PHARR, RGV – There was a poignant moment at Pharr city hall on Saturday evening – soon after Polo Palacios had read aloud the 2015 city commission elections, when tears welled up in the outgoing mayor’s eyes.
His successor, Dr. Ambrosio “Amos” Hernandez and wife Cristina had to comfort the mayor and then escort him out of the room.
It was not immediately clear why Palacios was tearful. It could have been the realization that after a numerous decades, his time as a public servant was finally coming to an end. It could have been tears of joy because Palacios had worked hard to get his supporters to vote for Hernandez and his Pharr Forward slate of candidates. Or, it could have been that Palacios realized that a bitterly fought and highly expensive campaign full of negative and personal attack ads had left a previously unified city leadership in tatters.
Speaking to the Rio Grande Guardian as he waited for the results to come in, Pharr City Commissioner Roberto “Bobby” Carrillo laid the blame for the division squarely at Palacios’ door. “The mayor has set us back years. He has wrecked all the progress we have made. It is a terrible legacy,” said Carillo, a Pharr First supporter.
As he was waiting for the final two election boxes to come in, Palacios acknowledged it had been an incredible campaign. “It has been a record-setting election and a very, very, close election to say the least. I have never seen anything like this in 31 years. Wow,” Palacios said.
It was a tense atmosphere inside City Hall as city staff, candidates, and their supporters and family members, waited for the final returns. City staff could be forgiven for being particularly anxious because there was talk during the campaign that if Pharr Forward won there would be wholesale changes in city personnel, starting with the axing of City Manager Fred Sandoval and his key lieutenants.
The four races could hardly have been closer. In the mayoral race, Hernandez secured 3,419 votes to Mayor Pro Tem Adan Farias’ 3,237. Farias headed the Pharr First slate of candidates.
In the election for Place 1 city commissioner, incumbent Arturo Cortez, of the Pharr First slate, secured 3,265 votes, to Eleazar Guajardo’s 3,279. Winner Guajardo was part of the Pharr Forward slate.
In the election for Place 5, incumbent Aquiles “Jimmy” Garza, of the Pharr First slate, secured 3,205 votes, to Ricardo Medina’s 3,344. Winner Medina, a former Pharr mayor and city commissioner, was part of the Pharr Forward slate.
In Place 6, Ramiro Caballero, of the Pharr Forward slate of candidates, picked up 3,258 votes, while Pharr First’s Mario Bracamontes secured 3,331 votes.
The three Pharr city commissioners that were not on the ballot this year – Carillo, Oscar Elizondo, Jr., and Edmund Maldonado, Jr., – are all part of the Pharr First team. When joined by Bracamontes they will hold a 4-3 advantage over Pharr Forward’s Hernandez, Guajardo and Medina on the new-look commission.
At his victory party, held at Stormy Colors Bar and Grill, Hernandez told KGBT’s Nora Salinas that he wants to bring harmony back to Pharr City Hall. Asked how he felt after such a grueling campaign, Hernandez said: “I feel great, thank you.” Asked if he saw the victory coming during the campaign, Hernandez said: “We saw the victory. Early on, when we were walking the streets, talking to people, it was clear they were ready to have a change. So, yes, we saw it.”
Hernandez said the race was historic. “Historically, we have never had the amount of voter turnout that we have had. We have never had a doctor, let alone a surgeon be involved in a race. We also had all new candidates come in to the City of Pharr. It was a heated battle, there’s no question, because those in power wanted to retain it. We just want to give it back to the people.”
Asked by Salinas what his top priority is, Hernandez said: “My main priority, right now, after the election is to get together with the current administration at hand, all new, all of us, and bring us together as a family and work in harmony to get the city of Pharr back where it should be.”
Asked if there was anyone he particularly wanted to thank, Hernandez said: “There are a lot of people to thank but clearly I want to thank my wife Cristina and son Joseph above all.”
Pharr Forward might well have won a majority on the city commission had the Pharr First incumbents not recruited Bracamontes for their ticket. The popular Buell Central High School principal was able to count on the votes of a lot of the parents at his school.
Bracamontes said the election victory would not change his work in the community.
“For the last ten years I have been serving my community, doing all this volunteering. I am going to be doing the same thing. This is just a difference position. Maybe I will have more leverage to help out more kids, to help out more of the youth. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t feel any different. I feel the same because I have been doing this and I am going to keep on doing it. I love my slate that I ran with and I know they will be supporting me 100 percent with any endeavors,” Bracamontes said.
Asked why he thought he won, Bracamontes said: “When you say it from the heart and people know it is from the heart and you are not saying it just to make it look good, that is what people see.”
Asked if he could work with the Pharr Forward winners, Bracamontes said: “It does not matter who I work with. I know Bobby Carillo, I know Oscar Elizondo. I know Edmund (Maldonado). I also know our newcomers. As long as they are doing the right thing for the community – that is what I will always stand up for. I will have no problem. If we are not doing it for the community, if we are doing it for special interests and that other stuff, then I will stand up to that. I have no problem voting for them if we are doing it for the community, if we are doing it for the right reasons. I know there are people out there that want to be part of the future in Pharr and we are going to move on.”