SAN BENITO — Educator Ben Gomez pulled off a stunning victory last night, defeating Mayor Celeste Sanchez by a 192-vote margin.
Gomez, a political newcomer who works as a parent educator for the San Benito school district, won 1,108 votes to Sanchez’s 916 votes, crushing her bid for a second term.
“People want change in San Benito,” Gomez said about 8:45 p.m. “They’re tired of the same things over and over — that San Benito never moves forward. San Benito has a lot of potential. We want to bring out that potential.”
Gomez said he won the mayor’s race with support from residents who have known him for years as a volunteer and remember his late mother Rosa Maria Gomez as a community leader.
“I want to follow in her footsteps. It’s my obligation to serve the city,” Gomez said.
“People know who I am. They know I’m open-minded. I do a lot for my community in terms of volunteering.”
Gomez said he wants to review the city’s water rates, increased to help pay off the $17 million water plant opened in 2009.
“Our water bills are outrageously high to pay for a water plant we don’t use,” Gomez said. “We need to look at (water rates) very closely.”
Gomez said the city’s challenges include attracting new businesses to town and fixing potholed-pocked streets that have plagued residents for decades.
“In order to fix streets we need money and that means we need businesses,” Gomez said. “Instead of bringing in businesses, we’re running them out.”
Gomez pulled heavy support from supporters of former Mayor Joe Hernandez, who lost the mayor’s seat to Sanchez in 2014.
Sanchez, the first woman to win the mayor’s post, faced criticism as a result of the city’s decision to shut down its $17 million water plant, which failed to adequately operate.
While filing suit against companies behind the plant’s construction, Sanchez and the City Commission launched a $3 million project to try to renovate the city’s 90-year-old water plant, which shut down water service twice since last September.
“I thank all the citizens that voted for me,” Sanchez, a retired assistant superintendent with the San Benito school district, said in a prepared statement. “I congratulate our new mayor and wish him well. I will still be active in the city and help in any manner I can.”