At a time when a global pandemic has shifted the traditional campaigning efforts for candidates, the Internet has become an invaluable source for campaigns.
City Council District 7 candidate Aaron Montes, a former reporter for the El Paso Times and El Paso Inc., said he has taken it upon himself to be as available as possible under the current circumstances.
“I have made myself accessible to the public for any kind of questions on my policies and my experience and I just find it troubling when my opponent hasn’t done that when he’s the incumbent,” Montes said.
Montes did just one in-person event as the pandemic began to spread across the county and said he has since done virtual campaigning. His website offers information about the journalist turned political candidate, in-depth information on issues impacting the district, volunteer and donation information, along with multiple ways to contact him including a cell phone number he answers.
Montes’ opponent, incumbent city Rep. Henry Rivera, did not respond to multiple calls and voicemails left on his phone, an email message, and a Facebook message to his page Henry Rivera for District 7. His website lists three priorities in bullet point form, has a biography and two different links to donate money. However, no further contact information is available to reach the candidate.
Rivera replied to a candidate questionnaire from the El Paso Times but not to one from El Paso Matters earlier this year. In his questionnaire to the El Paso Times he responded to a question about accessibility by stating: “I always take calls and accept interviews that are requested of me. I will continue to be a champion for transparency.”
As COVID continues to overwhelm local El Paso hospitals and morgues, Montes said in an interview this will be his top priority as a potential incoming council member.
“A big part of this has a lot to do with what man power we have available to respond and the follow up that comes along with making sure people are following the requirements,” Montes said.
“We made a mistake earlier his year furloughing and cutting 450 city employees from the force and from the workforce at city hall. What they were able to do was reassign people to handle the administrative side of the pandemic.”
The candidate’s website includes a detailed plan to create a watchdog commission that will supervise how the city of El Paso is spending its federal funding from the CARES Act. Montes also wants to have additional testing sites set up in El Paso’s East Side, including District 7.
The economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic also is an issue for Montes, who says his district has been in need of real investment for years.
“The valley is just in need of real capital improvement but also in need of real economic planning and assistance for the local businesses that exist there,” Montes said.
On his website, Montes argues that the City of El Paso has lost approximately $5 million every year since 2012 due to the subdivision improvement waivers for developers building east. Montes said subdivision developers aren’t required to build roadways, hike and bike trails that connect neighborhoods, sidewalks, landscaping and right-of-ways. That leaves it to taxpayers to foot the bill.
“That’s $40 million that we’ve lost since 2012 that could have gone to public parks, to our streets, landscaping. These simple things that people constantly ask for. That’s just not sustainable,” Montes said.
Montes also proposes economic assistance to businesses along Alameda and North Loop by offering application fee waivers for those interested in redeveloping storefronts.
“So that way they are able to do the kind of renovations that they need, that way they are able to expand in a way they are not able to right now,” Montes said.
Rivera is the incumbent for the District 7 seat, elected in 2017 by defeating then-incumbent Lily Limón. Rivera was a former senior patrolman for the El Paso Police Department and also served as a school resource officer.
Montes said his experience as a journalist is an asset.
“As a reporter, I’ve been well acquainted with the budget, I’ve been well acquainted with all these issues. I am ready day one to be a representative. It won’t take me months to figure out and understand the governmental process because I’ve already covered it,” Montes said.