PHARR, RGV – Outgoing Pharr city leaders say they hope their successors will put all the acrimony and divisiveness of this year’s expensive and hard-fought election campaign behind them and bring harmony back to Hub City.
Mayor Leopoldo ‘Polo’ Palacios, Mayor Pro Tem Adan Farias and City Commissioners Arturo Cortez and Aquiles ‘Jimmy’ Garza gave farewell speeches at their last city commission meeting on Tuesday evening. At the end of their speeches the four received standing ovations from those in the audience. Among those in the audience was the incoming mayor, Dr. Ambrosio ‘Amos’ Hernandez. Like others in the audience, Hernandez rose to his feet to applaud the service of those leaving office.
Next week, after the election votes are certified, a new-look city commission will take the helm, led by Dr. Hernandez. The successor to Commissioner Farias in Place 6 is Mario Bracamontes. Cortez will be replaced in Place 1 by Eleazar Guajardo, and former mayor Ricardo Medina takes over from Garza in Place 5.
The margin of victory in the city commission election was wafer-thin in all four races with only 14 votes separating winner and loser in Place 5. The new-look city commission will feature four commissioners aligned with the Pharr First slate – incumbents Roberto ‘Bobby’ Carrillo, Oscar Elizondo, Jr., Edmund Maldonado, Jr., and newcomer Bracamontes. The other three newcomers on the commission, Hernandez, Medina and Guajardo, ran on the Pharr Forward slate.
Mayor Palacios was born and raised in Pharr and has served on the city commission for an incredible 31 years, as both mayor and commissioner. He did not seek re-election this year. In his farewell speech, Palacios acknowledged the rough and tumble of political life.
“I feel that I have accomplished quite a bit in my 31 years in helping our community grow as much as it has. I have always wanted to help my fellow man. I will continue to serve my fellow man. I do not believe I have hurt anybody in any way and if I have, well, that is the way politics are. Sometimes, I see politics like a baseball game or a football game. You either win or you lose. You do the best you can to win. Sometimes you do good. Sometimes you don’t,” Palacios said.
“At the end of the game, I think that it should be that we become friends again and not lose who we are, our identity, because we lost the game or because we did not get what we wanted things to turn out. I have a lot of respect for those that come into the city because it is never ending situation. You cannot please everybody. We try to do the best we can but sometimes the best that we do is not enough for some people. They want more and more and more.”
Palacios said he has made a lot of friends and perhaps a lot of enemies while being mayor and commissioner. “But, at the end of the day when I go home and go to bed I feel that I did something for our community, that I did something for my neighbor and I didn’t do it because I was getting a fat paycheck. We don’t get paid. We do what we do because we want to serve.”
Palacios said he wished he could have carried on but his family told him it was time to retire. “I understand there is a beginning and an end and I feel real good that I was able by the grace of the Lord that I was able to serve the community the way as I did,” Palacios added.
Cortez, a retired former postal service worker, has been on the city commission since 2006. “I believe that in the last nine years we have accomplished a lot in the City of Pharr. I have seen graffiti come down. I have seen gang problems go down. I have seen growth and businesses. I have seen a lot of accomplishments for the City of Pharr,” Cortez said.
What distinguished the outgoing administration, Cortez said, was its ability to work as a team. “We all worked together as a team, as employees, as a commission, with the mayor, to get a lot of these accomplishments done,” Cortez said.
“I for one want to wish Pharr the best in the future. I am going to go back to doing some of my woodwork, some fishing and hunting and try to enjoy my retirement,” Cortez added. “I just hope for the best for the new administration coming in, that they continue working together with our employees. We have very, very, good employees. I want the new mayor to know, he is in the audience, that these employees are second to none and I know they are going to be there to continue to work hard for this community.”
Garza lost to Medina by 139 votes. In his farewell speech, Garza pointed out that he did not have deep roots in Pharr and was therefore dependent on Mayor Palacios and his city commission colleagues for helping him achieve victory in 2010. He thanked them for that support.
“I know that I leave this community in a much better place than it was before. We have seen what political stability does in a community. That was not present before,” Garza said. “I know there has been a bitter election, a lot of mudslinging. I leave the City in a better place financially, with a better credit rating, but I also leave the city very divided and unfortunately that is the way politics are. I don’t hold anything personal, like the mayor said – it is part of the game that we play as elected officials. I would encourage everyone, the old guys left behind and the new guys coming to work together. It is for the betterment of our community.”
Garza said all the candidates that ran for office this year love Pharr and want to do right by the community. He said the only difference of opinion is on how to get there.
“I think we all have the right heart in place to move our city along and make it a better place for future generations. That is the common denominator in all of us. Yet, we differ on how we get there. If we all have that in mind and we all have that in our hearts I think we can start mending a lot of the rift that was created by this election and we can all start working together.”
Garza said that as a citizen of Pharr, he would ask the new city commission to look above and beyond what was said and done during the election campaign in order to come together and find common ground. “Find a way to come together and do it for the betterment of our city. I think we all love our city,” Garza said.
Garza ended his speech with these remarks: “I want to thank each and everyone one of you for carrying me in 2010 to this position and for carrying me close to getting re-elected to this position because I could not do it on my own. I do not have those deep roots in this community. It has been because of all the support of everybody out there that I have gotten to where I am at in this city. And so, I thank you and I want to continue to be a resource for you guys however I can and God bless each and every one of you and God continue to bless the city of Pharr, Texas.”
Farias, like Cortez, has served as a city commissioner since 2006. He did not seek re-election as a city commission. Instead, he led the Pharr First slate as the mayoral candidate. He lost to Hernandez by 182 votes. In his goodbye speech, Farias said he was proud of the way Pharr has been transformed.
“It did not happen by itself. It happened because of city employees, Fred, the commission and all the people that have put forth the effort to make this community a lot better. We stand by that because the essence of who we are and what we stand for is to make this community better. I think it has,” Farias said. The “Fred” Farias was referring to is Fred Sandoval, the Pharr city manager.
“It has been difficult. Like the mayor said, it is hard to please everybody but in our heart our community comes first. And so, we want to move forward and we abide by the will of the people. They have voted, they have decided and so we abide by that because that is the way that things happen. And so, we are really proud of what this community has become. It is not perfect, nothing is but the point is there is a lot more room for good things to happen,” Farias said.
“What has happened over the last few years has been because of that – because of people coming and working for a common cause. We have been focused on that and so we are proud of what has happened here in Pharr and so we want to become better. It has been a great ride. We have devoted a lot of time, a lot of energy. That is the essence of who we are.”
Interviewed after the meeting was over, Mayor Palacios said the one thing he is hoping for most of all from the new city commission is an increase in the minimum wage paid to city employees. He said the City of Pharr pays around $9 an hour as its minimum. He said the City should be trying to emulate Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, which, he said, pays a minimum of $11 an hour. Dr. Hernandez is on the board at DHR.
“I want them to come in and help the poor people. Everything is going sky high. A lot of our employees are not paid that much. You go to Dairy Queen and you get a hamburger for $3.59. You get some potatoes and a drink and it costs you seven or eight bucks. People who are not earning enough money, how can they go to the store, go to HEB, and go buy groceries to feed a family of four or five?” Palacios asked.