EL PASO, Texas -- With coronavirus numbers continuing to climb in the Borderland, ABC-7 asked the challengers vying for El Paso Mayor Dee Margo's seat how they thought the incumbent was handling the pandemic situation thus far.
Attorney Vernoica Carbajal said the pandemic would be her top concern as mayor: "The city has failed to make the pandemic a priority. It has mishandled the public health crisis crisis and economic crisis."
City planner Carlos Gallinar took a similar stance: "We need to do better and I feel like this administration had failed us and we need a path forward."
But former Mayor Oscar Leeser took a different view: "We don't need to start second guessing anyone right now. It's really important we look at doing the right thing for the safety of the public."
Mayor Dee Margo responded to the criticism from some of his opponents by saying, "I think I am doing the best I can and the best I know to do to manage this pandemic which is changing on a daily basis."
ABC-7 asked the candidates to share their ideas if they were in Margo's seat.
“We have to distinguish between what is essential for human survival and what is essential for economic survival," Carbajal said.
Leeser added his thoughts, "The first thing we need to do is make sure that we continue with our economy but you cannot sacrifice safety for the economy."
One candidate indicated he'd take it even further: “We need to take the next 30 days to reset and to do what need to do on testing, hire a health director to make sure we move forward to make sure we keep the residents and citizens of El Paso safe and healthy," Gallinar said.
But Margo saw it differently: “It's always an option if in fact it's required. I am not seeing the data that is requiring that at this particular point.”
Next ABC-7 asked what the candidates what they would do if elected this fall.
“The first thing we need to do is make sure that we continue with our economy but you cannot sacrifice safety for economy and that’s one of the things we have to be very careful with," Leeser said.
Gallinar indicated, “If we still don’t have a public health director by November and the numbers are where they are expected to be, I would hire a public health director.”
Carabajal echoed that thought: “We need to address the health conditions with or without the pandemic that is why it is important to have a robust health department year round."
However, Margo said hiring a health director is not the job of the mayor, but of the city manager. He added, “Our designee, Dr. Ocaranza is preeminent, he has a reputation. He’s handled Ebola, he’s handled other outbreaks, he has multiple degrees and I feel very comfortable with what he is handling.”
The assistant health director, Angela Mora, has been overseeing the department since the former director stepped down back in May.
The handling of Covid-19 is just one of the many issues these candidates will be no doubt be discussing prior to the mayoral election on Nov. 3.