Incumbent mayor and councilmen win big in Peñitas as calls for change fall flat
Calls for change at Peñitas City Hall fell flat Saturday, when voters backed Mayor Ramiro Loya by wide margins.
Loya defeated former La Joya school board President Claudia Ochoa, according to preliminary results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department on Saturday afternoon.
“The people have spoken here. And that’s what they want,” Loya said. “They didn’t want no change. Like they say: If it’s not broken, why fix it?”
Voters also backed City Councilman Jose Roel “J.R.” Flores and City Councilman Guadalupe “Lupe” Moreno Jr., who campaigned with Loya.
They defeated Marco “Mark” Delgado and Gicela Salinas, two local teachers who campaigned with Ochoa.
“We ran an excellent campaign. We knocked on so many doors, like I said, and we really did feel the love from Peñitas,” Ochoa said. “Sadly, that didn’t translate to the polls.”
Loya won about 60% of 967 ballots cast by mail and during the eight-day early voting period, according to information published by the Elections Department. Ochoa won about 40%.
Flores and Moreno defeated their opponents by similar margins.
Loya, Flores and Moreno also won a majority of ballots cast at the Peñitas Public Library on election day, according to results posted on the door.
All results will remain unofficial until canvassed by the City Council.
The election presented voters with a clear choice.
Loya, Flores and Moreno campaigned together with the slogan: “Let’s Keep Peñitas Growing!”
They promised to roll out the red carpet for retailers and restaurants, which want to set up shop near the new highway.
“If we bring more businesses, hopefully we can reduce taxes,” Flores said. “That’s the major focus that we have.”
During the campaign, they published a list of nearly 20 businesses that may open in Peñitas, including T.J. Maxx, Burlington and Ross Dress for Less.
“We’re a small city, but growing with a lot of potential,” Flores said.
As the new businesses start paying sales and property taxes, the City Council plans to reduce the property tax rate.
Flores said they plan to cut the property tax rate in half by 2027. Eventually, the city may be able to eliminate property taxes entirely, Flores said, pointing to Palmhurst as an example.
“Why not us?” Flores said.
Ochoa, Delgado and Salinas, meanwhile, campaigned with the slogan: “A New Vision for Peñitas.”
“It takes a lot of courage to come up against the mafia in Peñitas,” Ochoa said. “And the three of us felt called to do it together.”
They promised a fresh start for Peñitas, which suffered through a series of scandals in 2021 and 2022.
Former City Manager Omar Romero pleaded guilty to bribery and bankruptcy fraud charges. Former Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Armin Garza and Public Works Director Andres “Andy” Morales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. And former Public Information Officer Oscar “Coach” Salinas pleaded guilty to extortion.
The scandal also struck the City Council.
Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez and City Councilman Alex Guajardo both resigned after pleading guilty to public corruption charges.
The news that so many local leaders had broken the law damaged trust in government, Delgado said, and left many voters discouraged.
“A lot of the people that we’ve talked to, it’s been hard to convince them to come and vote,” Delgado said. “They’ve lost faith.”
Despite the deluge of bad news, Ochoa, Delgado and Salinas ran a largely positive campaign.
“Even though we had plenty of material to use against them — all facts — we pretty much kept it very positive,” Ochoa said. “Because that’s a reflection of our group in general.”
Her supporters, though, shared a video on Facebook that showed photos of Lopez and Loya together. It concluded: “We need leaders that are elected by the people, not appointed by criminals.”
After the polls closed on Saturday afternoon, her supporters played the video on speakers across from City Hall. Some yelled “guilty” as the narrator recounted each plea in the corruption case.
Another image on Facebook showed a photo of Loya smiling with the caption: “I promise not to get caught!”
“And that’s good,” Loya said. “Because they’re never going to get me — because I do things right. And I’ll keep it that way.”
Loya said he didn’t let the attacks bother him, even when they falsely accused him of wrongdoing.
“And I could do something to get back to them,” Loya said. “But I’m just going to let it go.”
Voters are focused on moving Peñitas forward, Loya said, not looking backwards.
“And that’s what I told the city when I was appointed mayor: That from Aug. 22, 2022, I would take over. And from there, I’m responsible,” Loya said. “So if anything goes wrong, it’s me. And if anything is going good, it’s me and the commissioners.”
As old Spanish saying says- mas vale viejo conocido que diablo nuevo por conocer. Those new guys just want power to get rich, the proof is 8-A company that Hidalgo Precinct 3 big bucks contracts, they also wanted to give contract to a trash company with ties to them. Thank god they losse, let’s keep Penitas Growing….