Tania Ramirez, District 4 candidate, during a forum for McAllen City Commission at the McAllen Public Library on Thursday, Mar. 7, 2019, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — District 5 City Commissioner John Ingram was one vote away from reclaiming his commission seat outright in Saturday’s election. Instead, he is likely heading to a runoff election against banker and businessman Victor “Seby” Haddad once the votes are finalized.

In the only other contested race on the McAllen City Commission, attorney Tania Ramirez handedly took down Joe Califa, a retired city planner. Ramirez received 499 votes (65%) compared to Califa’s 264 votes (35%).

While the victory for Ramirez, who has been entangled in a voter fraud investigation, represents a sort of passing of the torch from longtime District 4 Commissioner Aida Ramirez, who is not related to but supported Tania Ramirez’s candidacy, the District 5 election may have been swayed by immigration issues, according to Ingram, who received 570 votes (50%) compared to Haddad’s 461 votes (40%). The third candidate in that race, South Texas College professor Mark Murray, received 110 votes (10%). A candidate needs to receive more than 50 percent of the vote to win.

“I don’t appreciate KURV running totally baseless ads against me for a week,” Ingram said in an interview after the unofficial vote totals were released, referring to the radio station KURV 710 that has aired an advertisement attacking Ingram. “They’re not a news organization, they’re an entertainment organization. But I do thank all the voters that got out and voted for me who know I never voted to make McAllen a sanctuary city.”

Ingram was referring to a recent vote city commissioners took to move the immigrant respite center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley from a residential area — on Hackberry Avenue near the intersection of Second Street — to a space in downtown McAllen, near where the respite center used to operate. The facility is run by Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the RGV, and since 2014, the organization, with help from the city, has temporarily housed asylum-seeking immigrants that federal authorities drop off in McAllen.

Haddad said he had “nothing to do” with the advertisement, despite Ingram blaming Haddad for the campaign material. A former city commission candidate, Timothy Wilkins, who has said Ingram has helped turn McAllen into a “sanctuary city,” was behind the advertisement and acted on his own, he said. Haddad, however, did not support the idea that McAllen is a sanctuary city.

“I definitely do not think McAllen is a sanctuary city,” Haddad said on Saturday after the unofficial results were released, adding that the city does, however, need to solve the immigration issue in McAllen, which city leaders have said is a federal issue that they are forced to deal with. “I believe the issue overall is complex, and McAllen has to address it.”

City commissioners in February voted to remove Catholic Charities from running the respite center on Hackberry Avenue, and in April commissioners voted to move the respite center back to downtown McAllen.

“The same mistake they made on Hackberry and Second Street is the same mistake they’re making by putting it downtown next to the business owners,” Haddad said.

As for the District 5 runoff election, which the city said on Saturday is set for June 22, city officials still need to finalize the results. But Ingram and Haddad are already preparing for another six weeks of campaigning.

Their plans?

“To try to get everyone to understand that those lies spread against me were lies,” Ingram said.

Haddad, who raised more than $60,000, a large amount compared to city commission races in previous years, said he had received positive feedback from voters in recent weeks, and plans to “get in front of more voters” over the next month.

“I’ve been getting a lot of exposure,” Haddad said. “With three candidates, it makes it a little tougher on the voter, but hopefully we can garner more of their support.”

Murray, for his part, expected a runoff. He didn’t expect this.

“I was actually surprised John got as many votes as he did,” Murray said.

Haddad hopes Murray’s voters turn to him come June. So does Murray.

“I’ll endorse Seby right now,” Murray said.

While neither District 4 candidate could be reached for this story, both District 4 and 5 elections marked a dreadful turnout from McAllen voters. Just 1,488 early votes were cast between the two races, and only 396 people voted on Election Day. There were 23 total mail-in and provisional ballots cast.

There are 10,035 registered voters in District 4 and 9,803 in District 5.