Runoff in the race for Laredo’s new mayor – 24/7 bi-national leadership

Former city health department, incumbent city councilor to face off in runoff election on December 17th

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) – Outgoing Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz says he has been “humbled” to serve in a highly dedicated and bi-national position for the past eight years, during which he has often traveled south of the border to get around to meet with his Mexican colleagues to represent this city, which is an important trade corridor for the United States.

“I felt it was a very important role. And I did that for eight years. And so I’m very humbled and very grateful for the honor that has been bestowed upon me by the voters here,” Saenz told Border Report on Tuesday.

City law prevents Saenz from running for a third term.

The race to succeed Saenz drew 10 candidates in the Nov. 8 general election, and a runoff will now be held next month to choose the next mayor of Laredo, Texas.

On Wednesday, Laredo City Council held a special session to collect Election Day votes.

Mercurio Martinez III, Councilor of Laredo, and Dr. Victor Treviño, former Laredo health official, received the top two votes and will advance to the Dec. 17 runoff, Laredo spokeswoman Noraida Negron told Border Report Thursday.

Martinez received 9,081 votes, or 21.78%; and Treviño received 8,757, or 21.01%, she said.

Early voting begins Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 13, Negron said.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz is barred from running for a third term for the south Texas city. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Saenz told Border Report he’s looking forward to some time off and the opportunity to rest.

“My second term that’s enough, believe me,” joked Saenz. “It’s really a 24/7 job and you have this responsibility and things come up almost every day. If it’s not one, it’s the other.”

During his tenure, this south Texas border town saw a surge in migrants crossing from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which at times turned the national spotlight on them.

They could also hear gunfire from across the Rio Grande and mass fighting between rival Mexican drug cartels over the years as they struggled for control of the lucrative human and drug trade.

A CBP officer and canine unit patrol the Gateway International Bridge in Laredo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

From fiscal years 2020 to 2021, encounters with migrants in the Laredo sector of the Border Patrol increased a whopping 118% from 51,425 to 112,241, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Most recently, Saenz sponsored a binational river park, a multi-million dollar ecological project involving the twin cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. To do so, he traveled to Washington, DC, and was part of a delegation that met with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and also traveled to Mexico City, where he met with top officials of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“I think that’s the beauty of being mayor, you meet so many good people,” said Saenz. “So many topics addressed. And it’s really interesting.”

An artist’s rendering of what the proposed binational river project between Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico will look like. (Photo courtesy of Overland Partner Architects in collaboration with Able City.)

Mark Kaswan, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, told Border Report that most mayors who serve in inner cities fail to recognize the binational responsibilities that border mayors have.

“It’s a really interesting thing, because in a way, a mayor of a border town has foreign policy responsibilities that would be very unusual for someone at that level. Usually when we think of foreign policy, it’s something that’s not just federal, it’s really limited to the executive branch,” said Kaswan, who is based on the university’s Brownsville campus across the border from Matamoros, Mexico.

“Having someone at the relatively low level of a mayor committed to what can really only be described as foreign policy is very special for border communities,” Kaswan said.

Republican presidential candidate and business mogul Donald Trump shakes hands with Laredo City Manager Jesus Olivares (right) and Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz (left) as he exits his plane during a trip to the border July 23, 2015 in Laredo, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz chairs a press conference at City Hall on March 22, 2022. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Aside from serving as US dignitaries south of the border, Kaswan says they are also advisers to Washington, DC, and federal agencies responsible for setting border policy, like the Department of Homeland Security.

Saenz, who was an oil and gas lawyer for 30 years before taking up an office at City Hall, says he plans to travel for the time being. And he told Border Report that he hopes the votes will be caught and his successor sworn into office before Christmas.