On May 3, 2003, Ray Caballero lost his reelection campaign to Joe Wardy, 23.9% to 58.35%, making Caballero a one-term mayor. Caballero lost largely on the TIF district fiasco although the 11.8% tax increase and his so-called water emergency were contributing factors. Caballero had vacillated over running for reelection publicly, but many believed he would run again to “complete the work” he had begun – the BHI.
In late 2003, the author was provided a transcript of the speech Caballero delivered to a small group of supporters announcing his intention to run again.
Caballero started his speech by saying, “at least I said no thinking community would allow someone to take the mountain down and say nothing about it.” Caballero continued, generations later as he sits “six feet under or wherever blowing in the wind someplace, you know feeding – fertilizing our trees,” he would be remembered for his vision. Caballero added that he is a “perverse animal” that has somehow “rigged it [the election] so that I’m a winner either way.” Caballero told his supporters that the community only had two choices, either the community is “stuck” with him for another two years or he gets his life back.
Caballero then told his supporters that then-city representatives Anthony Cobos and Luis Sariñana were partly to blame for the administration’s inability to fulfill Caballero’s promises. Cobos and Sariñana were put on council “by a few businesspeople in order to disrupt, oppose and even create havoc at city hall,” alleged Caballero. Cobos and Sariñana consistently opposed Caballero on the TIF districts because of the threat of eminent domain.
Caballero added that although he was a “flawed candidate,” El Paso voters should nonetheless embrace his vision for El Paso. The individual who provided the transcript of the speech to the author did so on the condition of anonymity. They told the author it was prompted by an email Caballero sent to his closest supporters after losing to Wardy.
In the email, Caballero listed 36 bullet points of those who opposed his vision. The “half-a-loaf-town” list included “business, his own actions, the local media including the newspaper, Channel 7 and 4, websites, banks, chambers of commerce, loan shops, developers, past mayors, the Republican Party, builders, restaurant and business associations, Jobe Concrete, two lawyers, Asarco, El Pasoans, fire fighters, several city representatives, several candidates and even El Paso smokers.” El Paso had just enacted a public smoking ban spearheaded by Larry Medina.
Notably absent on the Caballero list of the news media that opposed his reelection campaign was KTSM Channel 9. Sito Negron had been appointed by KTSM to oversee the news. Negron’s support of Caballero’s administration and loathing for business appears to have influenced KTSM’s coverage of the 2003 mayoral election.
The names on Caballero’s list were dubbed an “enemies list” by those on it. Caballero wrote in the email that he was not “going away anytime soon.” The Caballero email was published by the El Paso, Inc. in May 2003.
Soon after the list was published, Sito Negron called the author. Negron’s first words were “how does it feel to be blacklisted in El Paso?” Among those on Caballero’s enemies list was “websites,” of which there were three websites that consistently challenged the Caballero administration over policy. They were the El Paso Metro, the El Paso Tribune and the online bulletin board, the El Paso Forum. All were owned by the author.
The other political websites of the time, Stanton Street and Newspaper Tree had one common theme – support for the Caballero “vision” and Sito Negron. One of Negron’s first jobs, if not the first, outside of the news media was working for Jose Rodriguez at the state. Negron, as a political reporter, covered Rodriguez for many years at different publications, including Stanton Street, the Newspaper Tree and El Paso Inc.
It should be noted that this was not the only time Caballero was accused of keeping a “blacklist” of political opponents. In 2002, a recall petition against then city representative-Larry Medina was started by elderly, mostly Latino residents targeted by gentrification to make way for the BHI. As recall organizers were collecting signatures, rumors of Caballero keeping a blacklist of those who signed the petition or were involved in it began to surface. “I was threatened by Representative Medina,” and that Medina “was going to go after people who collected signature or have signed petitions,” were told to the author at the time on the condition of anonymity. Individuals expressed fear of speaking out and refused to be named. A teacher said that they were told “that anyone who signs the petition can forget” board appointments. (Author’s contemporaneous notes of interviewees in 2002 who agreed to speak to the author if their name was not published).
Martín Paredes extensively covered city politics from 2001 through mid-2005 for the online publications: El Paso Metro and the El Paso Tribune. Unless specifically noted, the information presented in this article comes from contemporaneous notes taken by the author at the time of the events depicted here.