HARLINGEN — Economic development took the spotlight at a candidates’ forum last night.
Hosted by the Harlingen Board of Realtors, President-Elect Marcus Phipps posed most of the questions, many aimed toward the real estate market, as candidates in Harlingen’s May 4 election squared off.
In the race for mayor, Mayor Chris Boswell, running for his fifth term, faces Miguel Segura, an assistant physical therapist.
Boswell pointed to nearly two years of retail sales tax growth as an indicator of the city’s “strong” economy.
Meanwhile, 20 restaurants have opened in the last 18 months, he said.
During his next term, Boswell vowed to work to bring high-paying jobs to the aerotropolis near Valley International Airport.
He pointed to University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine’s developing institute of neurosciences as signs of the city’s medical complex’s growth.
Boswell said he was working with Valle Vista Mall’s new owner to develop the heart of city’s retail center.
“We feel the first big step — that’s new ownership,” he said. “I feel this guy’s got a good game plan but it takes some time to carry it out.”
Boswell called public safety a “top priority for the community.”
A national survey, he said, ranked Harlingen as the 37th safest city in Texas, adding crime was down more than 40 percent.
Segura vowed to work to “make Harlingen better.”
“I believe the old vision of Harlingen is slowly fading,” Segura said.
“We are at a turning point. I want to see where the money goes. I want to see the need. We need to create more jobs and bring in more stores. I want to bring more retail. I want to bring the outlets here,” he said.
“The more stores we get, the more the city will prosper. I want to promote and make the city safer than it is — where you can walk around Harlingen and feel safe and secure.”
District 1 Commissioner Richard Uribe, running for his second term, portrayed himself as a business man who has worked to improve streets and drainage.
“I love Harlingen and I want to see it continue to prosper,” he said. “When I make decisions, I always think about my family, people around me and how it’s going to affect everyone.”
Uribe described himself as a team player.
“It’s important to work with others,” he said. “It’s OK to disagree but in the end, it’s what’s best for Harlingen. We’ve need to able to listen — that’s what a good leader is.”
Former Commissioner J.J. Gonzalez, running against Uribe for the District 1 seat, said he planned to appoint a group of business people to work to boost economic development.
“We’ve got to be proactive rather than reactive,” Gonzales, a real estate broker, said.
Gonzalez, who served as commissioner from 2000 to 2006, said he’s got the experience for the job.
“I want to have a say-so in what’s going on in the community,” Gonzalez said. “I think I can add more. I can take off running as soon as I become commissioner instead of a learning curve.”
To cut crime, Gonzalez said he would work with the police department to increase the city’s neighborhood watch programs
Gonzalez also vowed to hold quarterly town hall meetings to seek residents’ input into community issues.
Frank Puente, a former city commissioner running against incumbent Tudor Uhlhorn for the District 2 seat, was absent for the event, which drew few residents.
Uhlhorn, running for a third term, said he wanted to work toward the development of the $16.7 million Harlingen Convention Center, the $4.5 million renovation of the Baxter Building and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s joint projects.
“I have a love for my community or I wouldn’t be here,” Uhlhorn, a farmer and real estate investor, said.
Uhlhorn said his 30 years of community involvement have helped him work to build the city.
“I think to be on the city commission you need to be involved in the community to see how things work,” he said.
Among his accomplishments, Uhlhorn cited a monthly street maintenance fee which annually raises about $1.5 million to repair streets.
“If you want to look like a successful town, you’ve got to project that image,” he said. “You’ve got to have good roads.”
Early voting runs from April 22 to 30.