Heading for Northeast runoff, Castro has billboards and bucks, Robinson still out front
by David Crowder
Posted on June 1, 2009
In the final days before the Saturday’s runoff election for the District 4 Northeast city representative seat on City Council, it is clear that incumbent Melina Castro leads in billboards, yard signs, money to spend and savvy political backing.
What she doesn’t appear to have is the only thing that really counts: popular support by voters.
She came in well behind challenger Carl Robinson in the six-way May 9 election. And, the latest El Paso Times poll –a rare survey in a city representative race for the newspaper – gives Robinson a 20 point lead among those with strong intentions to vote Saturday.
Early voting ends at the end of the day Tuesday in the city and Ysleta school district runoffs at 6 p.m. the Rushfair Shopping Center and Sunrise Shopping Center and at 5 p.m. at the Carolina Recreation Center and county courthouse. For information, call the county elections office at 546-2154.
What Robinson has learned is that the endorsement and pledges of support by the four losing candidates, while they may help him with voters, aren’t worth a dime when it comes to financial support for his campaign.
His latest campaign finance report, filed late Friday, shows he received just $985 in donations in the past three weeks and was able to spend $4,220.
“The sky did not open up for me,” Robinson said wryly and admitted that he is a little concerned about the big Castro billboards and hundreds of yard signs that have popped up since May 9.
In the 8th day report Castro filed Friday, she showed $6,890 in contributions, $10,376 in expenditures and $13,595 left to spend.
Since early April, Castro has raised a total $23,177 and spent $17,856 compared with Robinson’s $3,260 in contributions and donations of $5,548.
Castro could not be reached for comment.
The race for Northeast city representative is a critical one for supporters and opponents of the political crew that now controls the majority of votes on City Council and the direction the city will take for the next two to four years.
Saturday’s press club forum: terminal site buy, COs
More than 120 people showed up for Saturday’s El Paso Press Club forum at the Northeast YMCA, which was the only opportunity voters will have had to see the two candidates go head to head before the election.
One issue that generated several questions was the City Council’s vote two weeks ago to buy the old Furrs site at Northpark Mall for $2.7 million and the fact that the price was nearly $2 million more than the 7 acre property was valued last year by the Central Appraisal District.
Castro voted against the project in December because it was to require money from the sale of certificate of obligation bonds that voters didn’t approve, but supported the purchase two weeks ago.
She said she was unaware of the CAD valuation but trusted the city staff work done on the project and the two independent appraisals of the property the led to the $2.7 million compromise.
Eighty percent of the money for the future Northeast Transit Terminal will come from the Federal Transportation Administration and the rest will come from the city, probably in bond funds.
“No I wouldn’t stop the process,” she said. “Northeast is in dire need of a bus terminal.”
Robinson, however, said if he had known about the CAD valuation, it would have raised big questions in his mind.
“If I was in that position, I could have challenged it and not voted for it.”
Asked about the continuing use of certificate of obligation bonds to finance infrastructure and basic city projects, Castro said she has consistently voted against them and will continue to do so to keep expenses and taxes down.
“We are borrowing money we don’t have to pay for projects we don’t need,” she said, adding that the council majority has a “wish list” of projects it is spending bond money on, especially on the Westside.
Asked to name one such project, Castro could not.
She did point to the Economic Development Department’s incentive program to encourage Downtown businesses to improve the facades of their buildings. That two-year old program has never used bond money.
Last year, the city put up $50,000 that was matched by the Downtown Management District. The program is being continued with $32,000 that will come from the Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.
Robinson noted that the city's use of certificates of obligation has, apparently, never violated state law and said he thinks they should be used for emergencies, for situations that occur outside the normal budget and sparingly for their intended purpose.
One member of the audience asked Robinson, “Will you be a ‘yes man’ or will you stand up for us?”
Robinson, who made repeated references to his 25 years in the Army, said he had put his life on the line during two tours in Vietnam in the 1970s.
“Am I a stand-up person? Yes,” he said, noting that he has no major interest groups supporting him while Castro does.
He said would for the Northeast and the city as a whole.
“But at the end of the day … you come to a compromise,” he said. “It does not mean you give in, and it doesn’t mean you (are) a yes man.”
The only real promise Robinson has made in campaigning is that he would, if elected, establish a Northeast satellite office in a city building near the Northpark Mall.
Castro questioned why he had never brought the idea to her attention and where he would get the money. Robinson said he would use one of his two staff persons and the office’s discretionary funds to cover any costs.
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To reach David Crowder, write to email@example.com or call (915) 351-0605, ext. 30 or 630-6622
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