In the midst of election season, two mayoral candidates attended a forum held in order to answer questions about their intentions for the City of Mission.
Dr. Armando O’caña and Jaime Gutierrez, both hoping to take over as Mayor of Mission, attended an event held by the Progress Times newspaper at the Speer Memorial Library on Mon. Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, the incumbent, was ill and not in attendance.
The forum drew 100 people to the library’s Community Room, and was streamed on Facebook live as the event went on. Candidates spoke on policy, city planning, and how they intend to lead Mission forward.
Moderators asked them various questions formulated by the Progress Times staff, as well as some questions gathered from the public via a Facebook post. Each candidate was given one minute and 30 seconds to answer various questions, and had the opportunity to give opening and closing remarks about themselves and their campaigns.
Both Gutierrez and O’caña are running on a platform of change in Mission.
“For the last 20 years, we’ve been under the same ideas and the same way of thinking,” Gutierrez said. “I can see the reflection in the eyes of our citizens the need for a change. When you see all those reports on how great we are, and then when you go out there to your community and you start talking to your citizens, you realize that you get way different answers.”
When asked about the top three issues they aim to address as mayor, both mentioned similar objectives. O’caña mentioned public safety, the downtown Mission area and youth development.
“Mission is growing,” O’caña said. “When I was the Fire Chief of Mission, I had to protect 8,100 individuals, and now we’re over 88,000. If you take a drive up and down downtown, it won’t take a rocket genius to figure out that we’re struggling there.”
For the youth, O’caña advocated for better swimming pools, a Boys and Girls Club, satellite stations and more libraries, including repairs to the Speer Memorial Library. Gutierrez addressed the younger population of Mission as well, and the downtown area needing to be revitalized, but also mentioned expanding economic development in the West side of the city.
City Council meetings in Mission are currently held at 4:30 p.m., and various residents on Facebook asked if the candidates would be willing to change the time in order to better accommodate working citizens who leave work later than that. Gutierrez and O’caña agreed with this being an issue, and stated that if elected, they would change the meeting time to 6 p.m.
Both candidates discussed their plans for the revitalization of downtown Mission, and hope to bring more growth and raise the quality of life in the area.
O’caña said that he would reinstate the Downtown Coalition and recommend the city hire someone to run the association in order to further represent that area of the city. He also mentioned doing more weekly events at Leo Placita Park when it is reopened, and hold more market days, as well as do new overlays of the sidewalks and crosswalks.
Gutierrez stated that he would conduct a study in order to determine what can be done with the infrastructure downtown.
“After the study, we go out there and market,” Gutierrez said. “We have to market it like it was a business. We have to attract the youth. I would give it a touch of antique, but modern. We have to have the youth come in.”
When asked about the role of younger residents in Mission, namely the millennial and younger adult generation, both Gutierrez and O’caña stressed their importance and covered different ways to reach these citizens.
“We have to acknowledge that what keeps us alive and keeps us on a today basis is the youth,” Gutierrez said. “The youth are always going to be in the present. We have to open up scenarios where three generations can work at the same time.”
The candidates present also stated that if elected, both would recommend a two-year term limit for the position of Mayor of Mission, capping the time spent in office at eight years.
The second part of the forum included audience participation, where various residents present were able to ask O’caña and Gutierrez questions not covered by the moderators. They asked the candidates about their stance on single-member districts, which both feel strongly about in order to more fully represent more citizens in the city.
As the evening came to an end, each candidate gave impassioned closing statements and asked people to go out and vote.
O’caña spoke about his faith in God, his family and the skills that he has gleaned from his experience as a public servant and educator as to reasons why people should vote for him.
“Mission has always been great in my heart,” O’caña said. “I will breathe, work and I am retiring from the La Joya Independent School District June 26, 2019, so I will be available for the City of Mission full-time.”
Gutierrez said that this election is a moment that can change the City of Mission for the better, and the change toward a new Mission would be beneficial to the lives of citizens.
“The moment is change,” Gutierrez said. “A change for a new Mission that includes everyone. A Mission that has equal opportunities for everybody. A Mission that is modern. A new Mission that can stand up to McAllen, to Edinburg, to any platform. There hasn’t been a better opportunity.”
Early voting begins Mon., April 23 and runs until Tues. May 1. Election day is Sat. May 5.