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We’re here because you’re going to tell us you’ll run. There’s no room for negotiation!’ In end he had sense to say ‘I’m going to run: But he was about to mess it up. I can’t figure out what part is naivete and what part is hubris.” But Caballero’s supporters are still staunchly behind him. “He’s not a hero,” says Councilman Larry Medina. “But he’s a great mayor with a great heart:’ “He’s our candidate,” says Dominguez. “He’s what we’ve got:’ This time around, there’s little populist pizzazz. Caballero has worked extraordinarily hard for two years and has much to show for it. El Paso is in excellent financial shape, the Border Health Institute is well on its way to development, and light rail is said to be firmly in the works. Still, months of gossip, accusadon and flip-flopping has dispirited the city. And the $50 contribution cap is a thing of the past. During the first campaign Caballero spent thousands of his own dollars to plump up those modest donations. Now he can’t afford to. His new cap is $500. On the other hand, he’s starting to schmooze with businesswhich makes sense even to his populist supporters. “I can’t imagine anybody being more probusiness than Ray” says County Attorney Jose Rodriguez. “Tax Increment Finance zones are good for big business. Access to capital from banks is good for small business, which is 80 percent of business in El Paso.” Ralph Adame agrees. He is director of the information technology company DTSI and a player in El Paso business circles who wants to get his friends to the table with Caballero. “He has not done a good job of embracing these people, but they are behind him because the economic base he wants to build on is going to be beneficial to everyone?’ And Caballero seems amenable to winnowing a newer breed of capitalists from what he calls the Old Guard monopoliststhe “small group more interested in control than they are in making money.” That group is supporting Caballero’s main opponent, Joe Wardy, the nonSpanish-speaking owner of a trans-border trucking business. Wardy’s claim to fame is that he’s a “nice guy”someone who won’t make waves. He has garnered the support of the Jobes and practically everyone else who’s allergic to Caballero. Since his staff refused my interview request, I was unable to ask how much money he’s gotten from donors, and finance records will not be available for weeks. But while I was writing this piece, hundreds of thousands of El Pasoans opened their mailboxes to find a 16-page color booklet explaining Wardy’s positions \(he’s against light rail, Jaime Perez is running, too, on an antitax-increase, low-growth program \(El Paso schools are palaces compared to those in rural Mexico, he said at a recent candidates’ forumso what’s the probis that Wardy will get the support of the Bowlings, but I saw some of them at Perez’s campaign kick-off partywith a group of people who were eating chile con queso, dissing Caballero, and talking about how much fun it is to post anonymously on the anti-Caballero forum linked to Perez’s website. \(“Man, that’s real Speculation has it that Perez is running as a spoiler. A certain number of Hispanics can be expected to vote for him simply because of his name. Taking those votes from Caballero will benefit Wardy. Meanwhile, Wardy billboards grace Interstate 10. So do pictures of Caballero. There are other signs as well, showing the upper half of a male head, with nothing visible except for a hard hat and hard eyes. lobe,” the hat says. It’s an eerie reminder of where power still lies in El Paso. And there is another, weirder power: Theresa Caballero, who haunts her fatherand the communitylike a telenovela. Many El Pasoans are truly puzzled about her claims of abuse. “I love and honor my children:’ Caballero said during our interview. People who know him shake their heads. “It makes me want to cry,” says Dominguez. “She has no history of civic participation, no history of commitment to anybody or anything. There are folks in the campaign who’ve suggested we can be aggressive about dealing with her. But Ray has said, ‘She’s off limits. It’s a tragedy.” Politics is dirty business, and in the end, Caballero may simply be too private and too principled for the muck. As the incumbent he started the race with a leg up. But when I asked what happens if he loses, he shrugged. “There’s something more important than being thrown out of office: that I do the right thing and speak the truth. You should never allow petty considerations to get in the way of community service. That’s dumb!” Win or lose, his main legacy may be the way he has opened the political process to people who never thought they had a place in it. “I’m thinking of running for school board,” says press secretary Veronica Escobar. Until working with Caballero, her only political involvement was with an immigration rights group that had no entree to City Hall until the current administration. Another young El Pasoan, Ruben Reyes, has also gotten the bug. He’s the UTEP student who asked City Hall to support an EPA hearing about the Jobe quarry. He’s the kid John Cook told not to make waves if he wanted help from the good old boys. As Reyes tells it, he used to be a gang member “running from the law” When Caballero ran last time, Reyes did phone work for him. He’s gotten involved with the Green Party. And now he’s running for City Council. “I know that people do very bad things for money. I’m not naive about that:’ he says. “But I will not let it silence me.” He joins a new political generation in El Paso, one much freer of the sleaze and stasis that I remember from just a few years ago. Clearly, Caballero has been a liberator. If he wins, maybe he’ll talk nice to the likes of Stanley Jobe. Maybe he’ll get away from his office and out to the next ribbon cutting. Maybe he’ll help his supporters help himand their city. Maybe El Paso will leave its rock of ages and enter the 21st century Contributing writer Debbie Nathan lived in El Paso from 1984-1998. She currently lives in New York. 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/11/03