SAN BENITO — City commissioners Tuesday postponed the May 2 election, resetting the referendum boasting four crowded races for Nov. 3’s general election to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In a special meeting, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stressed Gov. Greg Abbott had signed a proclamation allowing state governments to postpone the May elections, citing the virus as posing “an imminent threat of disaster.”
“The postponement of the election is being strongly recommended by the governor,” De La Rosa told commissioners.
“We don’t believe we’ll be out of this by May 2,” he said, referring to the virus’ outbreak.
Mayor Ben Gomez, who’s running for re-election, said “the decision made directly affects our community.”
“To me, the community’s health and well-being are more important than me running,” Gomez said. “We have to do our part to contain this virus.”
In the race for mayor, Gomez, a parent educator with the San Benito school district, faces former Mayor Celeste Sanchez, a retired assistant superintendent whom he defeated three years ago.
The race heated up when Commissioner Rick Guerra, a retired firefighter, resigned his Place 3 seat to run for the city’s highest elected position.
In the race to fill Place 3’s one-year unexpired term, former Commissioner Steve Rodriguez, a trucking company owner, spars with Pedro Galvan, a pharmacist, and Joe Rodriguez, a retired computer analyst.
In the race for Place 1, Commissioner Tony Gonzales, a retired postal worker who first won election in 2009, faces Rene Garcia, a Social Security Administration employee who serves as vice president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation and vice chairman of the San Benito Housing Authority.
In a three-way scramble for the Place 2 seat, Commissioner Rene Villafranco, an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who first won election in 2009, is running against Daniel Cortez, a retired police officer, and Deborah Ann Morales, vice president of Texas Funeral Associates.
The meeting’s setting reflected the new federal guidelines requiring “social distancing.”
In the roomy boardroom usually set up with about 40 chairs to accommodate audience members, officials propped up nine chairs separated by six-foot radiuses to comply with the federal guideline.
Along the commission’s board table, Gomez, Gonzales, Villafranco, Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez and City Secretary Ruth McGinnis sat about six feet apart.
Meanwhile, De La Rosa and City Attorney Mark Sossi sat about six feet apart along a table facing commissioners while Assistant City Manager Fred Bell and Martha McClain, the city’s media relations liaison, sat about six feet apart along another table.
“This aggressive approach may seem strange to some but necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Bell, who also serves as the city’s interim police chief and emergency management coordinator, told commissioners during an update of the virus outbreak. “It is the goal that this approach can save lives.”
Bell also outlined penalties ranging from $1,000 fines to as much as 180 days in jail for violation of a curfew.
Meanwhile, business owners who violate new guidelines face license revocations, he said.
“The majority of the public is complying,” Bell told commissioners.