El Paso

Two Old White Guys And The Latino Candidate For Mayor

At least two mayoral candidates have made being a Latino part of the debate over who should be the next mayor of El Paso. The argument is that in a city predominantly Hispanic should be represented by a Latino mayor. In her campaign website, accessed on October 17, Veronica Carbajal makes the case that she wants “to become the first Latina mayor of El Paso.” Because Spanish makes the distinction in gender, Carbajal is correct in arguing that she would become the first Latina (female) mayor of El Paso. However, there have been previous Hispanic mayors of El Paso.

On June 11, 2020, The Hill published an article by Tal Axelrod announcing that the Latino Victory Fund was endorsing Carlos Gallinar for mayor. Latino Victory Fund was founded by actor Eva Longoria. The Hill article said that Gallinar “would be the city’s first Hispanic mayor in nearly 20 years.”

The Latino Victory Fund also released a press release on June 11, 2020 announcing the endorsement of seven state and local Democratic candidates in “battleground Texas.” The release by Tomas Klossterman stated that “Carlos Gallinar is running to be the first Latino mayor of El Paso in over twenty years.”

Readers can draw a direct line between the press release and The Hill article. This is how narratives are created in elections.

Both Carbajal and Gallinar are using ethnicity is a qualifier for being the next mayor of El Paso.

There are six candidates running for mayor of El Paso this election cycle. Of the six, Carbajal and Gallinar have made their ethnicity part of the argument for being elected. The other Hispanics in the race, Oscar Leeser and Dino Martinez have not.

Does Race Matter In The Election

In 2016 there was a debate over whether the Latino vote would make a statement in the election.

According to U.S. Census data, Latinos continue to have the lowest voting rates among voters. Less than 50% of Latinos voted in 1980. In 1992, almost 52% of Latinos turned out to vote. However, in 1996, Latinos dropped to 44% of those who voted. It has remained below 50% since then. In 2016, 47.6% of eligible Latinos cast a vote.

Latinos have consistently underrepresented themselves in elections since 1980.

A 2015 American Journal of Political Science study by Bernard L. Fraga found that the race or ethnicity of the candidate does not seem to factor in the turnout of the Latino electorate, even in a community with a high rate of Hispanic voters, like El Paso. On the contrary, Fraga’s research suggested that “in the absence of an Hispanic candidate, the general-election turnout for Hispanic voters is 6.4 percentage points higher in a voting district where Hispanic people make up 40 percent of the voting-age population. [1]

Latinos “comprise nearly one-third of residents in America’s 15 largest cities,” according to other researchers who were studying whether the ethnicity of a political candidate has any affect on Latino and other minority voters. According to the study comparing policy versus race as driving factors, “candidates’ efforts to secure ethnic group endorsements in local elections reflect the expectation that signals they communicate will translate into greater support on Election Day.” [2]

Both Carbajal and Gallinar have both championed their ethnicity and endorsements from Latino groups and Latino leaders.

The study investigating whether voters vote spatially (policy views) or racially looked at two studies to separate the spatial versus the racial motivation for casting a vote among minorities. In the first study the researches showed “that ideology strongly influences voters’ choices in a multiethnic local election.” The combined study concluded “that instead of helping voters to identify candidates who share policy views, the endorsements triggered identity-based responses among Latinos.” [2]

It found that Latino candidates who receive endorsements from Latino groups increases support for them from the Latino community. However, the study also suggests that Latinos seeking Latino endorsements may lead some White voters, who view Latinos negatively, to discard their similar policy agenda and, instead, cast a vote for another candidate. [2]

The researchers concluded that Latinos supported by Latino groups induced voters to vote for the candidate, “irrespective of whether such candidates share policy views.” [2]

Appling the results of the study to El Paso, the study suggests that El Paso voters may be influenced by Latino endorsements over their ethnicity, but not their ethnicity.

Two Old White Guys

The top four contenders for the mayoral race are Veronica Carbajal, Carlos Gallinar, Oscar Leeser and Dee Margo, the incumbent. Both Carbajal and Gallinar have used their ethnicity for attracting voters during this election cycle. Leeser and Martinez, on the other hand, have not.

Carbajal and Gallinar are using the Latino label leaving Leeser and Margo as the “two old White guys”.

The “two old White guys” is the undercurrent narrative about the race. It is designed to weaken Oscar Leeser by erroneously portraying him as not being Latino.

The Whisper Campaign

The narrative of “two old White guys” is part of the informal narrative behind the mayoral race.

Jaime Abeytia, who has a long criminal history, can best be described as a political “dirty trickster”. Roger Stone, self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who was recently pardoned by Donald Trump for impeding Congress, is best known for the dirty political tricks he used for elections. From there the term “dirty trickster” moniker has been applied to political provocateurs who are used for political subterfuge, including in messaging that the candidates will not publicly participate in but want delivered to the voters, nonetheless.

A whisper campaign is the calculated release of damaging information to influence the electorate. The ones benefiting from whisper campaigns like to remain anonymous. Because anonymity has become harder in the digital age, political provocateurs use individuals like Abeytia to reach reporters and news producers in hopes of influencing their reporting.

A whisper campaign is the poor version of Dark Money political subterfuge.

The narrative by the Latino Victory Fund press release and amplified by The Hill, advocating that Gallinar would be the first Latino in decades is an example of a whisper campaign cementing itself into the election debate.

On October 1, 2019, Abeytia published on his blog that the mayoral election was a “binary choice between two old white guys,” naming the incumbent Dee Margo and Oscar Leeser. In his post Abeytia set the tone around Carlos Gallinar being the answer to “two old White guys.”

Oscar Leeser Born In Chihuahua

The narrative that Oscar Leeser is not Hispanic is the whisper campaign. Publicly, Leeser has not addressed this. Multiple requests from El Paso Politics for comment from Leeser have remained unanswered.

However, the lack of his Latino credentials were addressed by a recent mailout to voters by Oscar Leeser. The mailout, Hi! I’m Oscar addresses his Latino heritage right at the start with, “my family emigrated from Mexico to El Paso.”

Oscar Leeser mailout, October 2020

In his mailout, Leeser goes into detail about his difficult childhood because of his lack of English proficiency and poor background, again bringing the narrative back to his Latino heritage.

From his mailout it appears that the Leeser campaign felt it necessary to address the whisper campaign of “two old white guys”.

The Egregious Narrative

To understand how Abeytia’s post is a whisper campaign instead of an honest assessment it is important to understand the context of the post. The post was published shortly before Carlos Gallinar officially announced his candidacy a few days later. Abeytia was setting the tone for Gallinar’s candidacy.

The Gallinar campaign understands that they are facing a tough election because of the number of opponents. Gallinar, like the other candidates, understand that the mayoral race is about making it to the top two finishers. However, Leeser and Margo stand in the way. Thus, the reason for turning the race into “two old White guys”.

But, the Abeytia whisper campaign goes further than his blog post. Abeytia has sent at least one text message alluding again to the “white guys calling the shots as mayor for long enough.” [4]

Copy of text message by Jaime Abeytia as provided by the service provider.

To understand how Jaime Abeytia fits into the whisper campaign it is important to understand the connection to Gallinar. Carlos Gallinar is endorsed by Veronica Escobar, the congresswoman for El Paso.

Susie Byrd, Jaime Abeytia and Veronica Escobar, Facebook post screen capture, August 12, 2009

Jaime Abeytia and Veronica Escobar have a long history of working together on campaigns.

In today’s highly charged political climate around race it serves Gallinar to meld his campaign not only around the idea that he is the only Democrat in the race but the only Hispanic as well. The Hispanic label is important to Gallinar to help him make the runoff. To do so, he needs to push Leeser out of the way.

In a two-way race against Dee Margo, Gallinar would have the advantage in the runoff.

What makes Abeytia whisper campaign egregious is that Abeytia, who “always wanted to be the first Hispanic president,” knows full well that Oscar Leeser is Hispanic.

Jaime Abeytia wants to be president, The Arizona Republic, March 27, 1992

The fact that Leeser is Latino is the reason that a whisper campaign needed to be created to give Carlos Gallinar a shot at finishing second in the race to force a runoff against the incumbent, Dee Margo.

Do Voters Care

El Paso Politics submitted requests for comments to the Carlos Gallinar and Veronica Carbajal campaigns. As of the time the article was published, we have not received a response. If a response arrives, we will update the article.

As the racial versus spatial study suggested, Hispanic voters are more influenced by Hispanic endorsements than the ethnicity of the candidate.

The El Paso Politics asked Mirna Acosta, who is active in the city’s politics and a former precinct chair, what her thoughts are about the whisper campaign about whether Leeser is Latino, or not.

Acosta told us that “Oscar Leeser’s story is the same as that of so many immigrants that have come to El Paso in the pursuit of the American dream.” Acosta added, “When he [Leeser] arrived in El Paso his language was Spanish and he identified as Mexicano.” Acosta continued, “He [Leeser] certainly fits the description of being a Latino.” [3]

Mirna Acosta, who says she voted for Leeser, concluded, “other candidates are wanting to clothe themselves as being Latino and they look down on Oscar for claiming he is a Latino.” [3]

Footnotes:

  1. Lauren Leatherby, “The role of race in voter turnout,” Journalist’s Resource, Harvard Kennedy School, Shorenstein Center, November 6, 2016.
  2. Cheryl Boudreau, Christopher S. Elmendorf, Scott A. MacKenzie, “Racial or Spatial Voting? The Effects of Candidate Ethnicity and Ethnic Group Endorsements in Local Elections,” American Journal of Political Science Volume 63, Issue 1, January 2019.
  3. Text message response to author’s question on October 18, 2020.
  4. Copy of text message from Jaime Abeytia to unidentified individual on October 1, 2020 provided by service provider.

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