Top row (from left to right): Lucia "Lucy" Thompson, Antonio "Tony" Aguirre Jr., and Timothy "Tim" Wilkins. Bottom row (from left to right): Mario Reyna, Thelma E. Tamez, and Omar Quintanilla.

Candidates running for a place on the McAllen City Commission participated in a forum Wednesday evening during which each candidate had an opportunity to explain their vision for the city.

Wednesday’s forum focused on the six candidates running for Districts 1 and 3 commissioner who all expressed what they viewed as the city’s strongest asset and biggest challenge.

First up were the District 1 candidates, which include Lucia “Lucy” Thompson, Antonio “Tony” Aguirre Jr., and Timothy “Tim” Wilkins.

Wilkins said the city’s biggest asset was its financial stability due to its geographical location, but added that its revenue streams have changed, making it also the city’s biggest concern.

“Over the past 15 years, McAllen has become the hole of the donut as surrounding cities beat us to the economic development opportunities that were present,” Wilkins said. “Not only do we lose property tax potential to these other cities, we also don’t derive the sales tax benefit.”

“I have a vision and very specific plans to reinvigorate our city’s core,” Wilkins added, “engineering the types of commerce that will take us safely into the next 20 years.”

Aguirre agreed that the city’s location was its biggest asset, stemming from the international border on which the city has two bridges, the nearby gulf coast, and the weather. However, with the location also comes complexities the city has to deal with, he said.

“Today we’re seeing the migration coming through and we need to be able to handle it; I think that our city has,” Aguirre said. “The six years of us being on this, we’ve shown that … safety has been a priority to us and we felt that we are addressing the situation.”

For Thompson, the biggest asset was the city’s potential to become a destination city given its proximity to South Padre Island, Mexico, their international airport and convention center, and most importantly diversity in cultures.

But infrastructure was the biggest concern, Thompson said, including more roads to help reduce traffic.

The District 3 candidates — Mario Reyna, Thelma E. Tamez, and current Commissioner Omar Quintanilla — largely agreed that McAllen’s location brought many benefits.

“McAllen has the potential of becoming a great destination city — we have a great mall, great shopping centers, we have a convention center, we have a performing arts center,” Reyna said. “But I think in order to become a destination city, we need to be thinking about some major investments and we need to plan for those investments.”

He then echoed Thompson’s concern about the city’s infrastructure, emphasizing the need for “the right traffic patterns and the right drainage” so that everyone is able to have a great quality of life.

Quintanilla, the District 3 incumbent, said the city’s greatest asset was its economy and agreed that it’s biggest challenge was infrastructure.

“In McAllen we are fortunate enough to have a diverse mix of businesses that provide our community with job opportunities,” Quintanilla said. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we’ve seen how resilient they have been during our economic downturn. The job opportunities that exist in McAllen will continue to attract families to move to McAllen.”

When speaking to residents, he said the concern that comes up most often are sidewalks, street lighting, alleys that lack paving and drainage.

“My plan is to lobby our state and federal government for additional capital so that we can address these projects and that we can make all parts of the district and the city on equal footing,” he said.

Lastly, Tamez sided with those who saw the city’s location as its greatest asset.

“I’m a big believer that we are the hub of the (Rio Grande Valley),” Tamez said, highlighting the proximity to the border and to attractions such as South Padre Island. “We’re extremely powerful as a region and we collaborate with Hidalgo, Willacy, Cameron and Starr County.”

“We have amazing infrastructure in the sense that we could be able to be the best place to live in the U.S.,” Tamez added. “We have the best people and I have great trust that we could build and be stronger together.”

While these candidates had an opportunity to make their case to voters, another slew of candidates — those running for District 6 commissioner — will have their chance during a forum on Thursday night.

McAllen voters will have to make their choice among the several candidates running in the commissioner races and those running in the mayoral election on election day, which falls on May 1.

[email protected]