La Joya mayoral race heads to runoff

Former police Chief Isidro Casanova trounced La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas on Tuesday but didn’t win a majority of the vote — sending the mayoral race to a runoff.

Casanova won 48.2 percent of about 1,550 ballots cast, according to preliminary results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department on Tuesday night. He split the anti-Salinas vote with mayoral candidate Jaime Gaitan, a JROTC instructor at the La Joya Independent School District, who won nearly 17.5 percent.

cityoflajoyalogo Salinas, a two-term incumbent who dominated La Joya politics for nearly a decade, won just 34.3 percent.

“We start campaigning again tomorrow,” Casanova said, adding that he’s ready for the runoff. “We’ve been at it for nine months. Another month or so isn’t going to hurt me at all.”

Salinas couldn’t be reached for comment after the polls closed Tuesday night.

The results published Tuesday night by the Elections Department will remain preliminary until canvassed by the La Joya City Commission.

THE CAMPAIGN
Roughly 56 percent of La Joya’s approximately 2,750 registered voters cast ballots, according to Elections Department data.

Corruption at City Hall became a major issue during the campaign.

FBI agents executed a search warrant at City Hall in mid-August, carrying away boxes of documents.

“Any time we talk about wanting to make change, that’s the first thing that comes up,” Gaitan said, recalling his conversations with voters.

The FBI arrested Sylvia Garces Valdez, a former public relations consultant for the city, just a few days later.

“Defendant gave, offered, and 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 to the Defendant,” according to the indictment against Garces Valdez.

The indictment didn’t identify Person A or Person B by name.

Concerns about corruption intensified in October, when former City Administrator Mike Alaniz struck a deal with federal prosecutors and pleaded guilty to theft.

Alaniz confessed to arranging for the city of La Joya to purchase a lot in the Palmshores Subdivision. He apparently owned all or part of the property.

The factual basis for the plea, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarina S. DiPiazza read in federal court on Oct. 22, indicated that Salinas approved the purchase.

“The defendant knowingly effectuated this fraudulent purchase of Lot 112 as the city administrator by obtaining the approval of the purchase of the property from the mayor of La Joya,” DiPiazza said.

Salinas, however, strenuously denied any involvement in the land deal.

THE CHOICES
With nine candidates on the ballot, voters had plenty of options.

Salinas ran for re-election with teacher Daniel Flores Jr., who campaigned for Place 2, and Dalia Arriaga, the wife of police Chief Adolfo Arriaga, who campaigned for Place 4.

They called themselves “Un1ty” and ran a low-budget campaign that touted the city’s progress.

Flores won nearly 30 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results published by the Elections Department. Dalia Arriaga won nearly 32 percent.

Casanova, who unsuccessfully challenged Salinas in 2015, ran with Agua Special Utility District board member Roger Hernandez, who campaigned for Place 2, and real estate agent Laura Mendiola Macias, who campaigned for Place 4.

They called themselves “We are La Joya” and made change at City Hall a major campaign issue.

Hernandez won about 50 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results published by the Elections Department. Mendiola Macias won nearly 49.6 percent.

Gaitan ran with businesswoman Sylvia Cerda Oxford, who campaigned for Place 2, and businesswoman Aurora Ruiz, who campaigned for Place 4.

They called themselves “3 Candidates One Vision.”

“I think we brought a lot of people out that weren’t voting before,” Gaitan said. “Just for the mere fact that there were three parties.”

The candidates paid for signs and other expenses out-of-pocket, saying they didn’t want to become indebted to campaign donors.

Cerda Oxford won about 20 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results published by the Elections Department. Ruiz won nearly 18.5 percent.

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