Referring to the El Paso City Council's leaders as elitists, businessman Robert Cormell announced last week that he is running for mayor with a goal to make City Hall more transparent and responsive to voters.
Cormell, 44, owns and operates three Bagel Shop locations in El Paso and spends much of his time working with young people at Wayside Teen Center, which he started across from Hanks High School on Montwood.
He's not a stay-behind-the-counter kind of business owner, and often joins friends and patrons at their tables for easy conversation over coffee and bagels.
New to politics, Cormell says he is not happy with the way the city is being run or the handling of the bond and baseball propositions that voters approved by large margins in the Nov. 6 elections.
"I believe in El Paso," he said. "I believe as a city we are losing our voice. I believe there are a few elitists who are a part of city government who are trying to run our city.
"The thing I want to do is listen to the people better."
Mayoral and city representative candidates often announce their candidacy in December before the spring elections. Next year's election will be May 11.
The only other announced candidate for mayor so far is District 7 city Rep. Steve Ortega. He was first elected in 2005 with his friends and political allies, Susie Byrd and Beto O'Rourke, now the District 16 congressman-elect.
Ortega, a 36-year-old lawyer elected to the council a year after getting his license to practice law, made his announcement the day before last month's election.
Asked about Cormell referring to him and the controlling faction on City Council as elitist, Ortega didn't reject the description.
"I think there are a lot of names for people who share the philosophy of many of us who are in elected office," Ortega said. "So many terms have been thrown around, but one of the things we share in common is a very ambitious vision for the community.
"You can call that progressive, you can call that elitism, you can call it something else, but that's not something that I shy away from."
The process that is leading to the demolition of City Hall in March to make way for a baseball stadium wasn't perfect, Ortega concedes, but in the end, voters approved it and bond propositions totaling $473 million.
"I think the election said clearly that this community is supportive of the direction we are moving in," he said.
Cormell has his doubts about the success of El Paso's experiment with downtown baseball but said the city will have to make it work.
In the future, however, the mayor and City Council must stick closer to the clear will of the people of El Paso than the current council, he said.
"You want the people of El Paso to be as close to 100 percent behind something as you can get," Cormell said.
Cormell is married to Catrina Vargas-Cormell, who will be his campaign manager.
He said he was two years into college at New Mexico State University, majoring in business and playing baseball while waiting tables for Golden Corral, when the company offered him a job in management at a salary he could not turn down.
He stayed with Golden Corral for four years and then started his own restaurant, What's for Dinner?, on the East Side across from Hanks High School.
The restaurant was a hang out for students who, he said, had nowhere else to go and became the Wayside Teen Center, now a non-profit.
"It was a great opportunity to be part of their lives," Cormell said. "I found I had a heart for the youth."
He said he bought the Bagel Shop on North Mesa, then took over the Manhattan Bagel Shop on Resler Drive across from Franklin High School. He now owns a third shop on Rushing in Northeast El Paso.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.