The candidates running to be the next McAllen mayor participated in another candidate forum Thursday during which they reiterated what they viewed as the city’s challenges and where they stood on certain issues.
Those running to lead the city next include Othal E. Brand Jr., Michael Fallek, Dr. Shahid Rashid, Javier Villalobos, and Veronica Whitacre. All candidates participated in the forum Thursday which was hosted by the McAllen Citizens League and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.
Among the questions posed to the candidates was what would be their first act as mayor.
Brand, president of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District 3 and son of former Mayor Othal Brand Sr., said he would focus on drainage and traffic improvements but also hopes to reset the city’s mindset when it comes to businesses that they’ve lost to other cities, placing emphasis on looking at the reasons behind those lost opportunities.
Fallek, a businessman, said the first thing anyone who comes into office would have to deal with is the city’s budget, a priority shared by Whitacre who currently serves as the District 6 city commissioner.
“I’m going to make sure that all of our budget is in place,” Whitacre said, “and any of the monies that we have over, monies that we can move to another project without having any setbacks, I think we should move those monies in order to complete projects that we’ve had going on for the last couple of years.”
Rashid, a physician specializing in pain management, said health care would be his first priority, noting the long-term medical conditions that persist in individuals following a COVID-19 infection.
“In addition to that we have to also be prepared for the post pandemic recovery, the financial recovery that is also attached to this thing,” Rashid said.
Villalobos, an attorney and current District 1 city commissioner, said he wanted to start rejuvenating the downtown area.
“That, in itself, picks up the tax base,” Villalobos said. “I think we know, the north has the highest residential tax base, the south has the highest commercial tax base. If we equalize it, it benefits everybody.”
Regarding offering business incentives such as tax breaks, most agreed that incentives were important but needed to be given to businesses that created opportunities for the city and the residents.
Brand drew a distinction between influencing a community versus supporting it.
“For the city to come in and give people an upstart, we’ve got to be balanced about how we do that and how we take care of those that are here already versus new investment,” Brand said.
Fallek said tax breaks need to be targeted to companies that would have locations in McAllen and would make a difference.
“Both in terms of capital investment and the number of jobs,” Fallek said. “We do not need to be incentivizing other restaurants, bars, items that are going to be bringing in lower paying jobs or that that are purely competing with those businesses that are already here in town.”
Rashid began by stressing the importance of creating industries in the city rather than trying to draw them here.
“I strongly feel that when you bring the industries from outside, they are going to take away 70-80% of revenue,” he said. “As far as the tax breaks and incentives are concerned — yes, we will be giving those incentives to those companies who are going to give our workforce the paid internships. They are going to be able to create jobs which are going to help our workforce.”
Villalobos said he favored incentives for businesses that would create jobs and ultimately benefit both sides.
“I agree that we do need to have new businesses in the city of McAllen, I think it’s very, very important because not only do they bring a new business but most of the time they bring family,” Whitacre said. “Those families will attend our schools, our churches, they will also invest in our city — they’ll buy a home in the city of McAllen — so I think more than anything else, that is the key.”
McAllen citizens will have their opportunity to vote for one of the five candidates on election day which lands on May 1. Early voting begins on April 19 and runs through April 27.