Peñitas candidates campaign on growth within city

In seeking re-election as mayor for the city of Peñitas, Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez will face former Mayor Marcos Ochoa in the May elections.

Ochoa, 64, served as mayor of Peñitas for seven years preceded by ten years as city commissioner.

In 2014, Ochoa stepped down to run for justice of the peace, serving in the role until 2018 when he decided not to run for re-election.

The former mayor said he was running again because he believed the city hadn’t gone anywhere in the last four years.

“Mayor Lopez talks about continuing the progress in the city, and I haven’t seen any progress since I left,” Ochoa said. “It frustrates me because when I was the mayor in 2008, we worked heavily, aggressively, (on) economic development.”

He noted that the sewer system was brought in during his tenure, which paved the way for the opening of the Wal-Mart and other surrounding businesses.

Ochoa, a retired inspector for the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission, said he wants to continue where he left off.

“I know as a proven leader, I’m going to bring this city into the 21st century,” he said.

Lopez could not be reached for comment, but in a news release stated he believed the city had grown “tremendously” since he took office.

“We have invested into our community and are working on many exciting projects which will contribute to our city’s economic vitality and improved quality of life for our residents,” Lopez stated. “I am seeking a second term in office because I want to ensure that these projects and goals are implemented not only as Mayor but as a proud resident of this wonderful community.”

Lopez, 35, ran for mayor to replace Ochoa in 2015 after previously serving on the board of directors for the Agua Special Utility District. He is currently an administrator at the La Joya Independent School District.

Lopez is running with incumbents Jose Roel “J.R.” Flores and Ramiro Loya on the “Peñ1tas” team, an offshoot of Team L1berty which is a prominent political team in western Hidalgo County politics.

Flores, 49, is the director of federal and state programs for the school district and is directly running against Osiel Ramos, a teacher at the La Joya school district, for the Place 2 seat.

Loya, manager of the school district’s custodial department, is running for re-election to his Place 4 seat against Esmeralda “Esmer” Medina, a former clerk for the city.

Loya, 69, previously served on the city commission from 1996 to 1998, stepping down due to “personal reasons.”

However, he said he returned to the commission because he loved to serve the city.

Loya is familiar with his running mates. Four years ago, he ran with Lopez and Flores.

“The mayor and Mr. Flores and myself, we’re a strong ticket,” Loya said. “I think that we’ve done great in these four years that we’ve been there, and we need to continue doing what we’re doing to serve the city and everyone who lives here.”

He cited the launch of Peñitas’ volunteer fire department and EMS services as a few of the city’s accomplishments within the last few years.

“We have some projects going on and we’d like to see that finished and also to continue seeing growth here in Peñitas,” Loya said.

Medina, his opponent, said she would like to be more involved with the city now that she no longer works there.

“I feel that it’s a perfect time for me to run and be more involved with the city, not only as a taxpayer but now maybe be a voice to the people,” said Medina, 44, “Hear out what the needs of the community are.”

Medina worked at the city from October 2008 to April 2018, first as an administrative assistant before working in the permitting department and then as a utility clerk at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Citing her experience within the city, Medina believes there’s a need for more transparency and financial accountability.

She also said there was a need for bigger businesses and that residents were tired of the high sewer rates and of the potholes in the roads.

Medina is running on the “Peñitas Pride” political slate with Ramos and Ochoa, who was mayor when she first started working for the city.

“We just want to bring back the pride that Peñitas once had when Mr. Marcos Ochoa was there,” she said.

Whether they prefer to have Lopez or Ochoa at the helm is a decision voters will have to make on Election Day May 4. It will be the first time Peñitas citizens will vote on who sits on the commission since 2015 after the 2017 elections were cancelled for lack of challengers to the incumbents on the Place 1 and Place 3 seats.