McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Outgoing Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz says he was “humbled” to serve for the past eight years in what was a very involved and binational position that often had him traveling south of the border to meet with his Mexican counterparts to represent this city that is a major trade corridor for the United States.
“I considered it a very important role. And I did eight years of that. And so I’m very humbled and very appreciative of the honor that was bestowed on me by the electorate here,” Saenz told Border Report on Tuesday.
The city charter prevents Saenz from running for a third term.
The race to replace Saenz drew 10 candidates during the Nov. 8 general election, and now a runoff election will be held next month to decide the next mayor of Laredo, Texas.
On Wednesday, the Laredo City Council held a special meeting where they canvassed the votes from Election Day.
Laredo Councilman Mercurio Martinez III, and former Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño received the top two votes and will advance to the Dec. 17 runoff, Laredo spokeswoman Noraida Negron told Border Report on Thursday.
Martinez received 9,081 votes, or 21.78%; and Treviño received 8,757 or 21.01%, she said.
Early voting will begin Nov. 30 and run through Dec. 13, Negron said.
Saenz told Border Report he welcomes some time off and the chance to rest.
“My second term, that’s enough believe me,” Saenz joked. “It truly is a 24/7 job and you’ve got that responsibility and things do come up almost every day. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
During his tenure, this South Texas border city saw an uptick in migrants crossing from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, bringing at times the national spotlight down on them.
They also could hear gunshots from across the Rio Grande and mass fighting among rival Mexican drug cartels over the years as they scrambled for control of the lucrative human trafficking and drug trade.
From Fiscal Year 2020 to 2021, migrant encounters in the Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector increased a whopping 118% from 51,425 to 112,241, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
Most recently, Saenz has been promoting a binational river park, a multi-million-dollar ecological project involving both sister cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. For that, he has traveled to Washington, D.C., and was part of a delegation that met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and also traveled to Mexico City and met with top officials for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“I think that’s the beauty of becoming mayor, you meet so many good people,” Saenz said. “Touched on so many topics. And it’s really interesting.”
Mark Kaswan, a political science associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley told Border Report that most mayors who serve in interior cities don’t realize the binational responsibilities that border mayors have.
“It’s a really interesting thing because in some ways a border-city mayor has responsibilities in foreign policy that would be very unusual for anyone at that level. Usually, when we think about foreign policy, it’s something that’s not only at the federal level, but really restricted to the executive branch,” said Kaswan, who is based at the university’s Brownsville campus, on the border across from Matamoros, Mexico.
“So to have someone at the relatively low level of a mayor who’s engaging in what can only really be described as foreign policy is something very unique to border communities,” Kaswan said.
In addition to serving as a U.S. dignitary south of the border, Kaswan says they also are advisers to Washington, D.C., and federal agencies responsible for setting border policies, like the Department of Homeland Security.
Saenz, who was a lawyer for 30 years specializing in oil and gas prior to taking up an office at City Hall, says he plans to travel for the time being. And he told Border Report that hopes the votes will be canvassed and his successor sworn into office before Christmas.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com