Three of four El Paso City Council races are headed to a runoff, with only District 5 incumbent city Rep. Isabel Salcido winning her seat outright Tuesday.
With final results in, Salcido garnered 64% of the votes to keep her seat in District 5 – one of the fastest-growing areas in the city in far East El Paso mostly east of Loop 375.
In District 6, incumbent city Rep. Claudia Rodriguez received 43% of the votes and will face state Rep. Art Fierro, who forced her into a runoff after winning 30% of the votes. The runoff will be Dec. 17. The district roughly covers the area from George Dieter Drive east to Loop 375 and a small portion of the Lower Valley.
Candidates must receive 50% plus one vote to win the seat outright in Tuesday’s midterm election. If not, the top two finishers meet in a runoff.
In District 8, Bettina Olivares received 40% of the votes and will head into a runoff with Chris Canales, who had 34%. The district covers neighborhoods near the University of Texas at El Paso, a portion of the Westside and Downtown.
Brian Kennedy received 41% of the vote in District 1 and will face Analisa Cordova Silverstein in the runoff. Silverstein received about 25% of the vote for the seat that represents the Upper Valley and a large section of the Westside.
Neither of the Westside districts had an incumbent on the ballot as Peter Svarzbein in District 1 has served the maximum two terms allowed by the City Charter. District 8 city Rep. Cissy Lizarraga did not seek reelection.
Here’s a breakdown by district:
After the makeup of the runoff became clear, Silverstein launched a pointed attack on Kennedy.
“To vote for my opponent would be reckless with his history of managing public funds,” Silverstein said in an emailed statement to El Paso Matters. “Just one big example is how he paid himself with hotel and motel tax which was intended to promote the city, not fill his pockets. He was also one of the highest paid public employees in El Paso for years, and what did he have to show for it? A rundown coliseum, lost advertisements, lost performances and more.”
Kennedy, 67, an attorney, previously served as CEO of the El Paso Sports Commission that ran the El Paso County Coliseum under a controversial contract with the county. The county paid the sports commission up to 83% of its hotel-motel tax dollars – funds used to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry. He served in the role until 2021 after the county restructured the contract.
“I’m saddened and disappointed in Mrs. Silverstein – that rather than talking about issues, she thinks her only way to victory is slinging mud,” Kennedy said in response to Silverstein’s comment.
He defended his record running the coliseum under the sports commission.
“I have 18 years of clean audits,” he said, referring to independent reviews of the commission’s financial records by certified public accountants. “I was paid commensurate with performance, years of service and qualifications. I have a clear track record of bringing millions in sports tourism to El Paso and I have demonstrated how to turn an existing facility into one of the busiest venues in the Southwest.”
Kennedy was paid a base salary of $284,615 at the sports commission, according to the 990 IRS Form he filed in 2020, the latest year available. He also reported about $85,000 in benefits that year, including bonuses, incentives and deferred compensation.
Silverstein, 37, said her public service work, including her tenure as the chief of staff for former Texas Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, made her the strongest candidate. She campaigned on safety issues such as more street lighting and making sure newer developments in Northwest El Paso have proper access to city services.
“I know with my experience and background, we can get the job done,” she said in her statement.
The race drew seven candidates, including Lauren Ferris, Dave Jones, Deliris Montañez Berrios, Erin Tague and Freddy Klayel Avalos, an El Paso Independent School District board member who suspended his campaign in September.
“We feel we are in a very strong position,” Kennedy said, adding he anticipated there would be a runoff. “The message we put out is resonating with people.”
Salcido, 37, easily won re-election, defeating challengers Felix Muñoz and Rick Genera.
She did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Salcido is a licensed Realtor who owns several properties and businesses, including the now-closed Spirit of 66 bar. During her campaign, Salcido said she would like the city to meet with other taxing entities and state-funded organizations to see if any services are being duplicated and could be downsized.
Rodriguez, 37, said if she’s re-elected in the December runoff, her first priorities would be fixing Saul Kleinfeld Drive and working with the police department to improve recruitment.
“I am thankful for my constituents, and I’m going to continue to fight for them and let my voting record speak for itself,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez claimed in a campaign mailer that she never voted to raise taxes, which Fierro described as misleading. Rodriguez was absent when City Council adopted the 2020 budget and tax rate. She voted in favor of the budget and tax rate in 2021. Both years’ tax rates resulted in property tax increases.
Rodriguez, who manages a trucking company, took office after a special election and runoff in January 2020 to replace Claudia Ordaz, who stepped down to run for Texas state representative. Rodriguez won that runoff by just 75 votes.
Fierro, 60, ran on a campaign to freeze taxes for senior citizens and individuals with disabilities, both of whom receive tax exemptions. He also wants to ensure the budget better addresses street improvements and public safety and said he wants to hold the city manager more accountable for his work, including how the budget and tax rate are presented to residents.
“We need a budget that is of zero increase,” Fierro said. “That’s our budget and that’s what we’re going to live with so we can stop taxing people out of their homes. … We have to address the amount of money we’re spending in taxes and the lack of services we’re getting from the city.”
Fierro is serving his second term in the Texas House of Representatives. If elected, he would replace Rodriguez in January.
In District 8, the two runoff candidates serve as chiefs of staff for current City Council members – Olivares for District 3 city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez, and Canales for Lizarraga.
Olivares, 35, said she is feeling optimistic about the voting results.
“I would have liked to have won outright (but) I knew that it was also an option to be in the runoff,” she said.
Canales, 30, said he tried not to have any expectations going into the election, but is grateful for the support he has received.
“I am going to stay true to myself so the message isn’t going to change,” he said of heading into the runoff.
Other candidates in the race were Rich Wright and Cruz Morales.
The elected city representatives will take office in January.
The four seats make up half the city representatives on council; the other four council district seats and the mayoral seat will be up for election in 2024.
The City Council is charged with adopting the city’s budget and tax rate and providing basic needs such as streets, parks and police and fire services, as well as adopting a slew of ordinances that regulate businesses, public health and safety and more.
In the coming year, the City Council will tackle several hot-topic issues, including whether to take proposed charter amendments to the voters in May that among other things could impact the mayor’s role and powers on council or extend the number of years the mayor and city representatives can serve.
Two major projects the council will consider is how and where to move forward with the Downtown arena and whether to support the proposed expansion of Interstate-10 in the Downtown area.
The council has also had to vote on issues such as whether to approve an emergency ordinance to help mitigate the migrant influx; whether to deprioritize abortion investigations by El Paso police; and whether to implement climate change and weather policies.
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified the source of audits for the El Paso Sports Commission. They were done by the independent accounting firm Gibson Ruddock and Patterson, City Council candidate Brian Kennedy said.