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MERCEDES — Incumbent Joe Martinez secured a second term as the Mercedes Place 3 commissioner when he defeated former commissioner and challenger, Leonel Benavidez, in a runoff election here Saturday.
Speaking to The Monitor shortly after the unofficial voting numbers were announced, an exuberant Martinez thanked God, his campaign team and his family as a group of supporters began to celebrate outside the Mercedes Civic Center.
“And most importantly, I want to thank the voters of Mercedes for giving me another opportunity to continue to serve,” Martinez said.
“I’m so grateful for it and I want people to understand that I’m not gonna take this responsibility lightly,” he said.
A total of 1,025 Mercedes residents cast a ballot in the runoff election, which Martinez won by a nearly two-to-one margin.
He secured 634 votes, or nearly 62% of the electorate, according to unofficial results posted to the Hidalgo County Elections Department website.
Benavidez, meanwhile, got 391 votes.
All results remain unofficial until canvassed by the Mercedes City Commission.
Martinez prevailed over an opponent who, along with former commissioner Jose Gomez, often formed a vocal and critical minority against other city leaders.
And that criticism continued Saturday, even as Benavidez learned of his election defeat.
“What is clear is that you have former school board members, former commissioners, and current commissioners all working hard so that they have a unanimous control on the commission,” Benavidez said, as his campaign workers began to pack up their gear.
Benavidez attributed Martinez’s election win to a sort of quid pro quo among other Mercedes public officials, including past and present school board trustees and commissioners.
“It’s all politics. It’s not about informing the public here, it’s more a popularity contest and trying to get their friends and their compadres to come out and vote for the guy that they tell them to vote for,” Benavidez said.
But Martinez challenged that characterization, saying the support of his fellow commissioners comes from mutually shared goals, rather than compadrismo.
“I think that speaks volumes about our commission as a whole. We’re united in our goals. We’re united in what we want to accomplish for Mercedes,” he said.
Among the crowd of supporters who stood behind Martinez as he spent the last hours of election day campaigning at the city park were sitting Commissioners Jacob Howell, and Armando Garcia, who last May defeated Benavidez for the Place 2 seat.
But there was another reason for support like theirs, Martinez explained.
Many of the current or former public officials who threw their support behind Martinez did so to combat what Martinez referred to as Benavidez’s negativity.
“If I can be frank with you, you know, some of us have worked with my opponent. We’ve seen what he brings to the table, and, you know, that was the reality of this election,” Martinez said.
“It was either we go back to the old ways of destruction and negativity, or we move forward with positivity and unity.”
Martinez was choosing to focus on the positive, saying he would spend Saturday evening celebrating the election win with his supporters, then treating his daughter to a game of golf on Sunday.
“I promised her I’d do that,” Martinez said.
Meanwhile, things may not be completely over.
As he prepared to leave the park, Benavidez pledged to start a recall petition, citing his belief that there were irregularities with the election.
It’s not the first time Benavidez has questioned the integrity of the elections system. After Garcia defeated him last year, Benavidez asked for a ballot recount.
At the time, he said he didn’t expect the outcome of the election to change, but instead hoped it would serve as a “quality check” of the electoral process.
This time, his plans to contest the most recent election go one step further.
“We’re gonna do a petition recall and we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Benavidez said.