuccessfully attempted to bring the City Council together.

City Councilman Rudy Franz repeatedly feuded with City Councilman Guillermo Ramirez and City Councilman Gus Sanchez last year, filing several lawsuits against them and lodging corruption allegations against Sanchez. Ramirez fired back, questioning Rudy Franz’s local bus monopoly and involvement with the State Farm Arena’s now-defunct concessions contractor, which never paid Hidalgo an estimated $1.2 million.

Unable to stop the bickering, Cepeda stayed quiet during many heated City Council meetings.

“You need to remain calm,” Cepeda said. “Think about what you’re going to say, because you’re going to offend not just only one person, you’re going to offend families. You’re going to offend the community — a community that is not very big.”

With the City Council divided, Cepeda focused on economic development projects and attending public events.

Hidalgo announced Wal-Mart Stores Inc. would build a Supercenter at South Jackson Road and Dicker Drive, employing about 200 people and boosting local property tax revenue. The City Council also approved a $400,000 loan to local restaurateurs, who planned to build a Mi Taco! Ponchos near State Farm Arena. And U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services accepted Hidalgo’s application for a city-controlled immigrant investor program. Called the Hidalgo McAllen Reynosa Regional Center, the entity will attempt to match Mexican investors with local business opportunities.

“In two years, I think we’ve done a lot for Hidalgo,” Cepeda said.

Winning another term will require navigating Hidalgo’s fractured political environment.

In May 2012, power broker Rudy Franz and the Concerned Citizens of Hidalgo backed Cepeda for mayor against a breakaway faction called Community United, which included Mayor Franz and former Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Samano.

Infighting badly damaged Concerned Citizens during the following year. Ramirez and Sanchez defected to Community United. Meanwhile, both Cepeda and the Valley View school board trustees quietly distanced themselves from Rudy Franz.

With the May 2014 campaign approaching, Cepeda formed a new political party called The People’s Alliance with Valley View school board Trustee Noe Reyes and school district administrator Sergio Coronado.

They’ve blanketed Hidalgo with yellow signs, but red signs have also appeared — touting endorsements from the Concerned Citizens. The People’s Alliance reported no donations and no spending from July 31 to Jan. 15, according to documents filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Ramirez and Community United have challenged The People’s Alliance ticket, enlisting political newcomers for the two open City Council seats. Both Guillermo “Memo” Cienfuegos, a car salesman, and Mario Degollado, who works for an import-export business, hadn’t previously been involved with local politics.

“We want to run a good, clean campaign,” Cepeda said. “People are tired of this fighting back and forth. And you’re fighting with your own people. And that’s what we need to stop. Somehow, some way, this community needs to come together.”

dhendricks@themonitor.com

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