McALLEN — In a mostly upbeat State of the City address reinforcing McAllen’s safety, economic growth and quality of life, Mayor Jim Darling on Tuesday attempted to send a message beyond the region, after South Texas received significant national media attention for immigration issues over the last year.
Darling noted President Trump’s immigrant family separation policy that played out in South Texas, the immigrant caravan that made its way from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border, the deployment of troops to the border, an armed robbery at La Plaza Mall and three separate McAllen visits from First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Trump.
“All of these things, and more, focused the attention of the nation on our city — not all of it was positive, but we weathered those storms,” Darling said, before adding that McAllen has been focused on its core municipal principles. However, the increased attention and state of polarized politics in America makes that tough.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the rhetoric about the immigration situation and the border wall makes our friends up north — and you know, ‘up north’ means anywhere past Encino — think that McAllen is not safe. This is just not true,” Darling said, as the city recorded zero homicides in 2018. “I have said this before and I will say it again here — there is a crisis, but the crisis is not at the border, it’s in Washington, D.C., where being for or against a wall completely defines your political status.”
Most timely, Darling pointed to Monday night’s controversial city commission decision, which resulted in a majority of commissioners ordering Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to vacate its current immigrant respite center building on Hackberry Avenue and 2nd Street after complaints from neighbors. Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the RGV, explained the need for a respite center to city commissioners, but her words were not enough to convince commissioners not to listen to unhappy residents.
“And you know, regardless of what happened last night, we’re committed to Catholic Charities that if we can’t have a respite center there, we’ll find one for you, sister,” Darling said to a round of applause from many of the 1,200 in attendance. Darling pointed at Pimentel’s table, and she raised her hand, appearing to appreciate Darling’s remarks.
About 18 hours earlier, though, Pimentel was not pleased. She was told to leave her respite center that Catholic Charities had just moved into in December. After commissioners voted, tension was palpable in the chambers, and Pimentel exited city hall without saying a word.
Spirits were higher during Tuesday’s annual address, where Darling has typically made a grand entrance. Last year, he rappelled down from the Convention Center ceiling before delivering his remarks. This year, following a flashy opening video, Darling appeared inside a series of stacked boxes in an attempt to replicate a magic trick to go along with the event’s theme, magic of McAllen.
There were video clips of each McAllen commissioner touting something in their district, such as Commissioner Joaquin “J.J.” Zamora on the recently completed youth baseball complex in north McAllen, and Commissioner John Ingram talking on the nearly completed Fire Station No. 2 in Central McAllen.
Darling also honored District 4 Commissioner Aida Ramirez, who announced last month that she will not seek re-election in the upcoming May election after serving southwest McAllen for 18 years. Darling recognized Ramirez as the first Hispanic woman to serve on the McAllen City Commission, and for their friendship over the years.
Perhaps the most notable unexpected event to take place in Ramirez’s district in 2018 was an attempted armed robbery in July at a La Plaza Mall jewelry store. Off-duty police officers responded within minutes when seven armed men entered the store next to the food court. No shots were fired and no injuries were reported.
Tuesday’s address concluded with a video of the mall incident, labeling the local law enforcement as heroes.