McAllen mayor, commissioners report light campaign coffers

McALLEN — Candidate campaign signs have surrounded intersections across the city, with election season underway ahead of the March primary. But the campaign coffers of Mayor Jim Darling and city commissioners are light.

There is not a scheduled McAllen city election in 2020 — the upcoming primary mostly involves races for county, state and federal positions. And the low levels of McAllen commissioners’ campaign accounts reflect the lull of an off year.

“For the next five, six, seven months I don’t think a whole lot of anything will happen,” said Darling, who received $1,000 in political contributions in recent months, according to semi-annual campaign finance reports due on Jan. 15. “There’s a lot of campaigning going on with the primaries. You can’t exhaust people.”

Commissioners said they expect a quiet next several months, but likely an earlier push in the mayoral race. The mayoral election is in May 2021, and city elections typically don’t ramp up until the fall and winter preceding the May election day, but Darling declared his candidacy much earlier this cycle — in October, a year and a half out from the election.

“Some of the people that normally support me have said they’ve been contacted by other people that I’m not running,” Darling said in an interview in October. “I intend to run and I’ll have a formal announcement when it’s appropriate.”

His tone had not changed on Monday, and several commissioners in separate interviews said they support the mayor.

“The mayoral position should be an interesting one and I suspect it could start as early as this summer,” Commissioner Joaquin “J.J.” Zamora said Monday. He also sought to put an end to any speculation that he is exploring a mayoral challenge.

“Unless there’s an act of congress or my mom, who’s sitting right next to me, tells me to run, I have no intention of running,” Zamora said. “I have zero interest in the job, at least this cycle.”

Zamora supports Darling and told him he’s not interested in challenging the mayor in 2021, said Zamora, who reported no political contributions. Commissioner Javier Villalobos echoed Zamora’s remarks and noted that “there’s some speculation with some other commissioners,” but if a commissioner were to run for mayor, it could present hurdles for the commission.

Once an officeholder in McAllen announces intent to run for a seat other than the one they hold, that officeholder is required by law to resign.

“Jim’s a good mayor, I have no problem with him,” said Villalobos, who reported $750 in political contributions. “I think he’s done an excellent job. I would not run against Jim.”

Veronica Whitacre, who did not return inquiries for this story, has not ruled out a run.

“I can’t discuss that until election time,” Whitacre said in October when asked about her intentions for office.

When asked for clarification on whether Whitacre would run for mayor in the 2021 election, she said: “I am your mayor pro-tem,” citing her position on the city commission, a ceremonial role that is comparable to a vice president or vice chair, the number two ranking official in terms of authority on the commission behind the mayor.

Whitacre reported no recent political contributions in her filing, another indication of, despite Darling’s announcement in the fall and the rumors that followed, candidates have not started fundraising just yet.

Commissioner Omar Quintanilla said he predicts that will change.

“There’s already talk of not only the mayor, who obviously has already announced, but other people considering that post,” Quintanilla said. “So I would expect it to be a contested election and for there to be fundraising activities happening relatively soon. Probably in the summer. So I wouldn’t expect the campaign coffers to remain light for much longer.”

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