HARLINGEN — More than six months before what’s expected to be the city’s biggest election in more than 20 years, Mayor Chris Boswell on Wednesday said he’s running for re-election while attorney Norma Sepulveda announced her bid to become the first woman to serve as Harlingen’s mayor.
Meanwhile, District 1 Commissioner Richard Uribe, who first won election in 2016, and District 2 Commissioner Frank Puente, who returned to the commission in 2019, have yet to announce whether they plan to seek re-election.
The May 7 ballot also calls on voters to decide if they want to set limits on the mayor’s and commissioners’ tenures, capping them at four, three-year terms.
Passage of the proposal, whose term limits would become effective in 2024, would not count incumbents’ current terms against them if they chose to run for re-election.
Amid months of heated city commission meetings, the May 7 election’s crowding field of candidates and its ballot’s term limits proposition are expected to draw more voters to the polls.
Boswell, an attorney running for his sixth term, described the May 7 election as “very important,” six months after last May’s election shifted the commission’s balance of power.
“I want to keep Harlingen moving in the right direction,” he said. “I feel like we need to complete the vision of growth we have been working on all these years. I don’t want to see it go off course.”
In 1998, Boswell first won election to the city commission, serving until 2007, when he won his seat as mayor.
In later elections, he has overwhelmingly defeated challengers.
Boswell is expected to formally announce his re-election bid next month.
Outside City Hall, Sepulveda declared her bid to run for mayor after attorney Ruben Peña introduced her, describing her announcement as an “historic event” as Uribe mingled with the crowd.
“My journey represents the American dream,” she told the small crowd including her husband and family members.
“I was the first in my family to graduate from high school,” she said from a podium. “I had to work to go to college. I know how it feels to work paycheck to paycheck.”
Sepulveda argued Harlingen has fallen behind other Rio Grande Valley cities such as Weslaco.
“I’m not a politician — I feel like I have to do this because our children’s future is at stake,” she said, referring to her candidacy. “The small towns around us are growing while Harlingen remains stagnant. It’s time to put Harlingen first.”
After Sepulveda’s announcement, Boswell stood behind Harlingen’s growth, noting new Census figures show the city’s population grew 11 percent while Cameron County’s population climbed by 3.3 percent during the last 10 years.
“We accounted for most of the growth in Cameron County,” he said during an interview. “Half of the county’s growth was in Harlingen.”
Candidates dispute public comment length
At the podium, Sepulveda recounted her recent presentation during a city commission meeting in which she requested commissioners allow her to place a storage unit behind her home as her neighbor had done on his property.
During her announcement, she said Boswell, who presided over the meeting, didn’t allow her to complete her statement during a public comment period before commissioners voted 4-1 to grant her request.
Meanwhile, Boswell said he allowed Sepulveda to speak for two minutes, in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act.
However, Sepulveda said she believes she was “silenced.”
“I’ve wondered how many other voices in Harlingen have been silenced by this leadership,” she told the crowd outside City Hall.
“I refuse to be silent,” she said. “The mayor works for the citizens of Harlingen. It doesn’t matter what side of the tracks you’re from. I’m here to fight for the American dream.”