Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mayor Cook and Liberals Kept in Office in El Paso

Mayor John Cook won a decisive victory last night in the mayoral race in El Paso, and liberal (they call themselves "progressives") city councilors who have backed him for the past four years were re-elected. Adding to his satisfaction, one of Cook's most outspoken critics, Melina Castro, came in second in the race for City Council in District 4 (Northeast El Paso) and will face a tough runoff election on June 6 against Carl Robinson. Robinson has a military background, an asset in El Paso, and Castro will have to defend her voting against the Northgate transit terminals to accommodate Ft. Bliss.

Should Robinson win, Cook will gain another vote in what appears to be a strong governing coalition backing Cook's agenda for the future of El Paso. There are four other city council persons, making for a total of eight, and the "progressive" faction normally includes Beto O'Rourke, Ann Morgan Lilly, Susie Byrd, and Steve Ortega. The El Paso City Council received a great deal of publicity in January when they voted unanimously to encourage a national debate about legalization of drugs, a move spurred by liberal councilor Beto O'Rourke, which was vetoed by the mayor.

Another controversial ballot measure, proposing to remove control over the stormwater utility from the El Paso Water Utilities and place it directly under the control of the city council, failed to pass by a vote of 2-1. The issue became heated after poor performance of the system in the extensive flooding in El Paso in 2006.

Among the elections for city council, the dirtiest was waged for District 3 (Northeast) between Emma Acosta, the incumbent, and former District 3 City Councilor Jose Alejandro Lozano. Lozano, who resigned in 2008 from this same seat to run for county judge, accused Ms Acosta of lying about her residential qualifications when she ran for the position against Lozano four years ago. Acosta filed a harassment suit against Lozano and his son for what she claimed were physical and verbal assaults against her grandson and campaign treasurer last month while Lozano was investigating her 2005 residential status. In addition Lozano apparently paid his campaign $1200 from his own 501C-3 charity, a criminal violation.

In the Eastridge Mid-Vally District 7 race Steve Ortega, of the liberal faction, was re-elected, beating his closest competitor, Trini Munoz, with a vote of 60%. And in District 2 (West Central El Paso) Susie Byrd, also of the liberal faction, won re-election handily, with 59% of the vote. In order to avoid a runoff election a candidate must win 50% plus one vote.

Cook's major opponent, Gus Haddad ran on a platform stressing a need for the city to be more business-friendly. However, he was not very articulate about his complaints against Cook and the evidence suggests many people believe the city is already too favorable to business in its effort to balance out conflicting interests. Interviewed on TV last night Cook said he thought his victory was a vindication of the manager-council form of government with four year terms and a provision for one re-election.

El Paso is in the midst of a major renaissance, driven by the $5 billion expansion of Ft. Bliss. Among the issues being tackled are downtown revitalization, removing the trains from the city, potential problems with BRAC in the new national environment, and especially issues dealing with mass transit.

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