Nine candidates for La Joya City Commission made it official in August.
Months after they started campaigning — covering the city with signs, knocking on doors and furiously posting on Facebook — the candidates filed ballot applications at La Joya City Hall.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” said former police Chief Isidro Casanova, who is running against Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and Jaime Gaitan, a former state trooper, for the city’s top job. “We expected there to be three slates from the beginning.”
Casanova is running with Agua Special Utility District board Director Roger Hernandez, who filed for Place 2; and real estate agent Laura Mendiola Macias, who filed for Place 4. They’re running as team “We are La Joya.”
Mayor Salinas is running for re-election with Daniel Flores Jr., a teacher who filed for Place 2; and Dalia Arriaga, the wife of police Chief Adolfo Arriaga, who filed for Place 4. They’re running as team “Un1ty.”
Gaitan is running with Sylvia Cerda Oxford, a businesswoman who filed for Place 2; and Aurora Ruiz, the co-owner of Pete’s Muffler shop, who filed for Place 4. They’re running as team “3 Candidates One Vision.”
Neither incumbent Place 2 Commissioner Anna Lisa Ruiz nor incumbent Place 4 Commissioner Maria E. “Geny” Salinas is running for re-election.
La Joya residents know the candidates well.
Mayor Salinas served on the La Joya school board before he joined the City Commission. His running mate, Daniel Flores Jr., lost to Geny Salinas in November 2015.
Casanova worked for the La Joya Police Department from 1999 to 2004, when two women accused him of sexual harassment. The city pressured Casanova to resign, but he denied the allegations.
La Joya paid more than $513,000 to settle the sexual harassment claims, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.
After he resigned, Casanova served on the La Joya Board of Aldermen. He also ran against Mayor Salinas in 2015.
Aurora Ruiz, who is running with Gaitan and Cerda Oxford as part of team “3 Candidates One Vision,” ran against City Commissioner Rey Acosta in November 2017.
During the last two election cycles, standard municipal issues, including street repairs and water rates, dominated the discussion. In the 2019 campaign, however, corruption may become the marquee issue.
FBI agents executed a search warrant at La Joya City Hall on Aug. 16. Three days later, the FBI arrested La Joya Housing Authority board Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Garces Valdez, a former public relations consultant for the city.
Garces Valdez “agreed to give cash to Person A intending to influence and reward Person B, an elected official for the City of La Joya, for their influence in granting a public relations contract,” according to the indictment against her.
The indictment didn’t identify Person A or Person B.
“I’m thinking Person A and Person B are going to be questioned,” Gaitan said. “If not indicted.”
Rumors about the investigation, which involved both the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, had circulated for months.
“We’re just going to wait and see what happens over the next couple of weeks,” Casanova said. “I’ve been hearing some rumors that the FBI isn’t done, they’re just getting started.”
Both Gaitan and Casanova said they received calls from concerned residents after the FBI arrived at City Hall on Aug. 16. Mayor Salinas didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“I just hope that our citizens here in La Joya open their eyes and see what’s going on,” Casanova said. “It’s time for change.”
The deadline for candidates to withdraw from the ballot is Aug. 26. Election Day is Nov. 5.