Editor’s note: This story is updated to reflect that LUPE will not meet with Sen. Ted Cruz, as Mayor Jim Darling originally said.
McALLEN — Hours after Mayor Jim Darling released a statement that Sen. Ted Cruz asked to be part of McAllen’s Fourth of July parade, Darling stressed the importance of Cruz’s visit in front of a handful of protesters at Monday’s city commission meeting.
Darling has received some local criticism recently for having Cruz participate in the parade, so Darling put out a statement Monday afternoon and had an item on the meeting agenda to address the parade.
“I want to thank everybody for being here today,” Darling said toward the end of Monday’s meeting. “The Fourth of July is obviously an important day and we, like most cities, have festivities on it. one thing that came up, and want to talk about it because I don’t talk to the other city commissioners very much outside the meetings, is to let you know that we did have Sen. Cruz’s office contact me and ask to participate in the parade. And as a U.S. Senator from our state, we certainly don’t want to tell him that he can’t.
“I want to point out one thing though, I think it’s important. I was with him when he was in Mission this spring. There were protesters across the street — I saw the signs and all that. So I reached out to his staff — there’s going to be a brunch that usually happens along with the Fourth of July parade. And I asked them if they would engage and asked somebody from LUPE, which is a local group. And my understanding is they did reach out, and there will be representatives there. And I think it’s important for people to exercise their right to protest and wave signs but I also think it’s important to establish a dialogue and present your concerns in a manner that hopefully will get listened to. So hopefully we’ll accomplish both of those and we’ll all have a great Fourth of July parade and be proud of McAllen.”
However, LUPE Executive Director Juanita Valdez-Cox said Monday night that the group will not meet with Cruz. LUPE was contacted by Cruz’s staff, but it will not accept the invitation to meet with the Senator.
District 2 Commissioner Joaquin “J.J.” Zamora said he’s heard from concerned constituents about Cruz’s visit, and emphasized that Cruz inquired about participating in the McAllen parade. Cruz will not be leading the parade, Darling said. He will be riding in a vehicle in the parade, as will McAllen’s Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez. State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa will be the parade’s Grand Marshal.
“The City of McAllen will always welcome our federal and state elected officials to our city, because by doing so, we can help them understand the needs in our community,” Darling’s Monday afternoon statement said. “We are so proud that Sen. Cruz asked to be part of our parade because we feel he recognizes that the legislative issues important to our city and our residents are important to him.”
Protesters at Monday’s meeting said Cruz’s interests are completely different to those of the Valley, such as the building of a border wall and the welcoming of immigrants.
This will mark Cruz’s second visit of 2017. He was in Mission in February for a border roundtable conversation with local officials before taking a tour on the Rio Grande. Cruz will likely be giving remarks at Archer Park the day of the Fourth of July parade. He will then participate in the annual brunch afterwards, which will be put on by the Chamber of Commerce.
Darling said he asked Cruz’s staff if they would meet with LUPE, and Cruz’s staff then invited LUPE to meet. But Valdez-Cox said the group is declining.
“We are interested in conducting a town hall meeting with the Senator so he can hear directly from his constituents about the issues that concern them like the border wall, immigration matters, and healthcare issues,” Valdez-Cox said in a statement. “We ask Mayor Darling to call on the Senator to hold such a town hall meeting with community-based organizations from the Rio Grande Valley.”
Protesters at Monday’s meeting hoped more groups would be invited to meet with Cruz. They also did not want to simply be a photo opportunity for Cruz as he launches into his 2018 re-election.
“I don’t think the RGV is interested in being a prop,” said Amanda Salas, a member of multiple community organizations. “If he’s interested in coming, he should be interested in meeting with his constituents. Because he’s absolutely not interested in the same things the Valley is interested in.”
Enid Schantz-Hagelberg, holding a “No Cruz” sign, said she “just wants change and a true Valley voice.”
Darling met with protesters before the commission entered executive session, fielding their questions. Salas said she was pleased with the mayor’s handling of this. She said she campaigned for Darling during his recent re-election this spring.
“He’s been big on community engagement and hearing from everyone, so I wanted to hold him to it,” Salas said. “But I understand the position they’re put in when someone like Cruz bombards in. But as a city, we should stand up to what we believe in, especially if that’s different from what he believes in.”