RGC mayor’s race grows to 3 candidates

Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal (center) is set to face two challengers in attorney and business owner Jay Peña (left) and retired Army colonel and the Starr County Republican Party chair Rosbell “Ross” Barrera (right).

Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal will be facing two challengers this time as he runs for re-election in May.

Rosbell “Ross” Barrera, a retired Army colonel who now serves as the Starr County Republican Party chair, and Jay Peña, an attorney and business owner who unsuccessfully ran against Villarreal twice, are both vying for the mayoral post.

Villarreal, a Rio Grande City school district counselor, was first elected mayor during a special election in June 2015, during which he narrowly defeated Peña to serve out the rest of the term that was vacated by former Mayor Ruben O. Villarreal.

That term ended the following year and in May 2016, Villarreal was elected over Peña again to a full term in office.

Peña said he was running again because though the city is moving forward, his focus is on the rate of growth which he wants to improve upon.

He said he wanted to concentrate on that and contribute what he could from his professional knowledge.

“Whatever expertise I can use in either the field of business or the field of law to try to better my community,” he said.

Peña said his previous campaigns were a wonderful experience and said the mayor was a formidable candidate but said he hoped for a different outcome this election by “shaking a lot of hands.”

Barrera, who is also a member of the Fort Ringgold 175th Anniversary Commission, which aims to renovate the historical fort, said he is running on a vision for the city that takes pride in its history and incorporates that into its growth.

“I want to take our city in a different direction,” he said. “And what direction is that? I want to make our city a city that we all can be proud of; be proud of our downtown, be proud of our history, recognize that Fort Ringgold is part of our history — because so far the city has neglected that — and also be proud that we are growing but we need to grow smart.”

Barrera cited his leadership through his 34 years of commissioned service in the army as one the reasons that qualify him for the job.

Villarreal, the current mayor, said he was seeking re-election because of the many ongoing projects that he wants to see through.

“The city is in a prime position of strength,” he said. “In fact, when you’re looking at the last five years, we’ve made such tremendous progress.”

He noted the millions that were invested into infrastructure projects to sustain future development, the reduction in the city’s water loss, upgrades to the water tanks, a project for a new lift station, and a proposed new water treatment plant.

He also highlighted the ongoing construction of the Rio Grande Village project, a mixed-use development that is expected to include retail, restaurants and hotels.

“We’re talking about a major project coming to Rio Grande City that’s going to transform the region for generations to come,” he said.

Villarreal acknowledged there were still many needs yet to be addressed including the city’s historical appeal.

“Rio Grande City is in a unique position where we have a historical nature; this is a historic community,” he said, adding that it was important to maintain their historical buildings and hoped to expand their museum.

“So we have, as I mentioned, many projects that are still in the pipeline and I want to make sure that they come to fruition and make sure that Rio Grande City continues to keep moving forward.”

Two other positions on the council are also up for re-election.

City Commissioner Place 2 Rey Ramirez, the athletic director for the school district, is running for re-election against Alvaro Iglesias, an insurance agent.

Also running for re-election is City Commissioner Dave “Chachi” Jones.

Jones, a bail bondsman, is being challenged by Alberto Escobedo, owner of Esco Spa and Salon. He also ran for the city commission in 2016, although that time, he ran against Ramirez for the Place 2 seat.

The municipal elections are scheduled for Saturday, May 2.