McALLEN, February 14 - Sonia Falcon says that if elected to the McAllen City Commission in May, she wants to change attitudes at city hall when it comes to regional cooperation.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian and in a speech at her campaign kickoff event, the longtime banker pointed out how people from outside the Rio Grande Valley view the Valley as a region. Only in the Valley, she said, is there a parochial, Friday Night Football mentality.
“We need to start talking about regionalism. McAllen needs to call for regionalization. It is critical,” Falcon said. She said the importance of regionalism was driven home to her when she served on a panel of UTPA alumni at a UT Vista Summit event this past year.
“It was interesting to hear from these large funders, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Ford Foundation. When they visit the Valley they do not visit McAllen, they do not visit Edinburg. They do not visit Brownsville or Harlingen. They visit the Rio Grande Valley,” Falcon said.
“The funders said, ‘the only ones that see yourself different, not as a region, are you. The rest of us see the Rio Grande Valley. We see a region.’ It takes folks like that to point out this fact. We become focused on our boundaries and not on our capacity to accomplish great things without boundaries and city limits. We do not look at how things will impact the region.”
Falcon held her campaign kickoff event at the Old Pump House Building in Fireman’s Park, McAllen, on Tuesday evening. The park is in District 6, which is the open seat she is running for. The district lies in east McAllen, from Jackson to 10th Street and from the levee to Nolana. The seat is open because incumbent city commissioner Jim Darling has announced he is running for mayor.
In her interview with the Guardian, Falcon stressed her experience.
“We are losing a lot of experience with the retirement of Mayor Richard Cortez and City Commissioner Marcus Barrera. We need someone who understands the ins and outs of the city. The learning curve will be very short for me because of my experience,” Falcon said
Falcon pointed out that for the past ten years she have been serving the citizens of McAllen in two different capacities, first on the planning and zoning commission, which she chaired, and then on the zoning board of adjustments. “Now, I want to take it to the next level,” Falcon said.
Falcon said she remembers going on a course at McAllen City Hall when she attended McAllen High School. It was called the Manpower program and she worked on planning and zoning. It was a program designed to help high school students find jobs. “I am a product of McAllen public schools and very proud of it,” she said. After high school she attended UTPA and earned a business administration degree in finance.
Falcon said running for elected office in the Valley at this point in time is special because of the major economic development projects coming into play.
“With all the news about the medical school developing, we are at a very critical time with some big decisions and big plans. We need leaders who have been involved and engaged with this community at all levels to step up. I consider myself a very strong candidate for this position,” Falcon said.
The medical school is being developed by the UT System as part of the merger of UT-Pan American, UT-Brownsville, and the Regional Academic Health Center. Asked how big a factor the medical school was in her decision to run for city commission, Falcon said: “It was not the only factor but it is an example of the type of things that are coming up that can keep this city moving forward. The medical school is a big, big, opportunity that will probably come only once in our lifetime. We want leaders at the table when the big decisions are made. So, it was one of the factors that impacted my decision but not the only factor.”
Falcon has served on a number of prestigious boards including the student scholarship program VAMOS, which she has chaired for the past eight years. VAMOS has raised $15 million in scholarships. Falcon said she intends to continue to serve on the board. She is also on the board of directors for the Texas Bar Foundation that allocates grants around state. She is also on the Texas Lyceum board of directors. She is a graduate of Leadership McAllen and Leadership Texas.
In her interview with the Guardian, Falcon spoke about the importance of relations with Reynosa and Mexico for McAllen.
“Mayor Cortez had a great strategic plan (for attracting Mexican shoppers and investors). We need to go back to that plan and check off the things we have accomplished. It is time for a new strategic plan for a new effort. Relations with Mexico continue to be a top priority for the city, as they will be for me,” Falcon said.
Coincidentally, Falcon is leaving IBC Bank, where she has worked for the past 21 years. She said it has nothing to do with her decision to seek elected office. “It is coincidental. I am going to remain in banking. Another opportunity has come my way. IBC has always been very supportive and Mr. Guerra has said he will do all he can to help my campaign,” Falcon said, referring to David Guerra, the president of IBC Bank in McAllen.
Falcon concluded the interview by saying: “I am all in for this election. I will work hard. This is a very important position for me. I want to represent the constituents of District 6 and keep McAllen the great city it is.”