It’s official: Peñitas election will pit current mayor against his predecessor

This article originally appeared in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.

Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez and his predecessor, former Mayor Marcos Ochoa, started campaigning for the city’s top job last week.

Lopez filed a ballot application on Jan. 25. Ochoa announced his candidacy the following day.

20190118 PenitasElectionPreview“At the end of the day it’s their choice,” Lopez said, referring to the residents of Peñitas. “They’ve seen the results of both candidates. And may the best candidate win.”

Lopez, 35, who serves as transportation director for the La Joya Independent School District, will campaign with City Councilman Jose Roel “J.R.” Flores and City Councilman Ramiro Loya.

They filed ballot applications Friday, supported by La Joya school board Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas, Agua Special Utility District board President Roger Hernandez and businessman Everardo “Ever” Villarreal, who is running for Hidalgo County Precinct 3 commissioner.

During the past four years, the City Council focused on the basics, Lopez said.

Peñitas worked with Hidalgo County on major drainage and road projects. Peñitas improved public safety by starting a fire department and creating a police substation. And Peñitas expanded city services, hiring a full-time animal control officer and training employees to conduct health inspections.

The City Council also worked with the school board to secure property near John F. Kennedy Elementary School for a new park.

With a solid foundation, the city is ready for development, Lopez said, adding that he wants to bring new businesses to Peñitas.

“I invite people from surrounding cities and professionals to come and raise a family here in Peñitas,” Lopez said. “Because we have everything to offer a growing family.”

Under the current administration, Peñitas also became a powerhouse in western Hidalgo County politics.

Former City Councilman Armin Garza, who resigned to serve on the school board, returned as the Peñitas Economic Development Corp. director. The City Council replaced Garza with his father-in-law, Felipe Quintanilla.

Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales, who owns a company called RGV Redlight, donated thousands to candidates for the school board, the utility district board, Palmview City Council and Mission City Council.

Until mid-January, Morales also served as campaign treasurer for Lopez and three members of the City Council.

Morales works closely with Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero, who owns a company called Government Asset Services. Romero also makes frequent campaign donations.

The incumbents will face off against Ochoa, 64, who spent seven years as mayor before resigning to become justice of the peace. He plans to run with Osiel Ramos, a teacher at JFK Elementary School, and former City Clerk Esmeralda Medina.

What, exactly, they will campaign on remains unclear.

Ochoa said he’s concerned about recent decisions made by the City Council but didn’t offer details. He wasn’t available for an interview.

Peñitas hasn’t held a City Council election since 2015, when Lopez won a three-way race for mayor. The only candidate who challenged the incumbents during 2017 withdrew from the ballot.

“We hold the city to the highest standard,” Lopez said. “And we want it to be the number one city in western Hidalgo County.”

The deadline for candidates to submit ballot applications is Feb. 15. Election day is May 4.

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