By David Lopez
The San Benito News and the San Benito Chamber of Commerce hosted a “Meet the Candidates” forum for Mayor and City Commission last Thursday at the Lone Star Inn in San Benito. The purpose of the forum was to inform the public about where the candidates running for public office stand on local issues.
All candidates for City Commission were present, though Commissioner Rene Villafranco left early to attend the City’s Census Block Party and was unable to answer questions. Both Celeste Sanchez and Rick Guerra were present for the mayoral Q&A while Mayor Ben Gomez was absent due to attending the Census Party.
Questions ranged from general inquiries regarding the role of city officials to tougher issues, including streets, accessibility to the public, downtown revitalization, and the economic atmosphere of San Benito.
Access to the public and media
When asked about how they would make themselves accessible to the public and media, many candidates pointed to social media.
“Social media is the biggest thing,” said Rene Garcia, who is challenging Tony Gonzales for Place 1. “If I will advocate for you, you will be able to reach me, whether through cell phone, email, or social media,” he said.
The City’s economic development was a hot topic, as commissioners discussed the best ways to bring about more businesses and improve the town’s business atmosphere.
“We need to work together, all three entities (Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corporation, and City of San Benito),” said Peter Galvan. Cortez agreed, saying communication and consensus are critical.
“I would give the Chamber more money,” said Joe Rodriguez. Celeste Sanchez agreed, saying the best thing the City can do to support the Chamber of Commerce is to provide monetary funds.
“We need to promote our city,” said Morales.
The moderator (myself) asked the candidates how they would address the issue of the abandoned buildings downtown, an issue which residents say reflects poorly on San Benito and presents safety hazards.
“The problem for the city is trying to find new owners for those properties, which have been passed down to families through generations,” said Joe Rodriguez. “There should be a department to deal with that issue; otherwise, if we can’t find new owners, there’s nothing the City can do.”
Arguably the biggest problem facing San Benito, the poor condition of its streets, was on a lot of the candidates’ and attendees’ minds.
“We have to find a different avenue, whether in Austin or Washington, to find the money for our roads,” said Esteban Rodriguez.
“It’s not easy to get grant money,” said Joe. “We need an experienced grant writer.”
Pete Galvan responded to both candidates, saying, “We need to reevaluate our funds. I think if we hire a grant who costs 50-60k and brings in millions, that’s money well spent.”
Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length. To read the full story, click here or make sure to grab a copy of the March 6 –12, 2020 issue of the NEWS.