It may be early to announce as a candidate for El Paso mayor, but it’s not too early to be planning for it, and District 7 city Rep. Steve Ortega is doing just that.
“I would say a formal announcement is forthcoming, but at this point, I have only contacted business people and leaders gauging support,” Ortega said. “So, to answer your question, yes, I’m definitely preparing.”
Ortega’s intentions have been an open secret for months, but his plans surfaced earlier this month when Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, sent an email to her fellow members of the chamber’s board.
“I received a personal phone (call) from city Rep. Steve Ortega on my cell phone last night that he has thrown his hat in for mayor and will be announcing sometime this week,” her email read. “He wanted to share the information and asked if I would just kindly pass it on to the board.”
Ortega confirmed his conversation with Ramos-Davidson, but said he doesn’t have a formal announcement planned.
He’s unlikely to make it official until the dust settles after the Nov. 6 election.
That ballot includes the presidential contest at the very top and, at the very bottom, two El Paso bond propositions and a third measure proposing a 2-percent increase in the city’s hotel occupancy tax to build a $50 million baseball stadium where City Hall now stands.
Ortega has been a leading supporter of all three propositions. The question is whether the November election results could influence Ortega’s plans to add his name to the city election ballot next May.
A 36-year-old lawyer, Ortega has been on City Council since 2005 when he was elected along with friends Susie Byrd and Beto O’Rourke.
Very soon, they became a team with a “progressives” label, descended from former Mayor Ray Caballero and former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, that has grown to challenge the traditional Democratic Party in El Paso.
O’Rourke left the council last year, when his second term expired. Then he ran for Congress, taking on and defeating 16-year incumbent Silvestre Reyes in the spring primary. Now he faces Republican Barbara Carrasco in the Nov. 6 election.
Byrd, whose City Council term expires in 2013, is considering a run for the troubled El Paso School Board next spring.
Cortney Niland succeeded O’Rourke as District 8 representative, and the prospect of Byrd and Ortega leaving in 2013 has naturally created interest in their positions.
Luis Leon, a retired Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. sales executive, has been attending Ortega’s weekly constituent meetings.
Last month, Leon popped in at Niland’s community meeting. Ortega was the guest, making a candidate-like presentation about El Paso’s past and the importance of the quality of life bond propositions.
“Actually, I’ve been making that presentation for about two years now,” Ortega said later when asked about it.
Taking it all in at a table by himself was Leon, who confirmed that he intends to run with the backing of a business group looking for conservative, business-like candidates.
“I’m a conservative guy,” said Leon, 75, a lean runner who doesn’t look his age.
Jim Tolbert, an active environmentalist, semi-retired businessman and former Episcopal priest, is more than casually interested in Byrd’s West-Central District 2 seat.
“I am strongly considering it for two reasons,” Tolbert said. “One, a number of people have come to me and asked me to run. And, two, I’ve yet to see or hear about another candidate who would carry on the progressive politics of Susie Byrd.”
Tolbert, 60, writes a blog called El Paso Naturally and co-chairs both the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and its Open Space Advisory Board.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.