In a crowded field to represent El Paso City Council District 1, six candidates must distinguish themselves to make an impact on voters for a race that will likely lead to a runoff election.
District 1, whose boundaries were drawn earlier this year, covers portions of the Upper Valley and West Side. Incumbent city Rep. Peter Svarzbein has served his two full four-year terms and cannot run again.
The District 1 race has drawn a variety of candidates, including four political newcomers and a school board trustee who says he is no longer seeking the office.
Kathleen Staudt, organizer for the Community First Coalition that hosted a candidate forum Sunday, said she believes there will be a runoff and that not all of the candidates are taking the election seriously.
“One of the candidates has already dropped out,” Staudt said. “I suppose some of these people almost self-select out and I myself am puzzled. Why did they bother running if they’re not serious about this?”
The City Council is nonpartisan and comprises the mayor and eight district representatives who annually set a tax rate, adopt a budget and make policy decisions that impact everything from streets to economic development. City representatives are paid $51,600 a year.
Campaign contribution reports show that two candidates – Brian Kennedy and Analisa Cordova Silverstein – have taken the lead on fundraising efforts.
Kennedy raised about $17,000 from mid-July through Oct. 10, and loaned himself $36,000 for the campaign, his filings show. His more notable donorations include $3,000 from local chiropractor Thomas Georges; $1,000 each from Daniel and Elizabeth Leeser, and Justin and Melissa Leeser. He also received $2,500 from land developer Scott Schwartz. Kennedy has spent about $67,000.
Silverstein raised almost double that amount, bringing in about $34,000 for the same reporting period. Among her notable $1,000 donors are developers Lane Gaddy, Paul Foster and Adam Frank, former Mayor Dee Margo, and lobbyist and public affairs firm The Raben Group. She also received a donation of $3,500 from developer Woody Hunt and $2,500 from businessman Stanley Jobe. Silverstein has spent about $38,000 on her campaign.
The other candidates reported much smaller donations. Deliris Montañez Berrios raised $100, Lauren Ferris raised $250 and Erin Tague raised $178, according to campaign finance reports. Freddy Klayel Avalos, who is suspending his campaign, on Sept. 15 filed a finance report showing he loaned himself $102,000 and has spent about $300. Avalos did not file a report in October. Dave Jones raised $1,280 for his campaign from July through September, contributing $255 of that himself.
El Paso Matters interviewed each of the seven candidates to find out what they think distinguishes them from their competitors and what they think are the most pressing issues in the district.
Early voting for the Nov. 8 election begins Oct. 24.
Freddy Klayel Avalos
An entrepreneur and El Paso Independent School District trustee, Avalos announced Wednesday that he is resigning from his trustee position. He said he’s also suspending his campaign.
Avalos, 37, said he was resigning because he no longer had the time to represent his district or run for another public office. His name will appear on the ballot.
Deliris Montañez Berrios
Deliris Montañez Berrios, 52, who unsuccessfully ran against U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, in the March primary, said that what separates her from the rest of the candidates is her commitment to be accessible and her career in law enforcement.
A retired U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, Berrios now operates an equine therapy business called Equestrian Holistic Retreat Getaway for Those Who Serve US, LLC.
“I not only pledged one oath, but I pledged four oaths,” Berrios said, referring to work as a detention officer, deputy sheriff, police officer and federal agent. “Even though I am retired in those careers – we never retire. We basically are public servants for life.”
Although the City Council races are nonpartisan, Berrios said she cannot be bought or influenced by either the Republican or Democratic parties – which she says distinguishes her from other candidates.
“I have my own opinion,” Berrios said. “I have made it very clear that I work for the constituents, the constituents don’t work for me. So I’m there as a government administrator, and the voice of the constituents is what I’m going to portray to the City Council.”
She said the key issue facing District 1 is a controversial housing development in Sunland Park, New Mexico, that only has planned access to city of El Paso streets.
The subdivision, named Sun River Estates, would be constructed on about 63 acres of land on the southwest corner of Girl Scout Lane and Frontera Road in Sunland Park. Frontera Road is a narrow two-lane street with no sidewalks that often ponds after rain storms.
But residents in the Upper Valley neighborhood, including Berrios, whose equine therapy business neighbors the new development, have raised safety concerns about the likely increase in traffic. Residents are also concerned whether Sunland Park has the police and emergency services to respond to a development of that size.
The issue came up during a Sept. 27 meeting of the El Paso City Council, when dozens of residents, including Berrios, addressed their concerns. City Council directed city staff to communicate with Sunland Park officials to explore ways to address the multiple concerns.
“You have to think about the interests of the community and the community doesn’t want that subdivision,” she said. She said that while she does not oppose the development, she believes it has to be done with safe accessibility and if elected would continue communication between the city’s legal staff and elected officials to come up with a viable solution.
Lauren Ferris, 35, a local criminal attorney, said that what sets her apart is her background working as an assistant city attorney from 2012 to 2019. She said she worked on a variety of issues with multiple city departments including streets, museums and economic development.
“I’ve been there on the other side so I understand how many functions of the government work and that will put me in a better position to advocate for the constituents and for our community as a whole,” she said.
A community volunteer, Ferris was appointed as judge of Municipal Court No. 4 in 2019, but lost her reelection bid in 2020.
Ferris said she believes no other candidate understands the inner-workings of the city, which means there will be less of a learning curve if she is elected.
“This isn’t just something new I decided to do…My reputation precedes me and that I have always had the passion to do better for my community,” she said.
Ferris said one of the biggest issues facing the district is flood water ponding on multiple Upper Valley streets, as well as potholes, the lack of safety lighting in parks and high-traffic issues near high schools.
“From what I’ve experienced myself, the roadways are atrocious,” she said.
She said one way to address safety concerns near Franklin and Coronado High Schools would be pedestrian bridges over high-traffic streets such as Resler Drive.
“We don’t need there to be a death in order to make change,” Ferris said.
Ferris said she’s also attended community meetings and heard constituent’s concerns about the Sunland Park housing development. She said it will be crucial to work with the stakeholders as well as the city attorney to find out what can legally be done to address some of the traffic and public safety concerns.
Dave Jones, 62, a political newcomer and a retired U.S. Army major, said that what distinguishes him from his opponents is his experience working with the local democratic organizations in both Northeast and West El Paso, as well as his advocacy for veteran’s issues.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I didn’t just show up for the election,” Jones said.
Jones said through his work with local Democratic organizations he has advocated improving services at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, including reducing wait times at the pharmacy.
“If you listen to the others – my competitors – nobody’s mentioned veterans,” Jones said. “They have no clue as to how to help veterans.”
Jones said if elected, he’ll be more reachable to constituents and hold multiple community meetings that would serve to hear concerns and educate residents on what sorts of services the city provides.
“Just being responsive to voters (will be) a huge step forward to have an office that’s functioning and taking voters’ concerns seriously,” Jones said.
Jones said he is aware that there will always be “big ticket” issues such as roads and taxes will be at the forefront, but argues accessibility is key to hearing residents’ other concerns.
Brian Kennedy, a political newcomer and local attorney, said his efforts to reach out to as many constituents as possible during the campaign and his ability to negotiate and ask tough questions sets him apart from the other candidates.
Kennedy, 67, has sent text messages and elaborate newsletter-style mailers to District 1 voters, and has held numerous intimate gatherings with residents.
“I’ve been training my whole life for this. I think it does set me into a different spot than the rest of them,” he said.
Kennedy became an attorney just five years ago but has a diverse professional portfolio, including serving in the Army, being a country radio disc jockey, working as an events and entertainment consultant and serving as president and CEO of the El Paso Sports Commission and director of El Paso Events Inc.
The sports commission in 2003 was awarded a controversial 20-year contract by the El Paso County Commissioners Court to privately run the El Paso County Coliseum, which was paid with up to 83% of the county’s total hotel-motel tax dollars. He served in the role until 2021 after the county restructured the contract.
“The money is important, finances are obviously important – the ability to make the deal that’s good for everybody is important and I’m willing to ask the tough questions because I’ve had to throughout my years,” he said.
Kennedy also said roads, street lighting and safety are critical issues facing the district.
“There’s so many areas in the Westside that are dark, there’s no lights, there’s no street lights – there’s none of that and I think that that’s a safer place for everybody when the roads are lit,” he said.
Part of addressing the problem entails a traffic count and determining which roads become more used and may need to be adjusted by priority of use. He said he is aware the city conducts a pavement condition index and uses it to address street repair projects, but talking with constituents about trouble areas is also critical.
When it comes to the Sunland Park development, Kennedy said it might be outside the council’s jurisdiction but needs to study the issue further.
“It would be illegal to have El Paso telling Sunland Park what they can and cannot do,” he said. “Let me look at it because I’m an attorney, too. Let me take a look at the statute and see what I think.”
Analisa Cordova Silverstein
Analisa Cordova Silverstein, a political newcomer and tech project manager, said her experience working in government offices and being a fourth-generation El Pasoan sets her apart from her competitors.
Silverstein, 37, said she has worked in public service most of her life, including serving as chief of staff for former Texas Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and serving on the student government association at the University of Texas at El Paso. In those capacities, she has worked on developing public policy initiatives as well as working with non-profit organizations, she said.
“We need to collaborate – the government, small business and nonprofits and bring people together to really push our community forward,” she said. “So I have those experiences that I don’t think other people have.”
Silverstein said when it comes to the needs of the district, and after talking with about 18,000 voters – she realized every neighborhood in the area has different needs.
Those largely involve safety issues such as more street lighting and making sure newer developments in Northwest El Paso have proper access to city services. The Sunland Park housing development is also an issue.
“It’s important to have good relationships not only with your governmental entities within your own community, but surrounding another region,” she said about the development. “Let’s have a conversation about this and let’s see the best strategy for both of our communities.”
Erin Tague, 36, is a political newcomer and Software as a Service, or Saas, project manager. She labels herself as politically conservative, in contrast to other candidates, she said.
Tague said she believes in LIFT principles: limited government, individual liberty, free enterprise and timeless truths.
“I’m probably one of the most conservative out of the group, which is slightly different from, I think, the majority of what El Paso was used to seeing,” Tague said.
Tague said the issue she thinks is most critical for the district includes the impact of developments in Northwest El Paso on traffic near Artcraft Road, Westside Drive and Borderland Road. She also said lack of street lighting and ponding of rain water in areas along Doniphan Drive are big concerns.
“Safety measures need to be enacted,” she said.
Tague said she realizes other government agencies such as the El Paso Public Service Board, which oversees El Paso Water, and the Texas Department of Transportation manage some of the issues, but working with them will be necessary to try to address some of the problems related to street flooding.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of collaboration, not just between me and those entities, but hopefully I can get some fellow city council members to join together to improve the city as a whole,” she said.