HIDALGO — The president of Hidalgo’s school board plans to run for mayor backed by the Concerned Citizens of Hidalgo, the region’s influential political machine.
Martin Cepeda, 48, works for Hidalgo County as a motor vehicle fraud investigator and has served 22 years on the Hidalgo Independent School District’s board of trustees. Signs promoting his candidacy began popping up across Hidalgo this week.
The Concerned Citizens, a group of 34 influential leaders that includes past and present members of the City Council, Valley View school board and Hidalgo school board, met last week and decided to back Cepeda, said Rudy Franz, who heads the political party. Other internal candidates included Noe Reyes, a member of the Valley View school board, and Guillermo Ramirez, a city councilman.
“They wanted somebody that would be a strong candidate for change,” Cepeda said.
If elected, Cepeda said he’d push to hire locals for city positions, attract new businesses and restructure the Hidalgo Police Department.
“It’s no secret that Hidalgo, they call it a speed trap,” Cepeda said. “We need to change that.”
Southbound traffic across the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, an important revenue source for the city, plummeted 50.9 percent during the past decade. More than 6.1 million cars and trucks crossed the bridge in fiscal year 2002, according to data provided by McAllen, which oversees bridge operations. By fiscal year 2011, that number had fallen to about 3 million.
While other Rio Grande Valley bridges have experienced falling traffic, Hidalgo’s bridge has suffered among the sharpest declines.
Post Sept. 11 security measures, onerous travel documentation requirements, drug-related violence across northern Mexico and the economic downturn all contributed to the decline. Hidalgo police are also part of the problem, Cepeda said, aggressively issuing tickets to Mexican travelers.
“People are scared to come to town,” Cepeda said. “They’d rather use the Pharr bridge or the Mission bridge.”
Improving Hidalgo’s image would help attract new businesses, creating jobs and increasing city tax revenue, Cepeda said, adding that he’d like to see Walmart or H-E-B open a Hidalgo location.
Recruiting Hidalgo residents for city jobs would also boost the local economy, Cepeda said.
“Why aren’t we hiring our own people?” Cepeda said. With plenty of educated Hidalgo residents looking for work, including skilled electricians and engineers, he said, the city should make an effort to hire them first.
Hiring locally would avoid relocation fees and reduce turnover, Cepeda said, especially at the police department.
“Also, 85 percent of the city employees aren’t from the city,” Cepeda said. “We need to help our own people. Give them jobs.”
Cepeda will run against Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Samano, who’s backed by a rival political committee called Community United, and Felix Garza, an independent.
Whatever happens on May 12, when Hidalgo voters will choose a new mayor and three city council members, the city needs to unite behind the winning candidates, Cepeda said, and leave the election-year mudslinging behind.
“In the end, everybody’s going to have to come together,” Cepeda said. “We all live in this town and we have to do what’s best for the city.”
Dave Hendricks covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4452.