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Jorge Hank Rhon Eyes Baja California Governor’s Seat

Former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon is currently being detained by the Mexican military as they investigate him on suspicion of illegal firearms possession and organized crime ties.

Omar Martinez

Above: Former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon is currently being detained by the Mexican military as they investigate him on suspicion of illegal firearms possession and organized crime ties.

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

(Photo: Jorge Hank Rhon, candidate for governor of the Mexican state of Baja California, talks with the media before a campaign-closing rally in northern Mexico. Omar Martinez, Frontera .)

Tijuana's former mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon, a flamboyant billionaire and gambling magnate, is running for Governor of Baja California. Hank's mayoral win three years ago pried Tijuana from the PAN party's 15-year grip. Now, all eyes are trained on Baja to see if Hank can do it again. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson has the story.

Tijuana's former Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon is a man with a bad reputation. He's been tied to drug trafficking, money laundering, and even the assassination of a local journalist. He has 20,000 exotic animals, 19 children from three wives, and a girlfriend.

Its rumored he acquired his current wife in a land deal. The criminal allegations, Hank shrugs off. His eccentricities, well -- he embraces.

It's a little after 9 one recent morning on Hank's souped-up campaign bus. Hank is egging me on to do a shot of his special blend of tequila.

Hank: Cheers.

Isackson: So, now you have to tell me what we just drank.

Hank : I put three different penises, one of a lion, one of a tiger, one of a dog.

That's right, three different penises. And there's more.

Hank: And then when I went to China, I brought the deer horns. It's got eight scorpions. It's got bear bile, a lion bone and it's got three cobras.

Hank is much more thorough and forthright about the ingredients of his tequila than the details of his political agenda. Hank says he wants to be governor so he can help the rich and the poor. He promises to end the drug war that's raged out of control in Tijuana during his term. He's short on how.

Arriving in one of the border city's poorest neighborhoods, a sea of people wearing red greets Hank as he steps down from his campaign bus.

Women push their grinning little girls forward for a kiss. Esperanza Martinez says when Hank was mayor he gave her cement to pave her dirt floor.

She says everything he promises, he'll do. He already has everything, she says, so, economically, he won't be like the others, who steal.

David Shirk directs the University of San Diego's Transborder Institute. He says Hank has a strong allure. He's a man who drives a hundred-thousand-dollar car, who lives "la vida loca", and can afford to throw barbecues for entire neighborhoods.

Shirk: Hank's like the new iPhone, right. He's successfully marketed a brand for himself that is very popular among voters and it may have very little to do with what he actually represents.

During Hank's term as Tijuana's mayor, crime soared. There was a murder a day. Spectacular shootouts between warring drug cartels raged in city streets. When Hank was elected, he promised his hand would not tremble in the face of crime. But during his administration, he said a local mayor had little power to crackdown.

Hank says as governor, he'll finally be able to fight crime.

Candidate Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan is the man charged with defending the PAN's 18-year legacy in Baja.

Many look to Baja as a bellwether. If Osuna's party loses and Hank's wins, it could mean the PRI is rising in Mexico again.

Throughout his campaign, Osuna has pounded on the issues of education, infrastructure and environment. At a recent debate, he tried to take Hank to task.

Osuna says someone who said his hand wouldn't tremble has left Tijuana residents shaking. He says people in Tijuana are scared…scared that bad government will repeat itself.

For his part, Hank would not engage. He stared off in space during much of the debate. Before one rebuttal, Hank announced he hadn't listened to much of what Osuna had said.

Possibly, Hank was daydreaming about his new digs.

Hank's so confident he's going win the election, he's already bought and demolished a landmark Chinese restaurant in Baja's state capitol to make way for his new governor's mansion.

From Tijuana, Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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