Javier Villalobos was sworn in on Monday as mayor of McAllen, Texas, a city located about 13 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
The victory was heard around the country, as Americans and pundits alike took note of a majority-Hispanic town voting in a Republican (the office itself is technically nonpartisan, however). It was a close race, as Mayor Villalobos will tell you, but his message was simple: fiscal conservatism.
We spoke with Villalobos last week to hear from him about why he thinks he won and what he has planned for McAllen. “Surprised is an understatement,” the mayor told us of the national attention.
Villalobos is the son of migrant workers who didn’t have much of an education, but instilled in their kids the value of one. Villalobos’s brother was the first in their family to graduate high school and then college, in which Villalobos himself followed and then went on to law school as well.
The Hispanic community is pretty conservative, the mayor told us, but he thinks many have voted Democrat possibly because generations of their family did. “But things have been shifting little by little and our eyes are being opened, whether it’s been through more education or more home and business ownership.”
“They’re not afraid any longer to say, I’m different, I’m a Republican.”
Throughout the campaign, Villalobos stuck to the principles of conservatism, specifically in regards to spending and budgeting. “People want to make sure we don’t misspend their money. Whatever they’re paying, that should be the minimum,” he said. “We’re dealing with water, sewer, streets, drainage, police and fire protection — those are the main issues,” Villalobos told us.
As he wraps up his first week in office, the mayor said there isn’t any “first thing” to do, but rather a lot of things to keep his city thriving. “We have a population of about 150,000, we have convention centers, we have great facilities, and we are the 7th safest city in the country — not the state — the country. We are doing well, but we can do better.”
In terms of the politics of his victory, Villalobos says the most important thing any politician can do is, again, very simple: be inclusive. “You’ve got to be inclusive, regardless of political affiliation. We all have different opinions, but accepting people is very important.” And in his experience, “people don’t care about your party affiliation if you are good to them.”
“Be human, be kind — it’s amazing what that will do.”