Running for El Paso Mayor, an iffy situation at best
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
Running for Mayor of El Paso requires that a candidate be quick on his or her feet, that beaucoup bucks be available, and, most important – name recognition. In the case of the current campaign, it features a candidate that meets all three qualifications, namely Steve Ortega. He is running against an unknown Robert Cormell, who has no name recognition and has never held political office of any sort. But, lest Ortega thinks the election is his, he must reflect and realize that there are no guarantees.
Ortega, a two-term city representative for District 7, has served in a quiet capacity, making noise, for example only in backing the city’s providing health insurance for the partners of gay employees, and supporting the destruction of the current city hall to build in its place a $50 million baseball stadium to house El Paso’s future sports team – the El Paso Padres, or some such.
Cormell, however, has made no noise at all and has very little name recognition, outside of business circles. He is a small business owner who has managed to raise so far $4,300 and Ortega $57,000 according to their latest expense reports. Cornell said he has raised very little money because he’s been focusing on developing his mayoral platform. He promises that his next campaign report will show a stronger contributor base. Ortega, on the other hand, has raised his money from what he calls numerous $50 to $500 donations, including a $1,000 donation from newly-elected Congressman Beto O’Rourke. He has also said he would not accept donations from the folks who have been pushing the new stadium, including Woody Hunt, because that might constitute a conflict of interest.
But, again, raising large amounts of cash does not guarantee victory. As witness the race a few years ago that featured City Rep. Raymond Telles against Carlos Ramirez for Mayor. Ramirez, who worked with then-Mayor Bill Tilney, had only raised $30,000. Telles, however, had raised about $250,000. He even used that money to hire a consultant from San Francisco. All that money, however, didn’t guarantee Telles a victory, because he lost to Ramirez. Of course, Telles made many mistakes, such as hiring a P.R. firm from Juarez to develop a newspaper that touted his qualifications and everything that was good about his campaign. Telles himself short-circuited a campaign that had him leading Ramirez 40 to 21. Ramirez played it cool and won that race.
A more recent campaign proved that money isn’t everything. The race for State Rep. between incumbent Dee Margo and his challenger, Joe Moody, showed that money came in a close second. Republican Margo raised more than $600,000 while Moody raised a mere $100,000. Guess who won that race – Joe Moody, of course. The two candidates had all the required necessities to win the race, such as name recognition, and political experience and savvy. The money, however, seemed to give Margo the edge. However, much as he would’ve liked to keep his seat, all that money in his war chest didn’t help. He lost.
So, there’s hope for Cormell. Remember, too, that it’s a long haul before the election in May. Other candidates are, perhaps, waiting for the right moment to jump into the fray. Who knows who will jump in and truly challenge Ortega. One possibility is former State Senator Eliot Shapleigh. Although Shapleigh has not done anything to indicate that he would be running, if he did suddenly decide to run, he already qualifies under the three requirements – money, name recognition and a track record. Shapleigh outscores Ortega in every category, except money. But, he could clear that hurdle very quickly with his connections and his ability to run winning campaigns.
But, for now, the only candidates are Ortega and Cormell, although, again, that could change very rapidly. There is still plenty of time for anyone who dares to run a strong campaign with the intent to win. Ortega still does hold a good hand in his campaign. His refusal to accept donations from the power-brokers who want to bring a Triple-A Baseball team to El Paso may stand him in good stead. From all appearances, Cormell is against Triple-A baseball coming to El Paso, although he hasn’t said as much. He probably figures that he could get the voters who oppose such a move to support him. But, then, in El Paso politics, anything could happen. Stay tuned.