Top row (from left to right): Andrew Perez, Mayra Gutierrez and Fernando Salinas. Bottom row (from left to right): Jose R. "Pepe" Cabeza De Vaca and Larry Esparza.

Candidates running for District 6 city commissioner closed out a week filled with candidate forums on Thursday, answering questions about where they stood on certain issues and what they hoped to see for the city in the future.

The forum Thursday, along with the forums held earlier this week for the mayoral and District 1 and 3 commissioner candidates, were hosted by Futuro RGV.

One of the five candidates running for the District 6 position will fill the vacancy left by current Commissioner Veronica Whitacre who was required to resign from her position when she announced her candidacy for mayor. Whitacre, however, will remain in the position until her replacement is elected in the upcoming special election.

During Thursday’s event, only three of those candidates — Jose R. “Pepe” Cabeza De Vaca, Lawrence “Larry” Esparza, and Mayra Gutierrez — stayed for the entirety of the forum. Candidate Andrew Perez was only able to stay for the first round of questions while candidate Andres Fernando Salinas did not attend.

Gutierrez listed business owners as the biggest asset to the city and said the biggest concern was security, arguing for more equipment and compensation for their police and fire departments.

Cabeza de Vaca said the city’s biggest asset was its location because of its economic opportunities and said among the concerns were the education of the workforce and improvements to infrastructure.

“The combination of both is what attracts new business,” he said. “And when we attract new business, we have a very solid tax base to continue the progress in the city of McAllen.”

Perez responded that he viewed the needs of the city through the lens of running a business and said he wanted to focus on taking care of first responders such as firefighters and police officers by providing better resources and training.

“We’re going to run the city of McAllen like a business, like it should be run,” Perez said. “Eliminate wasteful spending and circumvent the ways on how we’re getting this mass immigration into Texas and our border.”

Esparza, a board trustee for the McAllen Independent School District, said there was more than the location that can attract people to the city and emphasized the importance of implementing a strategic plan to facilitate the city’s growth.

Turning to specific issues, the remaining candidates — Cabeza De Vaca, Esparza and Gutierrez — largely agreed on many issues but had differing views on a few.

When it came to the possibility of implementing a “cite-and-release” policy for individuals caught with less than 2 ounces of marijuana — a policy implemented by the city of Pharr in November — Gutierrez said she would be in favor but would want to consult with the police department beforehand.

Esparza similarly said he would want to sit down with law enforcement to implement a plan while Cabeza De Vaca said he definitely wanted to look into it by getting input from law enforcement, judges, and try to understand the economic impact of such a move would have on the city.

As to what factors they will take into consideration when deciding whether to offer financial incentives to private business, Esparza said the city should refer to their strategic plan to decide what direction they want the city to go.

Gutierrez said city should consider which businesses would provide job opportunities and also create opportunities for smaller businesses in the community. Similarly, Cabeza De Vaca said those decisions should be based on the number of jobs that those businesses would create, their revenues, and overall projections.

The candidates were also asked about where they stood on a proposed charter amendment that would limit the mayor and commissioner to three terms in office.

Gutierrez and Cabeza De Vaca fully supported the measure while Esparza didn’t take a clear stance on the issue, saying the decision was up to the voters.

As the forum wound down, the candidates were asked whether they agreed with Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate last week.

Cabeza De Vaca said he didn’t think Abbott’s decision was “a very clever one” as the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.

“I do believe that we need to keep wearing the mask, we need to keep the distance, still,” Cabeza De Vaca said. “We can’t let our guard down.”

Esparza said he would personally continue wearing a mask but said individuals’ needed to respect each other’s decision.

For Gutierrez, the issue is a matter of personal responsibility.

“Everybody’s responsible for their own health,” Gutierrez said, adding that while she is in favor of lifting the mandate, she would still respect the policies of private businesses that will continue to require the use of masks.

“I will wear a mask in respect of that business,” she said. “But it (boils) down to personal responsibility.”

The special election for District 6 commissioner will be held on the same day as the city’s general election on May 1.

Early voting will be held from April 19 through April 27.


bereniceg@themonitor.com