For an event featuring candidates in an election with three runoff races in one of Hidalgo County’s most politically controversial cities, Friday morning’s Edinburg City Council candidate forum was notably civil.

City council candidates even hugged before and after saying their piece on the issues.

The forum was put on by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and business — predictably — was the focus of the hour-and-a-half-long question and answer session, with topics that included drainage, regional cooperation and Edinburg’s airport.

Both mayoral candidates — current Mayor Richard Molina and former City Manager Ramiro Garza Jr. — stressed municipal service during their time to speak.

Edinburg mayoral candidate Richard Molina, left, debates with his opponent Ramiro Garza jr. during a Edinburg city council and mayoral forum at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“It is the fastest growing city, and I would like to say that I’ve been a part of that,” Molina said. “I put together a team that has been a part of that.”

Garza said he’s no stranger to how Edinburg works either.

“I know the city very well,” he said. “I know the ins and outs of the city. And I think that’s important.”

Both men said Edinburg had strong economic assets; they differed on what its greatest economic need was.

For Garza, that need is infrastructure.

“If we don’t invest in our infrastructure and make improvements to areas that there’s opportunities for development and to become competitive, then we’re not going to take advantage of those opportunities. But we’ve got to have a plan,” he said, stressing the importance of long term foresight.

Jobs, Molina said, are what will drive the city’s economy and listed off governmental and hospital jobs that he says have played a key role in the city’s growth.

“I believe we have some people in the room that have seen what we’ve done,” he said. “I mean, many of the people in the room have been to a lot of the ribbon cuttings, a lot of the ground breakings. You all have seen what we’ve been doing, day after day.”

Both men were asked about how they’d capitalize on the city’s relatively small airport in North Edinburg.

Molina said under his leadership the airport is becoming its own division within the city. He said its primary use is currently as a security hub for agencies like Border Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety, activities that will spur the creation of two more hangars in the near future — hangars that can help the airport generate more funding down the road.

“The second part is, we’re trying to get more funding for the runway,” Molina said. “The runway is not suffice to bring in your bigger cargo planes, where we can eventually do some cargo and maybe some produce that comes in and out of there.”

A longer runway, Garza agreed, is a necessity, though he offered different solutions on how to extend it. Garza proposed using the airport as a Foreign Trade Zone to spur business, or making it a user fee airport in which the city leases land to private plane owners who want to build their own hangars.

“The key for the airport is bringing activity,” he said. “Without the activity it’s very difficult to get the funding that we need to make improvements to it.”

Collaboration with other Rio Grande Valley cities was a constant theme throughout the forum.

Collaboration could be an answer to endemic RGV problems like animal control, Molina said, along with health. He said the city currently has a fitness initiative that aims to get residents walking and exercising, a habit that can be promoted across city lines.

“The hike and bike trail is something that’s very big that we’re working on with the city of McAllen, city of San Juan, city of Alamo,” Molina said. “It’s very important; there’s a culture here and we lead in things that we shouldn’t be proud of: diabetes, obesity, heart disease. So we’re trying to get people to be more active.”

Garza said he’d support a metropolitan statistical area that spans the whole Valley, which he says would help attract business to the region. Basic infrastructure needs should also be met with a regional approach, he said.

“For us as a city, we need to do what we can to collaborate with the cities; not just in roads, but also in drainage as well. And in development as well,” he said.

Council candidates put in their two cents on Edinburg’s business climate as well, commenting on what they felt would keep it a desirable place to live.

Edinburg city council candidates, left to right, Smiley Martinez, Dan Diaz, Ruben Palacios and Jason De Leon debate during a Edinburg city council and mayoral forum at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Place 1 candidate Dan Diaz said he would promote strategies that draw younger residents to town and focus on creating greenspaces, while his opponent, Smiley Martinez, said he would focus on business promotion and more community engagement.

Place 2 candidate Jason De Leon said what the city needs is more staffing at city hall to improve customer service, while opponent Bubba Palacios said retail and economic development would keep residents in Edinburg.

All of the candidates were asked what set them apart from their competitors.

Palacios highlighted his history of service and business experience, while De Leon said he felt his outsider’s perspective gave him an edge.

Martinez focused on his deep roots and hardscrabble upbringing, while Diaz, a veteran, recounted his experience while serving.

The runoff election is set for Dec. 14.