Caballero, Belen Robles, and Presciliano Ortega at an EPPC forum David Romo When he explains his access-to-capital program to me, Caballero’s whole demeanor brightens up. Now he’s in his element. “I’m more of an economic determinist,” he says. He points out that El Paso and Austin are about the same size, but El Paso’s tax base is only $19 billion, compared to Austin’s $52 billion. “This is a result of marketing ourselves to the outside as a cheap labor town for too long,” he says. “If racial politics comes into play anywhere, this is where. Our politicians have treated us and our city as second-class citizens.” Caballero wants to end the tax abatements that city administrations have used to recruit companies that only provide minimum wage jobs and give nothing back to the city. Obtaining a fair share of state and federal funds for local schools and government is also priority “That often means having to litigate,” he says. “Unfortunately, that’s just how the state of Texas works.” He finds inspiration in what other Texas cities have done. He brings up Fort Worth as an example of how a city can revitalize its downtown through the arts. San Antonio’s development of its health care industry provided the model for the Border Health Institute, a medical research complex for which he and other leaders have laid the groundwork. Francis, who was mayor of El Paso between 1993 and 1997, describes Caballero as “a visionary” He doesn’t mean it as a compliment. The campaign’s forums, public debates, and press conferences here have been a series of barbs and counter-barbs between the two ; most political pun di.ts expect a runoff. Francis accuses Caballero of being “anti-business.” If Caballero “bashes” the banks the way he has in the past, Francis warns,”They’ll just pick up and take their business to Santa Teresa \(a New “My question is how soon will they leave,” Caballero shoots back. “The banks I’m talking about haven’t invested in any way in our community. I’m not anti-business, but if you sell yourself cheap, you’re just a bad businessman.” Occasionally Ortega tries to jump into the King KongGodzilla rumble and get a couple of jabs in. Most of them are aimed at Caballero. Ortega is essentially running on a “nonew-taxes” platform. “I won’t over-promise and under-deliver,” he says. But despite his experience as city rep and Mayor Pro Tem, Ortega can’t help but come off as a political lightweight. The area’s water shortage problem is so serious that some predict the neighboring city of Juarez will run out of water within the next decade. Ortega’s solution: Install new shower heads. When asked about his past business experience by a group of bankers he includes his previous membership in the “Yucca Boy Scouts.” But nobody laughs. As the May 5th election draws nearer, the mud gets thicker. A central figure who has stepped into the brawl is Francis’s campaign coordinator, Jaime Perez. Perez is a bald man with a thick, Mexican. revolutionary mustache, who often walks around with a Huichol Indian shaman bag. He describes himself as an “expert featherman.” \(He he uses bird feathers to has a long history of coordinating campaigns for politicians on all sides of the political spectrum and playing hardball for them. Some call him the “dirt man,” the Lee Atwater or Karl Rove of El Paso politics. Recently, while serving as guest host on a television talk show, he took a phone call from Caballero’s eldest daughter, Theresa, a 34-year-old El Paso lawyer. She aired a somewhat obsessive, incoherent list of personal grievances against her father, calling him a monster and 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/21/01
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