Mercedes mayor reelected, Place 3 commissioner race headed to runoff

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In this May 5, 2021 file photo, Mercedes City Hall can be seen in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Voters in Mercedes sent a clear message on Election Day in reelecting Mayor Oscar Montoya to his second term in office while fending off two challengers — including a former commissioner.

But the message was less clear in the race for Place 3 — the only other contested seat on the Mercedes City Commission.

Like the mayoral race, the run for Place 3 drew three candidates — incumbent Joe Martinez and former commissioners Leonel Benavidez and Leandro “Leo” Villarreal. None of the three candidates won more than 50% of the votes, leaving no clear winner.

Instead, Martinez will face off against Benavidez in a runoff whose date has yet to be determined.

Montoya was thankful for the win.

“I want to thank God, first of all. I want to thank my family and all my supporters that came out to help. And then lastly, all the citizens that voiced their opinion by voting,” Montoya said Monday.

A total of 1,430 Mercedes residents cast a ballot in the mayoral race. Of those, 797 voted for Montoya, or just under 56%.

Montoya’s next closest challenger was Joaquin Hernandez Sr., a newcomer to politics, who earned 377 votes, or just under 27%.

Hernandez Sr.’s son, Joaquin Jr., previously worked as the city’s public works director until the city terminated him last fall.

In October 2022, the younger Hernandez initiated legal proceedings against the city in anticipation of filing a lawsuit.

And finally, former Mercedes Commissioner Cristela “Cris” De Leon Hernandez, no relation to the Hernandez’s, won 18% — or 256 votes — of the ballots cast in the mayoral race.

Montoya expressed his enthusiasm to continue pursuing the goals he began working on when he was first elected in November 2020.

“It feels great. I’m actually excited to get started on moving the city forward and continue doing what we’ve been doing,” Montoya said.

“To me, the takeaway … is that the citizens want more of what we’re doing, it’s our job to get it done,” he said.

Despite heading to a runoff for Place 3, Martinez was equally optimistic.

“What we’ve been able to do as a united commission speaks for itself. Our work over the last two-and-a-half years speaks for itself,” Martinez said.

Both he and Montoya ran together on a slate.

Martinez said he was pleased with Saturday night’s election results, having won exactly 600 votes, or almost 43% of the 1,408 ballots cast in the race for Place 3.

Former Mercedes Commissioner Leo Villarreal came in third with 372 votes.

Meanwhile, Benavidez, who lost his bid for reelection to Place 2 last May, won nearly 31% of the ballots cast, or 436 votes.

Now he and Martinez will face off against each other to determine who will hold the Place 3 seat.

Where Martinez saw good signs in earning 600 votes, Benavidez sees the election results a little differently.

Between him and Villarreal, some 808 people didn’t vote for Martinez, Benavidez said.

“More people voted, obviously, against the incumbent than those that voted for him. That’s what stands out the most,” Benavidez said.

He sees that as a sign that Mercedes residents do want change — and perhaps a return to what he calls “honest work.”

“My message to the public is honest work. The forum — the meet your candidate forum that was removed from Facebook there — one of the big questions was, what set you apart from the other candidates and that’s the honest work,” Benavidez said.

The former commissioner was referring to a candidate forum which was livestreamed on Facebook on April 19.

Benavidez expressed skepticism over what happened to the video — which seems to have disappeared from the platform — implying it may have been intentionally removed after he made comments critical of the mayor.

Montoya panned the criticism.

“One of the candidates (was) just trying to bring back old stuff. I’m about the future,” Montoya said, adding that he tried to stay out of political arguments that sprouted on social media ahead of the election.

“I just avoided any of that kind of stuff,” he said.

Montoya’s running mate agreed with his assessment of Benavidez.

“Our opponent is somebody that wants to come in and has shown what his work is about — being disruptive, being a divider instead of being a uniter,” Martinez said.

“The message is clear, you know. You have a choice — look in the rearview mirror and go back to what we came out of or we can continue to progress forward,” he said.

Find the complete, unofficial election results of races across the Rio Grande Valley here.