MISSION, RGV – The candidate challenging longtime Mission Mayor Norberto ‘Beto’ Salinas says if elected to office on Saturday, he will definitely only serve a maximum of two terms.

Armando ‘Mando’ O’Caña said he has researched the rules regarding the city charter and believes he can put it to the voters in 2020 that a mayor could only serve for eight years.

Salinas has been mayor of Mission for exactly 20 years. He has also served as a Hidalgo County Commissioner for Precinct 3.

“If eight years in office is good enough for the president of the United States, it is good enough for the mayor of Mission,” O’Caña said. “If I cannot get my plans achieved in eight years, I am not going to do it in 24. I would not deserve to be there.”

As part of his platform, O’Caña has offered the voters of Mission a comprehensive development plan, with equal spending, resources and projects allocated to all four quadrants of the city.

“If I cannot develop that comprehensive plan inside eight years, I do not deserve to be mayor, I am not running for re-election. My plan is to put it to the voters in the 2020 election, that the city charter be changed so that the mayor’s position is for two terms only,” O’Caña said.

“The city of Mission’s population is now 88,000. When the city charter was adopted we had a population of under 8,000. It is time to look at it again.”

Another sweeping proposal from the long-term educator is two additional city council members, elected via single-member districts.

“We are going to ask for two more city council persons and ask for the division of the city to be elected by geographic locations, so there will be equal representation. We will put it to the voters. If they do not want term limits for the mayor, or they do not want single-member districts, I will abide by their decision.”

O’Caña has run for mayor of Mission before. In 2010, he received less than 29 percent of the vote. However, in the first round of voting, O’Caña picked up 46 percent of the vote. Mayor Salinas secured 49.7 percent of the vote, while third-place candidate Jaime Gutierrez picked up the rest. In the runoff, Gutierrez has endorsed O’Caña.

Asked if he can sense a change in the air, O’Caña answered affirmatively.

“The mayor has been there for 24 years. People are saying that is long enough. As we go from neighborhood to neighborhood the people are very inviting us in. Some of them are letting us come in for coffee. The theme behind our campaign is, it is time for change.”

Asked what he would do differently to Salinas, O’Caña acknowledged that he has supported many of Mayor Salinas’ initiatives.

“I am not against any of the projects he is doing. The main reason I am running is that certain projects I recommended never came to the table for consideration.”

Asked for examples, O’Caña said: “The downtown revitalization project, for one. From the expressway to 2 1/2 Mile Line along Conway Avenue. We should have a very vibrant downtown, we should have a variety of stores, we should have people walking up and downtown. But, it is basically dead, people do not walk downtown, they don’t go downtown, they don’t shop downtown.”

Asked for another example of a project he has proposed that Mayor Salinas has shot down, O’Caña said: “Revitalizing the west side of Mission. Just drive down old Business 83, you will see all the stores that are closed. All I am asking for is half a million dollars. Last year we allocated $131 million for expenditures. What I am asking for is a drop in the bucket.”

Supporters of Mayor Salinas did not see O’Caña’s funding request as a drop in the bucket. Soon after the launch his First 100 Days plan, an ad appeared in the local newspaper, The Progress Times, which pictured O’Caña as Pinocchio. The ad called him a big spender because he wants to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour.

“The ad has backfired on social media. People know me. They know I am fiscally conservative, that I am a conservative Democrat,” O’Caña said. “I am not going to raise taxes. I am going to freeze the current rate. I am going to freeze it for one year and if it works out okay we will freeze it for a second year. We will go year by year. As for the city workers, they deserve decent wages, they deserve decent healthcare. There has been a lot of misinformation.”

O’Caña said he is thankful that the runoff election has largely stayed “clean.” He said: “I hope the campaign stays clean because for a minute it looked like it was going to go dirty. The big spender ad, people of Mission were disgusted by that. I think it has backfired. Every campaign I have run has been a positive one. I do not plan to change. But, I will defend myself. I do not know what a big spender is. Under Mayor Salinas’ leadership we allocated $131 million. That is being a big spender. I do not plan to raise taxes. If we have a big project, the decision will be made by the voters.”

Asked if he thinks he can win, and topple a mayor that is known across the state of Texas, O’Caña said: “If Jaime Gutierrez had chosen not to run, and he had every right to run, and making the basic assumption that his votes were all votes for change, and they had gone my way, I would have won by four votes. The last 50 people I spoke with, 46 of them told me it was time for change. I am also sensing it from my voting camp. People will honk their horns or give us the thumbs up, or they will stop by and tell us face to face that they voted for me.”

Although it is not in his First 100 Days plan, O’Caña says he wants to put measures in place to ensure Mission wins an All-America City designation. He said he also wants to make the city American Disability Act-compliant. “Not only from the sidewalks but also for the buildings. I want our parks to be ADA-compliant also,” O’Caña said. Another goal, he said, is applying to the Texas Municipal League for its “city of the year” distinction award.

O’Caña told the story of how he came up with his ADA-compliant plan.

“A couple of weeks ago I sat in church and part of the service involves shaking hands, to give peace. I turned around to a 14-year-old kid and told him, peace be with you. Guess what? He stared at me. You know why? He was deaf. I did not know that. We are going to hire an expert at sign language to be able to translate our city council meetings when we move them from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. God gave me the idea. How many disabled people do not get the chance to hear our meetings, or roll themselves to a football game or to the movies as a result of us not having our infrastructure ADA-approved?”

Asked about his support for much of Salinas’ agenda, O’Caña said: “I do not agree with a lot of the opinions of the mayor. I am a conservative Democrat. Always have been. I have pledged that all the projects that are in the best interest of the city will be completed, and more.”

In his in-depth conversation with the Rio Grande Guardian, O’Caña then turned his attention to voter turnout. He said there are about 31,000 voters who do not show up at the polls.

“We have to bring more people in. Voter apathy is too high. The only thing I do caution, and I caution my staff about this, is you do not mess with the vote, the vote belongs to the person, you do not mess with intimidation. You do not disrespect the elderly. Keep the oath honest, with integrity. I am a data management type of person. I am data-driven. Already we have over 3,000 votes cast. 1,800 of those have walked in by themselves. Those are the ones where you do not know who they go for. Obviously, if they want change, they will vote for me. If they like things staying the same, they vote for my opponent.”

Asked for a warp-up remark, O’Caña said: “I want to challenge the people of Mission. It is time to change Mission. Twenty-four years of the same old same old is not healthy for democracy. It is not healthy for the future of our city. My plan it to take the things that make Mission good and turn them into something that makes Mission great. I do not want to leave Mission in good hands. I want to leave Mission in great hands.”

Biographical details

Both candidates have pen portraits on the City of Mission website. Here they are:

About the Mayor:

Currently, Mayor Salinas is serving his sixth term as Mayor of the City of Mission, after being first elected in May 1998 with his current term to expire in 2018. Mayor Salinas is a land developer and the President of S&F Developers. In addition, Mayor Salinas serves as a member of the Texas Department of Community Affairs Board of Directors, as the Vice Chair of the Anzalduas Bridge Board, as Chairman of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council Board of Directors, as Chairman of the Texas Department of Transportation MPOPolicy Committee, and as Director of the Texas Tech Prep Board of Directors.

About Armando O’Caña:

Councilman Dr. Armando O’Caña is a 1972 graduate of Mission High School, graduated in 1976 from Pan American University with a Bachelor’s degree and in 1980 with a Master’s of Education. In 1992 Councilman O’Caña received his Associates in Applied Science in Fire Protection and graduated in 1996 from the National Fire Academy. In 1999, he received his PhD in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University College Station. Councilman O’Cana is currently the Dropout Prevention and School Safety Director District Emergency Operation Coordinator with the La Joya ISD. Councilman O’Caña previously served on the City Council from May 2001-2007 and was elected to a 4-year term in May of 2012 and 2016. Councilman O’Caña has served as a member of the National Association of Secondary School Principal, Texas Association of Secondary School Principal, Rio Grande Valley Administrators Association, Accelerated School Network, American Association of Counselor, Learning Style National Network-St John University, Rio Grande Valley of Arson Investigators, Twelfth Man Foundation-Texas A & M , La Joya Lions International, Mayor’s Liaison to the Mission Boys and Girls Club, Hidalgo County 911 Committee, Secondary Board Member to Amigos del Valle, South Texas Arson and Explosive Task Force, Texas Association for Alternative Education and Region One Association for Alternative Education.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two features about the Mission mayoral race. The second, focusing on Mayor Salinas, will appear in Friday’s edition.