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Voters head to the polls for La Joya City Council election

When the polls opened Monday, voters in La Joya didn’t waste any time.

More than 300 people voted at the La Joya Youth Center on Monday, according to preliminary data published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department. When the polls closed on Wednesday, the total number of voters had passed 600.

In 2017, the last off-year election in La Joya, only 400 people cast ballots during the first three days of early voting.

“Right now, my strong belief is that they want somebody who is basically honest and has integrity,” said Enrique “Henry” Cantu, a former municipal judge who is running for City Council. “We’ve been through a rough patch the past few years, to be honest with you, and I think the community needs that trust that has been lost.”

Scandal after scandal rocked La Joya City Hall during the past few years.

Former City Administrator Mike Alaniz, former Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and former city public relations consultant Sylvia Garces Valdez pleaded guilty to public corruption charges.

The FBI also investigated schemes to defraud the La Joya Housing Authority and the La Joya Economic Development Corp. Both involved Mayor Salinas’ daughter.

While she was never charged with a crime, City Councilwoman Mary Salinas — Mayor Salinas’ wife — decided not to run for re-election. City Councilman Rey Acosta also bowed out, leaving the City Council with two open seats.

Four candidates filed to replace them.

Mayor Isidro Casanova and City Councilwoman Laura Mendiola Macias backed Cantu and former City Councilwoman Angie Garza.

Cantu, 56, the director of quality and compliance at Mission Regional Medical Center, spent about 15 years as municipal judge. Angie Garza, 73, retired from the La Joya Independent School District and served on the City Council from the mid-1980s to 2011.

They campaigned together as “We Are La Joya.”

City Councilman Roger Hernandez, meanwhile, backed Juarez-Lincoln High School baseball coach Esequiel “Chuck” Garza, 33, and Edwin Eloy Zuniga, 40, a local businessman.

Neither candidate had a history in local politics. They ran together as “A New La Joya.”

Zuniga said he decided to run for City Council after people came to him with complaints about the sewer system, street lights and the lack of youth sports.

“People want change,” Zuniga said.

Asked if he wanted to discuss the election, Chuck Garza declined to comment.

In an attempt to keep the City Council incumbents together, Mendiola Macias said they offered Hernandez a deal.

Casanova and Mendiola Macias would pick one candidate. Hernandez would pick another.

“He said no,” Mendiola Macias said. “He wanted both commissioners.”

Hernandez declined to comment.

When the City Council incumbents split, their supporters were forced to pick sides.

Angie Garza said that she’d known Chuck Garza’s parents since they were middle school students.

“That’s why we shouldn’t be bickering and fighting. Because we’re all like family,” Angie Garza said. “Especially in the little towns like this, we all know each other.”

Early voting ends Oct. 29. Election Day is Nov. 2.

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