EL PASO, Texas -- Early voting for the runoff election to determine who will represent three City Council districts begins Wednesday and continues through Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Six candidates for city representative are in the runoff, including District 6 incumbent Claudia Rodriguez, who’s vying to retain her seat after not winning enough votes to be re-elected outright on Nov. 8. Candidates in Districts 1 and 8 are also on the ballot. District 5 incumbent city Rep. Isabel Salcido was reelected after taking 64% of the votes in the general election.
There are nine early voting polling sites with various hours of operation, and most are open Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 13. Election Day is Saturday, Dec. 17 with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The winners will be sworn in on Jan. 3 alongside Salcido. The other four council district seats and the mayoral seat will be up for election in 2024. City representatives serve four-year terms and are paid $51,600 a year.
El Paso Matters asked each of the candidates in the runoff via email to describe their campaign approaches ahead of the election. Responses were edited for clarity and conciseness.
Brian Kennedy and Analisa Cordova Silverstein made it to the runoff in a crowded race to represent the Upper Valley and a large section of the Westside.
Kennedy, 67, is an attorney who previously served as CEO of the El Paso Sports Commission that ran the El Paso County Coliseum under a controversial contract with the county.
Silverstein, 37, is a political newcomer and tech project manager who has worked in public service, including as chief of staff for former Texas Sen. Eliot Shapleigh.
Kennedy received 41% of the vote in the November election and Silverstein received about 25% of the vote. Neither candidate received the 50% plus one vote required to outright win the general election.
“Many people don't understand that there is a runoff. They think we won,” Kennedy said. “runoffs have a traditionally low turn-out, so we are retracing all our steps and reaching out again and again to let them know that in a low turnout, their vote counts even more.”
“We are making sure they know it's a whole new race and a whole new vote,” he said.
Silverstein said she is going to continue to educate voters.
“Now more than ever we cannot afford failed leadership and failed policies. I have years of experience running a legislative office, and I am dedicated to being there for them full time and present to serve them. I am going to continue to work hard, keep the faith and continue to fight for them and the community that I love,” she said.
Rodriguez will go head-to-head with Texas House Rep. Art Fierro in an effort to retain her seat. The district covers the area from George Dieter Drive east to Loop 375 and a small portion of the Lower Valley. Rodriguez received 43% of the votes in the general election, with Fierro taking 30% of the votes.
Fierro did not submit a response for this story.
Rodriguez, 37, said she is excited to be back on the campaign trail.
“For the runoff, I will do what I've been doing – talking to as many voters as possible and informing them of my fiscally responsible voting record in contrast to my opponent, who is a tax-and-spend career politician. It should be an easy decision,” Rodriguez said.
She said those who voted for her know her record of “fighting for the taxpayers, fighting against increased utility rate increases, and always fighting against non-voter approved debt.”
Her recent campaign mailers assert she has never voted to raise the city’s tax rate. And while the city has not raised the tax rate – and even lowered its tax rate this year – taxpayers could see larger tax bills if their home valuations increase. Under state tax laws, collecting more in tax revenues than the previous year is considered a tax increase.
Rodriguez was absent when the City Council adopted the 2020 budget and tax rate – the first year in office she would have voted on the tax rate and budget – and voted in favor of the budget and tax rate in 2021. Both years resulted in a tax increase.
In August, Rodriguez abruptly changed her stance on the city’s tax rate and budget that resulted in a tax increase. She previously supported the tax rate and budget, but voted against them shortly after launching her reelection bid.
Fierro, 60, is serving his second term in the Texas House of Representatives. If elected, he would replace Rodriguez in January. His term ends Jan. 10, days after he would be sworn in to office for the city if he defeats Rodriguez.
Two current City Council chiefs of staff are battling it out to represent the neighborhoods near the University of Texas at El Paso, a portion of the Westside and Downtown.
Chris Canales, 30, serves as chief of staff for Cissy Lizarraga – the current District 8 representative. Lizarraga didn’t seek reelection.
Bettina Olivares, 35, works for District 3 city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez, whose seat is not up for election until 2024.
Olivares said she is aiming to reach as many voters as possible ahead of the runoff.
“The runoff has less emphasis on getting to know me as it is just informing folks that there is another election and that we need them to come out for it,” Olivares said. “I am using a variety of ways to reach voters…that way whatever mode of communication works for residents, they will have a chance to know I am in the runoff and I need their vote again.”
Olivares received 40% of the votes during the November election and Canales received 34% of the votes.
Canales said he is taking advantage of the short amount of time ahead of the election by knocking on doors and reminding voters to vote one more time.
“I have prioritized grassroots support and self-limited my campaign contributions to $1,000; I have been working for District 8 constituents and neighborhoods for years and want to focus on their needs, not the needs of big donors,” Canales said. He reported raising about $3,000 in the last report filed Oct. 31. His eight donations ranged from $25 to $1,000, with the largest contribution coming from Woody and Gayle Hunt.
“I oppose public debt that is not approved by the voters; and I am running as a community candidate with actual, concrete proposals to help everyday El Pasoans that I will push the City Council to implement far more proactively than they have in recent times,” Canales said.