A three-way race in a special election for City of McAllen District 1 Commissioner ended in a surprising runoff between attorney Javier Villalobos and senior property tax consultant Timothy Wilkins. In knocking Dr. Joseph Caporusso out of the race, McAllen voters resoundingly rejected a candidate affiliated with a twice-defeated healthcare district.
The special election resulted from last year’s resignation of District 1 Commissioner Richard Cortez as he filed his candidacy for Hidalgo County Judge. During his last city council meeting, Cortez voted to approve $1 million in funding for the UTRGV Medical School. The very next day, he pitched his candidacy for Hidalgo County Judge at Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court chambers.
As McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and State Sen. “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) declared a “new” proposition is in the works to create a “medical school district” without raising property taxes, many residents of the RGV believe taxpayers would ultimately bear the cost of this measure. The District 1 special election tested the climate, as residents voiced their opposition against the “medical school district,” (formerly known as the healthcare/hospital district) as they overwhelmingly rejected a candidate affiliated with such measures.
Roughly 10 percent of the district’s 13,788 registered voters cast their ballots in this special election. Villalobos received 505 votes (37 percent), Wilkins 472 votes (35 percent), and Caporusso 375 votes (28 percent).
“I was shocked that I didn’t come in second or at least close to first,” Caporusso stated. Caporusso believed he ran a positive campaign, which he thought McAllen voters wanted, he stated. His message was clearly rejected.
Once the eight-day campaign finance reports came in, Wilkins blasted Caporusso’s acceptance of $10,000 from the Border Health PAC (supporters of the previous healthcare district) as a “major violation” of a city ordinance that has a cap on political contributions. City attorney Kevin Pagan stated there was room for argument as the ordinance leaves ambiguity. Wilkins posted videos on social media attacking Caporusso for aligning with the healthcare district. “If you don’t want the Hospital District Tax I need your vote,” Wilkins pleaded with voters.
The underdog, Wilkins has run an aggressive campaign. “This is my backyard,” Wilkins states, “I’m applying for a full-time job to represent the people.” Outspending the other candidates, Wilkins raised $43,000 for his campaign, $24,000 of which comes from self-funding.
Villalobos came in third in campaign expenditures, only spending $12,000, $10,000 of which was self-funded. Villalobos, former Hidalgo County GOP Chair, is very familiar with political campaigns and has organized a large group of volunteers, mostly making calls. He was a strong advocate against the twice-defeated healthcare district and a $200 million McAllen ISD bond. His response to these efforts is, “I’m against bad government.”
The winner of the seat would bring a tie-breaking vote to the six-member council. Before Cortez resigned, the board was split at 4-2. Usually, commissioners John Ingram and J.J. Zamora vote conservatively against the board on fiscal issues.
While Villalobos seems to have no qualms with the current board, Wilkins is determined to question everything. “I promise to not leave a single stone unturned. Just because something is good, doesn’t mean it cannot be better,” Wilkins says.
At the last city council meeting, keeping his promise, Wilkins questioned the council’s deliberation of run-off election dates, commenting on the dates falling within Texas Week (Spring Break), when students, teachers, and families would be leaving town for the holiday. Once again due to Wilkins scrutiny, the council has chosen March 3, before Spring Break, as the election date. Wilkins states his comments were in response to voter suppression, claiming certain council members appeared to disregard voter accommodation.
Similar in many aspects, both candidates are gaining traction with their messages moving forward into the run-off. Neither supported the healthcare district, and now that McAllen has rejected a DHR (Doctors Hospital at Renaissance) partner, what will Wilkins target next?
Wilkins has hinted that Villalobos’ involvement as city attorney for Donna results in a conflict of interest, but Villalobos’ response is that Donna isn’t a competing city. “I couldn’t represent Pharr, Edinburg, or Mission,” Villalobos states. “If I won, there’s no reason to resign, I represent different municipalities, there’s no conflict.” However, Wilkins persists “we don’t need another lawyer, we need a small business guy,” obviously referring to himself. Villalobos responds that his “19 years’ experience representing governmental municipalities” is what McAllen needs.
Both candidates claim to want the best for the city of McAllen. District 1 will choose come March 3.