The Mission Fire Fighters Association and the Mission Texas Municipal Police Association endorsed Marissa Ortega Gerlach for city councilwoman last week, endorsements that became divisive and led to the first blows being traded over the campaign this week.
Gerlach’s three opponents for city council say they weren’t invited to visit with members from those unions before the endorsements, resulting in what candidate Noel Salinas described in a video on social media Wednesday as a “backdoor deal” of a selection for Gerlach by the fire fighters association that should be withdrawn.
“The problem is that that makes it unfair for everybody else that’s running,” Salinas told the Progress Times Tuesday evening. “You know what, if she’s the best candidate, I get it, but we weren’t even given a chance to talk to the union.”
The unions, however, say they followed appropriate procedures; leadership from one described criticism as the unwarranted boohooing of a Salinas, bitter over not being endorsed.
“He doesn’t determine and tell us how our organization is supposed to be run,” Mission Fire Fighters Association President Mike Silva said. “And frankly, I take offense when a candidate who apparently supports firefighters and supports their issues is going on Facebook and trying to discredit our endorsement because he didn’t get the endorsement himself.”
Gerlach, meanwhile, seems more or less caught in the middle of the drama.
Whatever actually led to all the controversy appears to be a tangle of miscommunication — unintentional or otherwise — that followed Place 3 Councilman Abiel Flores’ resignation announcement last month.
That announcement triggered a fast-track special election for his seat.
By the deadline to file, October 30, four individuals had thrown their names in to run: Gerlach, Salinas, Peter Geddes and Abraham Padron.
That same day, the Mission Fire Fighters Association met and heard from Gerlach, who had called Silva about an endorsement.
She spoke with members through Zoom, took some questions and ultimately, Silva said, present members voted to endorse her that day.
“The way the process works…when you’re seeking an endorsement, you’re not looking for the candidate, the candidate is supposed to look for you,” he said.
Geddes says he reached out to the association via social media on Tuesday of last week and never heard back, though by that point the association had already made its decision.
Salinas, however, says Silva was perfectly aware he sought an endorsement.
Salinas says he told a member of the fire fighter union that he was interested in speaking to members the week prior to the endorsement.
According to Salinas, that individual — Justin Longoria — told him that he would pass along the message to Silva, but said the union didn’t endorse candidates who lacked a governmental voting record.
Silva says Longoria was incorrect about the organization’s endorsement stance in that regard.
Both Salinas and Silva said they spoke to each other in person on October 30, at a volleyball game Silva says happened just after the association decided to endorse Gerlach. Salinas says he again brought up his desire for an endorsement.
Silva says they talked about the election in general terms, but not specifically about an endorsement. He didn’t mention to Salinas that the association had already picked Gerlach, and says he wasn’t obliged to: Salinas should have called before Monday if he really wanted to talk to members, Silva contends.
“It seems like out of the blue he forgot my number and decided to call someone else who was a personal friend to him, to see what he could do. And I personally told that individual, if Mr. Salinas wishes to talk to us, he can feel free to contact me, he has my number. And he never reached out,” Silva said.
Bad feelings over how that process played out culminated in a social media post from Salinas this Wednesday, a short video of him standing in front of a campaign sign from the association endorsing Gerlach.
“Shame, shame, shame on this candidate, for accepting this false endorsement,” he tsks in the clip.
Salinas clarified Wednesday night that his criticism is intended for union leadership rather than Gerlach, who says she’s not aware of anything untoward about the association endorsed her.
Silva acknowledged that the speedy pace of the election may have led to some confusion, though he says the association followed its regular endorsement procedure and that withdrawing the endorsement is out of the question.
Salinas also criticized the association’s signage endorsing Gerlach, saying signs imply the entire department supports the endorsement rather than just association members.
Fern McClaugherty, a member of the Objective Watchers of the Legal System, voiced the same criticism Wednesday.
“It should have had ‘Mission Fire Fighters Union’ in big letters, not just ‘Mission Fire Fighters.’
That’s kind of deceiving, in my opinion, and we’ve had several phone calls,” she said.
Silva said the signage is completely accurate.
“There’s nothing misleading about anything,” he said. “We’re actually 96 personnel staff, and there’s only one member not in the union. So 99% of the department is union, so this rationale and this illusion that it’s not all fire fighters that are behind Marissa is completely false.”
Geddes and Padron haven’t been openly critical about not getting to talk to members, though Padron echoed some of Salinas’ displeasure in an interview with the Progress Times.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “I’m disappointed with this election process, the endorsement process that they had. I didn’t have a shot: I didn’t have a chance to speak, I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself, I didn’t have a chance to present my platform. I didn’t have a chance to get them to know me a little bit.”
All three men describe themselves as staunch supporters of first responders, a point Geddes emphasized in a statement about the endorsements.
“While working at the City as the former Purchasing Director, I had the privilege to work along side them and consider many of them as friends,” he wrote. “I attempted to reach out to the union after I announced my candidacy; however as far as I know, [I] have not yet been contacted. However, my support for the firefighters and staff at The City of Mission still stands.”
A separate endorsement process that Salinas criticized to a lesser extent played out last week as well.
The 112-member Mission Texas Municipal Police Association met with Gerlach last Thursday, after which its board voted to endorse her.
Rival candidates didn’t attend that meeting either.
Javier Lara, that association’s president, says Gerlach reached out to him to speak to members.
Lara says he reached out to Padron through Facebook and intermediaries, though he never heard back. Padron says those messages never made it to him, and that he contacted the association about visiting members before their endorsement announcement went out.
Lara says he didn’t reach out to Geddes or Salinas because he didn’t know they were in the race.
“I had zero information on the other people running,” he said. “The only reason I knew Padron was running was ‘cause I saw his billboards all the way across.”
In a regular election, Lara said, the union would set up a day for candidates running in a variety of elections to speak with members, after which the board would select a candidate to endorse
“But since it’s a short election, a special election, we tabled it within the board…and we came up with the endorsements,” he said.
All four candidates had the opportunity to speak to members of a third union this Wednesday, the 69-member Mission Professional Law Enforcement Association.
Alex Leal, that organization’s president, says the group followed their normal endorsement process, letting candidates speak to members at Danny’s Mexican Restaurant. She expected to start receiving votes Thursday morning.
“Us as a union board, we’re there to setup meetings, fight for things that the members want,” Leal said. “We don’t do anything without the members’ consent or the members’ votes.”