By FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ
The San Benito mayoral race is already one for the ages – incumbent Joe H. Hernandez, who has never lost an election for mayor, faces challenger Celeste Zepeda Sanchez, who for three terms served on the City Commission alongside Hernandez and now looks to be elected the town’s first female mayor.
Hernandez said that he plans to continue the work he’s recently helped to implement as mayor while addressing concerns shared with him by citizens.
“One of the biggest issues has always been the streets,” Hernandez said. “In past years, little attention was paid to them. Now we’re faced with a big problem. With the budget that the city has, there’s no way that you’re going to address the problem. We actually have to go out for monies and pay in long terms. I would say that is the biggest issue. We have a state-of-the-art water plant; we have a state-of-the-art sewer plant. We’re actually waiting for growth, and that is already happening.”
Sanchez said that she also sees the streets as a high priority issue, among many others.
“There are several issues that I want to focus on, and one of them is getting a good audit on the budget,” Sanchez said. “I want to sit down with our auditors and try to fully understand our revenues, how much is coming in and what are we prioritizing in the city. I want to make sure that our tax dollars are going into the most effective and efficient places that the community needs. I also want to look at our ordinances. If they have to be the way they are, fine.”
“I want to study our ordinances and I want to compare them to our neighboring cities,” Sanchez continued. “I get a lot of concerns that we’re not a business-friendly community, and I want to check that out. A lot of projects that were started when I was on the Commission I want to see them to fruition.”
Hernandez also discussed attracting and maintaining businesses to the community.
“As far as business, there’s not very much that we can do with downtown,” Hernandez said. “There’s very limited parking. I wish we could take an approach to where we could do the same thing Harlingen did: convert it into antique stores or something like that. I don’t think a name-brand company is going to come into the city.”
“I plan on looking at the ordinances, as far as how are we marketing San Benito and what are we offering for the businesses to come in,” Sanchez said. “Our downtown surely needs a facelift. The EDC started working on that, and I think they’ve done a very good job with the Shop San Benito campaign, but we need to step it up.”
Sanchez shared her plans for the city and what she hopes to accomplish if she is elected mayor.
“My vision for San Benito is that we become a city of choice, that people actually want to live here and that they want to live here because we have safe streets and good schools and amenities,” Sanchez said. “I feel anxious to see that museum go up and that we continue with the cultural events that we have in our city. I’m very pro-preserving our culture and enjoying our culture. I want to see those things come to fruition in our city. I also want to see a clean city. Now that I’ve been campaigning, and I’ve been out on street corners and walking the streets, I see how terrible our sidewalks are and how our city needs to be cleaned.”
In contrast, Hernandez praised the current City Commission and hailed what he has accomplished while in office.
“This commission, the one that I’m working with, I’m very proud to say that we’re aggressively working together and taking every step there is to minimize expenditures and wages. We’re making sure that every cent is spent wisely,” Hernandez said. “We could say that we’ve done a lot in-house. Last week, at the meeting, we just moved four [streets] that are in very bad shaped. We moved them up to the top, and they’re going to be addressed. I would say professional conduct among the elected officials… I think the respect that is needed there has been restored. Everybody respects everybody. I open myself up to them too so they can bring me concerns. Everybody there is important. Everybody is elected by the people. We’re working well. I think communication, respect and trust have been restored.”
Regarding his thoughts on the Place 1 and 2 City Commission races, Hernandez said, “Since I became an elected official, one of the first things I’ve learned is to work for yourself. Whoever were to be elected, I would very much work with them. As far as the governing body, as it is, I am more than happy with it.”
Sanchez said that voters should consider her leadership skills and experience when deciding who to vote for in May.
“I think they should consider my experience and my leadership, my success,” Sanchez said. “They should vote for me because I can do the job. I can bring integrity back to San Benito.”
Hernandez also cited his experience as the main reason why his constituents should consider re-electing him.
“It doesn’t matter how educated you are, this is a job and I take it very serious,” Hernandez said. “You learn as you go along. I’m to the point where I think I’m at the height of it where I understand everything. I am absolutely the most qualified.”
When asked for his thoughts on his opponent, Hernandez said, “I could say a lot of negative things about her like they’ve been doing about me, but I’m a Christian person and I’m not going to speak evil of her. I’m not going to get down to their level. Everybody has a right. This position belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to me or her. I think it is the right of the people to choose whoever is most qualified and whoever is going to do the job that is required. I won’t speak evil of her.”
“Joe is well-intentioned; however, I firmly believe that San Benito is ready for new leadership that can take good intentions and translate them into good public policy for a better San Benito,” Sanchez said. “I’m running because I have a vision for San Benito, and I want to make that vision come true. I feel that I can pick up the baton and take it to another level.”
Early voting will begin on Monday, April 28 and end on Tuesday, May 6. Election Day is on Saturday, May 10.