Louis Bruni Torn Moore heart of the business district, to pedestrian only, further easing congestion. The city says traffic patterns and projections show a steady increase meriting yet another international crossing in the next five to seven years, which is roughly the same time period usually required for the acquisition of a Presidential Permita necessary precursor to any new international span. Bridge 5, of course, is also expected to spew revenue, and Webb County Judge Mercurio Martinez, Jr., sitting for 12 years now at the head of one of Texas’ largest and poorest counties, is hungry for a slice. Martinez proposed that the city and the county pursue the Presidential Permit jointly, share the construction costs, and split the revenues. The city, rallied by second-term city councilman Louis Bruni, said no thank you very much. Only 3 percent ofWebb County’s population lives outside of Laredo city limits. Why, Bruni asks rhetorically, would the city want to give 50 percent of new bridge revenue to 3 percent of the population? What does it have to gain? \(That’s assuming, of course, that this is a really story about city folks versus county residentsand not city bureauAnd so now, while both camps acknowledge the clear position of the U.S. State Departmentthat it will not consider competing applicationsboth city and county, personified by Louis Bruni and Mercurio Martinez, jr., are pursuing the bridge independently, whatever the cost. 1 t o t’s p t er p sona t l,” fBhri. .infi sth ays.,”It shadow ‘s very p . er 1s 9o 9n 4al.” .Lth ouis began city council, wherein he defeated Hector “Tito” Garcia, Mercurio’s nephew. Running for reelection in 1998, Bruni found himself pitted against the judge’s son, Mercurio Martinez III. Bruni prevailed, but term limits tossed him out of council earlier this year. The race to replace him found Martinez nephew Hector “Tito” Garcia running again, this time against Bruni’s younger brother Raymond. In an unlikely twist, Louis publicly endorsed Garcia over his estranged and litigious sibling. Garcia, who ran on a platform comprised almost entirely of a promise to follow Louis Bruni’s lead, won. Louis, meanwhile, figured he’d run either for mayor or county judge. Perhaps it helped make up his mind that his father had always coveted the county judgeship, but never achieved it. And it definitely helped that Mercurio Martinez, Jr. was pushing ahead with his plan to secure the fifth bridge permit for the county “To me,” Bruni says,”it’s an ego move. Something that the sitting county judge would consider a feather in his political cap.” So Bruni ran, with ownership of the bridge his key campaign issue. While Martinez seemed not to take the 53-yearold whippersnapper as a serious contender, Bruni painted the elder statesman as out-of-touch royalty managing the county as his own personal fiefdom. “Unfortunately,” Bruni admits, “Laredo politics is one of the nastiest, dirtiest games in the United States.” To the surprise of most everyone but himself, Bruni won. He takes over as county judge on January 1, 2003. First order of business: Kill the bridge project, on which the county has already spent an estimated $1.5 million. “To me,” says Bruni, “this is total mismanagement of the taxpayer’s money. It’s going to die a very rapid death.” Martinez, as befits an elder, isn’t the sort to indulge in overtly personal backbiting, but until Bruni actually takes office, he says with a large laugh, “I’m not letting go of this project.” The Laredo city council has passed a resolution against building bridges with the county, but that hasn’t dampened the judge’s hopes. “Our attorney’s opinion is that the city cannot prevent us from getting involved at all,” Martinez says, and with two new incoming councilmen, the county intends “to visit and explain what we have completed, and I am optimistic that they will reconsider.” Meanwhile, Martinez suggests, incoming judge Bruni may not find it so easy to single-handedly kill the county’s momentum. “He might have one vote, but there a total of five votes.” “It hasn’t hit him yet,” counters Bruni. “He still goes around saying ‘I am still the county judge, and if Louis Bruni wants to talk to me, well, he can come to my office and talk to me.'” “All I have to say to him is he needs to vacate his office so I can get it painted and move in my stuff.” continued on page 20 9/27/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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