SAN BENITO — Former City Commissioner Rick Guerra and former Mayor Celeste Sanchez are headed for a runoff in a close election that signaled the end of Mayor Ben Gomez’s first term.
Meanwhile, school board President Orlando Lopez narrowly defeated former longtime after-school program director Jack Garcia.
In the mayor’s race, Guerra said he was working outside of the city’s two main political factions.
“It was just individual people — the citizens spoke,” said Guerra, a retired firefighter who won 2,016 votes in the race in which embarked two years after resigning his commissioner’s post to run for the city’s top elected position.
“I’m really sincere in moving San Benito forward. Most of the people are saying they want new blood. They’ve got to step back and ask, ‘Who’s the better candidate?”
Meanwhile, Sanchez, who won 1,770 votes three years after Gomez defeated her following her first term, said she planned to reach out to the rival candidates’ supporters for votes.
“I’m glad I’m still in the race and I’m going to give it 100 percent,” Sanchez, a retired assistant superintendent, said. “This election has gone so long.”
Gomez, who picked up 1,563 votes, fell short in his bid for a second term.
In the city election race for the commission’s Place 1 seat, 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, won 2,720 votes to defeat Commissioner Tony Gonzales, who fell short with 2,375 votes after serving 11 years in office.
Meanwhile, Place 2 incumbent Rene Villafranco won 2,159 votes and Deborah Morales, vice president of Texas Funeral Associates, who pulled 1,861 votes, are heading for a runoff, leaving Daniel Cortez, a retired police officer, short of the runoff with 1,861 votes.
In the race for the commission’s Place 3 seat, Pedro Galvan, a pharmacist, won 2,961 votes to defeat former Commissioner Steve Rodriguez, who picked up 1,305 votes and Joe Rodriguez, a retired computer analyst, who pulled 772 votes.
In the school board election, Lopez won 4,003 votes to defeat Garcia, a former city mayor who picked up 3,873 votes.
Earlier this year, Garcia’s controversial firing helped win him a strong following.
Lopez said he ran on his record.
“It’s a report card for my last four years as a public servant,” Lopez, a radiology director, said. “I’m a parent first and foremost so I have a vested interest. I wanted to make sure everything centered on student achievement.”
Garcia cited strong student state test scores along with the hire of Superintendent Nate Carman as key points during his first term.
“First and foremost was the stability at the leadership level,” he said. “Our financial status and fund balance are higher than they’ve been in 10 or 15 years.”
Meanwhile, he passed a 2018 $40 million bond issue without raising property taxes to fund construction of a performing arts theater, an aquatics center and an indoor practice facility, he said.
In the school board’s race for the Place 5 seat, Rudy Corona, an AT&T technician, won 4,759 votes to defeat board member M.L. Garcia, who picked up 2,943 votes.
In the race for Place 1, Anna Garza Llanes, a home mortgage consultant, won 4,414 votes to defeat Baldemar Olivarez, a retired law enforcement officer, who pulled 3,431 votes.
Battling for the Place 7 seat, former counselor Janie Lopez won 4,556 votes to defeat Santiago Sanchez, general manager of a John Deere dealership, who fell short with 3,232 votes.
In the race for Place 6, Ramiro Martin Moreno, a Rio Hondo school district principal, won 3,631 votes and incumbent Victor Rosas, a retired firefighter, pulled 2,564 votes, and Joseph Galarza, a general contractor who picked up 1,550.