By Jaime O. Perez, El Paso Metro
With a mix of hyperbole, grand rhetoric and subtle manipulation, Mayor Raymond C. Caballero delivered his State of the City speech to about 400 civic and business leaders. The event was organized by the El Paso Greater Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Camino Real on Thursday the 24th.
Remarkably, the Mayor reinvented himself in one fell swoop as the man who would be King and take the City to greatness. The predictable fawning of local self-serving organizations spilled across the audience in a desperate effort to make the reinvention, of who is arguably the worst Mayor this City has ever had, stick. According to the El Paso Times, Cindy Ramos-Davidson of the Hispanic Chamber, Sam Snead of the Black Chamber of Commerce, Tom Thomas of the Greater Chamber, Ada Peterson, Director of the Empowerment Zone and Sergio Lewis, a former El Paso Independent School Trustee were all present. They, of course, were predictably falling all over themselves with praise of the ‘Vision’, the ‘Heart’ and the ‘Impressive Planning’ and ‘Cutting Edge Ideas’ that will yield wonderful ‘Greatness’ in the ‘Future’.
The ‘Vision’ that elicited such high praise was simple– High Paying Jobs, Tourism Dollars and Thriving Educational Institutions. This was a particularly curious, if shameless, version of ‘A car in every garage and a Chicken in every pot.’
How he would accomplish this so-called vision was, in the final analysis, reduced to a 10 year plan to increase taxes by all El Paso taxing institutions. There were no other specifics included in the speech. He defended his 11.8% tax increase as the responsible thing to do.
The Tax Increment Finance Districts (TIFs) that will rob students of needed teachers and books was defended with what can only be described as a masterful double-speak reminiscent of the work “1984” by George Orwell.
According to the El Paso Times, Mayor Caballero said, “We know we don’t want to hurt the ability of schools to receive state funding but we have to realize that our investment in these unproductive areas will help everyone, including all our schools.”
Roughly translated into formal English this meant:
1. We don’t want to hurt the ability of schools to receive state funding.. Therefore, we will divert millions of dollars from the schools over the next 50 years.
2. We have to realize that our investment in these unproductive areas will help everyone..
Therefore, we will reject tax abatements and other incentives to bring in large businesses to the blighted areas.
3.(Such policies) will help everyone, including all our schools..
Therefore, we will increase taxes, divert millions from our educational institutions, push away big businesses and banks and thereby ensure that schools will benefit.
Translated into common sense language it meant:
I, Raymond C. Caballero, intend to pillage your schools of money and, in time, you will thank me for benefiting you. The fact you don’t understand simply demonstrates how poor your educational system is.
The champion of the Border Health Institute as the engine of economic development became in one speech the champion of Downtown. This was not entirely surprising as he was speaking, principally, to a Downtown audience. More importantly, the Border Health Institute had been exposed a few days earlier as a sham by a state legislator. The fact is that there is no funding for the Border Health Institute. All funding is funding obtained for either the University of Texas at El Paso or Texas Tech.
But, there is a method behind the madness. Caballero has quite clearly assured his reelection with three strategic moves all starkly evident in his speech.
The first is promising city employees a raise. The raise is minimal when one considers that they will be shelling out more money for health insurance premiums. But, the important public relations point is that he is assuring the city vote for his reelection.
The formula would combine 6,000 city employees and their families (x3) or 18,000 potential voters.
The second is that he has positioned himself as the champion of Downtown and no longer as the champion of BHI so that he can gain the support of key business leaders. He knows he does not have to worry about the heads of the Chamber of Commerce because they have a vested interest. Their obvious kissing up to him was glaringly evident. The formula would combine 1200 business leaders and their families (x3) or 3600 potential voters and their employees (x3) or, an additional 10,600 potential voters. 28,600 voters in your pocket assures a significant advantage if not an absolute victory.
The third is the significant money key. The announcement that he will “review” the contract with Chase Bank as the trustee of the City’s tax dollars signals to his friends that he intends to create a local context for a change of legislation carried by his principal ally in Austin Senator Elliot Shapleigh.
He has the County in check with County Attorney Jose Rodriguez safeguarding his interests and Lee Shapleigh, Senator Shapleigh’s wife maintaining the flow of communication with the Commissioner’s Court. Millions of dollars are subject to being moved to a more friendly ally. Who the ultimate beneficiary will be is not at all clear.
The speech was calculated to solidify his allies and signal his enemies that the game is for keeps.
Meanwhile, Chase Bank and Wells Fargo Bank have weakly and, it seems, irremediably, collapsed at the affront. It is impossible to gain a hearing at either bank to engage community building efforts because they have been cowered by the Mayor. Attempts to gain the support of Wells Fargo and Chase for community efforts were thwarted by their respective Gate Keepers Gail Ray and Linda Wilson. Meanwhile, Stanley Jobe is walking around in a stupor with his tail between his legs trying to “get along” with the Mayor and completely failing to understand that he is being undermined by the Mayor through a myriad of lawsuits generated by coincident interests.
Indeed, the State of the City speech was a masterful work of manipulation. It assured the reelection of the Mayor, cowered the banks, snowed the business community, deflected attention from the BHI scam and diverted millions from the City’s children. Meanwhile, the leaders of the local Chambers of Commerce and other taxing entities were running around praising the Vision and Kissing the Ring of the Mayor who would be King.