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FEATURE Running with Ray Is El Paso’s Next Mayor a Caballero? BY DAVID ROMO Agroup of student volunteers huddle around Ray Caballero, a 59-year-old former trial lawyer who has finally come out from behind the scenes and is running for mayor. It’s an impromptu planning session in the hallway at the El Paso Community College, moments after a mayoral candidates’ forum. The young volunteers listen attentively while Caballero goes over the day’s schedule. He’s a dark-skinned, good-looking guythe perfect cross between an Indio and a Yuppiethe kind of guy who climbs volcanoes \(including The energy of the group is palpable. Caballero, who’s hitching a ride with me for our interview, walks over to Ruben Villegas, a 25-year-old volunteer, and hands over his car keys. “Almost everywhere I go, people stop me and ask what I’ll do to stop El Paso’s brain drain,” Caballero tells me while we’re driving through Fort Bliss. “In the last decade 26,000 people left El Paso. In fact we’re losing more people than any other city in Texas. Most of them were middle-class, young people, in search of better-paying jobs. Reaching out to these young people is an important part of our platform. I think what we say resonates with them,” Not everyone is impressed by Caballero’s appeal to the young. An El Paso Times editorial mocked him, asking whether his first act as mayor will be to replace all city council reps with a group of high school students called the Community Scholars. The group is the brain-child of his wife, Mary Hull Caballero, and State Senator Eliot Shapleigh. The high school juniors and seniors created quite a stir two years ago when their research showed that the chain banks that have set up shop in El Paso take billions of dollars out of the city and give very little back in terms of loans to small, local businesses. Others, who notice the looks of admiration on some of the fresh-faced volunteers, find the whole thing a little amusing: “Ray has groupies,” I overheard someone say, with just a touch of envy in his voice. Groupies or not, the last time any El Paso mayoral candidate attracted a decent-sized group of high school and college-age volunteers was during,well, let me think.., uhh, probably never. Certainly no one else running for mayor in this election can be accused of having themgroupies, I mean, Mayor Pro Tern Presi \(short for that at age 43 he’s the youngest candidate of the bunch. “I didn’t wait till I was almost 60 to declare my candidacy,” he says, an obvious jab at at Caballero. But Ortega, a conservative insurance salesman who voted to make deep cuts in the arts during his tenure as city rep, doesn’t exactly mobilize the young and the restless, that constant scowl on her face. She comes off as an overworked, grumpy middle-school principal. In her defense she has probably needed to do a lot of scowling in her uphill fight against what she calls “the good ol’ boys.” She managed to become both national LULAC \(League of United Latin Inspector armed with nothing but a high-school degree and that hard-assed scowl of hers. If her actions were as tough as her look, she would be more than a viable candidate, Unfortunately, they aren’t. In 1997, when Esequiel Hernandez, an 18-year-old Redford native, was killed by a U. S. marine, many in the Latino community called for an end to the militarization of the border. As LULAC president, Robles should have been the first to speak up, Instead, as Chief of U, S. Customs, she kept her furrowed brow well hidden from public view. Then there’s the former mayor of El Paso, Larry Francis, who wants his job back at city hall, I’m not sure he even knows what groupies are, A retired electrical engineer, Francis runs a very efficient, top-down, micro-managed, CEOtype operation. His staff is composed of mostly old-guard, professional politicians. “I want to go back to the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” he told a group of bankers and developers, “when El Paso was economically dominant in the region.” He has a webpage, but there’s practically nothing on it, except for the line “Here is where Press Release #1 will go.” Months into the campaign, we’re all still waiting for press release #1. Francis would fit safely into what Robles calls the “good al’ boy” category, He would also fit into what Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos calls “los cavemen,” or even into my own favorite category, “los old flirts.” The last two candidates on the ballot, Lee White and Carl Starr, don’t even bother to show up at most forums, so it’s hard to tell just how many charisma-struck volunteers they 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/27/01