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'Workers' rock Hondo vote

Green jobs and solar roofs? In Hondo?

This month's election in small-but-growing, 9,000-population Hondo west of SA  has dramatically shifted the makeup of the city council there — and its agenda.

With a three-candidate sweep achieved under the banner of the "Real Change Campaign," volunteers and organizers from San Antonio's Southwest Workers Union helped usher in a platform hinged upon environmental and economic justice matters.

Born in Hondo (like new councilmember and SWU labor organizer Chavel Lopez), the Union is celebrating its 20-year anniversary — a milestone now enhanced by the victory in Medina County.

The local paper didn't quite catch on to what was happening (or chose to ignore it), sticking to a safer analysis piggybacking on natural voting trends. (Online, the deeply historic vote was listed right under the baseball glove donation article.)

Mirroring national trends in this year’s presidential primaries, interest in the Hondo city elections is at an all time high, according to City Secretary Yolanda Benitez. This is the first council election to be held since the city adopted a Home Rule Charter, providing council members with three-year terms of office.

Benitez said more early votes were cast in this year’s municipal elections than in any election in the city’s history. At the close of early voting Tuesday, 949 early votes had been cast at City Hall and 171 mail-in ballots had been received, which means 1,120 Hondo residents cast ballots during just the early voting period. Hondo has 3,304 registered voters and over one third, or 1,120, decided to vote early. Saturday, May 10, is the official election day.

The early vote total alone exceeds past election vote totals, with early voting and Election Day voting combined. A stunning 131 people voted in the four-hour span on Saturday, which was more than any eight-hour day in the early voting period, according to the City Secretary.

"The platform is economic development, centered around the community values. We want new jobs, clean jobs, green jobs," Lopez said.

The town is faced with losing is primary manufacturing facility this summer, a toilet company employing about 250 people.

The Change candidates plan to explore the city's business and industrial footprint to see how it may be transformed to create new opportunities, possibly in solar manufacturing. A municipal and residential solar program is also being explored by the trio.

More immediately achievable efforts by the new members will include a push to simplify the process for residents wanting to get on City Council agendas; ensuring the presence of a translator at public meetings so Spanish-speaking residents can "feel more comfortable" sharing their thoughts with the council; as well as a Living Wage Committee to help bring city employee salaries up to at least $12.21 per hour.

The town has been the focus of past campaigns to remove grain elevators that neighbors complain draw flies, rats, and unbearable dust into their yards.

"Infrastructurally, a lot of the areas have been neglected in terms of the streets, drainage, sidewalks," Lopez said.

The two other new faces on board are Lucio Torrez and Virginia Gonzales.

The three will be inspecting city budgets and salaries closely, said Lopez, who has been organizing in Hondo since the 1970's.

"The people want change. That's what all three of us want… we don't want to go in and burn the house down, but we do want to go in there and see all the contracts."

With so much progressive-minded new blood at the city's helm, Hondo will be one town to watch in the near future.

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More more info, check out the SWU blog.


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Posted by Greg Harman on 5/14/2008
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