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Businessman Renard Johnson announces run for El Paso mayor

El Paso Matters

by Robert Moore, El Paso Matters
January 30, 2024

El Paso businessman Renard Johnson on Tuesday will become the first person to formally announce that he’s running for El Paso mayor in the November 2024 election.

“El Paso has given me so much. It's given me and my family a number of successful businesses here. It's given me my education. And my father's always said, you can't just take, take from a community. You need to give back,” Johnson, 57, said in an interview with El Paso Matters ahead of his announcement. “So I'm at a point where my business will be 30 years old next month, and I want to give back to the community. It's given me so much, and now it's time for me to give back.”

He was born in Chicago and moved to Northeast El Paso when he was 7 months old. Johnson graduated from Andress High School and the University of Texas at El Paso.

He has received the Gold Nugget and Distinguished Alumni awards from UTEP, the university’s highest honors for graduates.

Johnson is the founder METI Inc., which provides systems engineering and information technology support to the federal government and commercial customers. He also has developed real estate projects and founded the tequila brand El Perro Grande.

He is a former chair of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and served on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Johnson has never run for elective office. He acknowledges he is still becoming familiar with numerous issues that he would face as mayor, but says he will put out a plan for voters on what he would tackle in his first 100 days in office.

“I'm super excited to knock on some doors and learn from voters of their concerns and what issues we need to focus on because what Renard thinks may not necessarily be what the voters think,” Johnson said. “So I need to make sure I get in there and talk to the voters.”

Johnson will formally announce his candidacy at a rally and fundraiser Tuesday evening. He said his vision for El Paso is “a city with more opportunities.”

We should have more flights at our international airport. We should have a community with an abundance of jobs, high paying jobs. We should be retaining our youth here in the community. We should have arts, more farmers markets,” he said.

Mayoral candidate Renard Johnson discusses his vision for El Paso during an interview on Jan. 29, 2024. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Few plan details yet 

At this point in his campaign, Johnson is providing few specifics about how he would use the mayor’s job to advance his vision. He said he has connections with state and federal leaders to help develop El Paso.

He said he thinks El Paso is “moving forward.”

“I think what our leaders have done to date, they've done a very good job. But I think there's more we can do,” Johnson said.

He pointed to recent data from the Dallas Federal Reserve that showed the number of jobs in El Paso increasing by 1.6% in 2023, about half the rate of job growth in Texas.

A potentially historic candidacy

If elected, Johnson would be El Paso’s first Black mayor. He said he hasn’t given much thought to the historic nature of his candidacy.

“I think that if I was mayor, that I would be picked for my leadership skills, my knowledge, my experience, and then I happen to be Black. I didn't look at it that way. I would put my skills before any ethnicity or anything like that,” he said. 

Incumbent Mayor Oscar Leeser cannot seek re-election this year because he has served two four-year terms, from 2013 to 2017 and 2021 to 2025. That is the maximum allowed by the City Charter.

Johnson formally appointed a campaign treasurer on Jan. 18, which allowed him to begin fundraising. The only other potential mayoral candidate to designate a campaign treasurer so far is Central El Paso resident Marco Contreras.

In the last mayoral election in 2020, Leeser and then-Mayor Dee Margo both spent more than $150,000 in a campaign that was constrained by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayoral races in El Paso traditionally draw multiple candidates, and several more candidates likely will step forward in coming months. Candidates for mayor and four City Council seats on the ballot in the Nov. 5 election must file a formal application between July 20 and Aug. 19.

‘Running as me’

The mayoral race is nonpartisan, meaning candidates don’t run under the designation of a political party. Johnson sidestepped a question about how he identifies politically.

“For this race, I'm running as me, and anyone that knows me knows that I have to be the mayor for all of the people, not just some of the people. I don't want to get put into a hole where I'm representing just a few. I want to represent everybody,” he said.

Voting records over the past 12 years show that Johnson has voted in Democratic primaries since 2012, except for 2016, when he did not vote in either party’s primary. 

Campaign finance records show that he has donated about $9,500 to candidates or political committees in Texas state races since 2005, and about $9,400 to federal candidates. 

The bulk of his donations to candidates have gone to El Paso Democrats such as Silvestre Reyes, Beto O’Rourke and Cesar Blanco. His most recent contributions have been to two Democrats seeking the Texas House District 77 race, $1,000 each to Vince Perez and Alexsandra Annello.

Johnson also has given to Republican candidates. In 2015 he donated to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, about a year after he was first elected, and to GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Article Topic Follows: Texas Politics

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