WESLACO — After nearly three months of uncertainty, and two rounds of voting, Weslaco residents now know who will fill the seat vacated after former District 4 Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla resigned.
Just minutes after the polls here closed, supporters of Adrian Farias who had gathered outside the Weslaco Business Visitor & Event Center began to cheer raucously. The Hidalgo County Elections Department had moments before published early voting tallies online showing that Farias led the special election runoff against Guadalupe “Lupe” Garcia by 99 votes.
Once the election day totals were published approximately an hour later, the victory became certain. Farias had won with a total of 400 votes to Garcia’s 304. The unofficial tallies show Garcia actually won slightly more votes than Farias on election day — 63 to Farias’ 60.
The results remain unofficial until the votes are canvassed by the Weslaco City Commission.
“I’m feeling good. I think the people have spoken,” Farias said as he and his supporters awaited the final tally at a local restaurant where a victory party had been planned.
Farias said the election — which began with a four-way race in July, and culminated in Tuesday’s runoff — took hard work, sacrifice and faith. “I want to thank my family for all they did, and my wife for the unconditional support,” Farias said.
“(It was) a lot of hard work and a lot of time that I was away from my family, but, it was all worth it. I think it’s a good step for Weslaco, and I think we’re ready to move forward,” he said.
The candidate said his first order of business will be to meet with the city manager and mayor to assess the city’s current needs.
Too, he hopes to begin discussions that could lead to future elections. “I’ll start talking about term limits and financial transparency,” Farias said, adding he’s considered proposing a three-term limit for Weslaco’s elected officials.
While Farias and his supporters had begun to celebrate, Lupe Garcia stood surrounded by family and friends just a few yards away. Though only the early voting tallies were known at the time, Garcia conceded the race and thanked them for their support.
“The people are the ones that decide and we respect that,” Garcia said afterwards.
While they remained huddled close, Garcia’s brother, Norberto Garcia, called on the group to bow their heads in prayer. He began by giving thanks, before asking God to bless his brother’s political opponent, Farias.
Afterwards, Lupe Garcia commented on the moment, saying it’s just how his family was raised. “God is the one that decides all things and today, that’s the decision and we’re okay with it because we put it in prayer and what better that for it to be in His hands,” Garcia said.
Farias will serve as the District 4 commissioner for the remainder of Tafolla’s unexpired term, which runs through 2021. Tafolla, who had won his bid for re-election in November 2018, resigned in May of this year after pleading guilty to federal programs bribery in connection with the $38.5 million rehabilitation of Weslaco’s water treatment facilities.
Tafolla pleaded guilty in April, just days after a similar guilty plea by former Rio Grande City municipal judge Leonel Lopez Jr. And earlier this month, former District 2 Weslaco Commissioner John Cuellar pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
Tafolla and Cuellar are accused of accepting bribes and of using their positions on the commission to affect the outcomes of contract awards related to the water plant rehabilitation project.
Farias said the incident is all the more reason public project funding should undergo scrutiny. “Hats off to Mr. Tafolla for admitting his guilt, but at the same time, it’s a learning experience for everybody,” Farias said. “And I think we need to look at everything at hand when it comes to these bids.”