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Style is Main Difference Between Tijuana’s Mayoral Candidates

Audio

Aired 6/28/10

Tijuana voters will choose a new mayor this July 4th. One of the front-runners is a San Diego native. Central themes of the campaigns include border wait times and San Diego and Tijuana’s $6 billion shared regional economy.

Tijuana voters will choose a new mayor this July 4th. One of the front-runners is a San Diego native. Central themes of the campaigns include border wait times and San Diego and Tijuana’s $6 billion shared regional economy.

A group of young campaign volunteers, wearing green t-shirts modeled after Mexico's World Cup Soccer jersey, chanted outside a forum recently.

They were rooting for Carlos Bustamante, the 65-year-old candidate for the PRI party. "I’m very energetic and very healthy and, well, if it takes three years of my life, I think I owe it to Tijuana."

Bustamante, who was born in National City, and has made his fortune in Tijuana, "I am upset at the state of the city. I’ve been here all my life, and I have never seen it like that. Economically, morally and security-wise as bad as it is."

Whether Tijuana is at an all time low is debatable. The number of drug cartel killings has dropped since it hit an all time high in 2008. Key assassins are now behind bars. The city has mounted an unprecedented effort to root out police corruption.

Nonetheless, public security remains one of this election’s top issues. So does the city’s slumping economy.

Mexico has suffered one of the worst economic crises in its history. There are many reasons why -- the global financial meltdown chief among them.

Unemployment in Tijuana is between 9 and 11 percent, depending on who you talk to.

Tourism has tanked. Tens of thousands of California tourists have stopped visiting. Some are scared and some are tightening their belts.

Bustamante got his business degree from the University of San Diego. His family is a fixture on Tijuana's business community. They have their hands in a little bit of everything. "Maquiladoras, industrial parks, hotels and tourism. I know how it works. And I know why it isn’t working," he insists.

Bustamante says key to his plan to restore Tijuana’s prosperity is improving the city’s relationship with San Diego. He wants to speed up border crossings, suspend Mexico’s southbound inspections that cause traffic jams to get into Tijuana, and develop relationships with San Diego business people. "It is a whole spectrum of economic activity we can enjoy. We had it. Why can’t we have it again?"

Across town, at a campaign rally for the other leading candidate, Carlos Torres, there’s no nostalgia. The mood is very much in the present.

Carlos Torres, the candidate from the incumbent PAN party, rented out the city’s auditorium to show Mexico’s World Cup game on a giant screen. He says the event represents what he'd bring to Tijuana, "It generates an environment of trust and participation. That’s what we want. A new generation is coming, and a new mentality."

The 34 year-old was born the year the PRI’s Bustamante began his political career. Torres got his own start at age 13, as head of his party’s youth movement. He was President Felipe Calderon’s personal secretary during Calderon’s campaign. Torres just finished a term as a federal congressman.

Like Bustamante, the economy and public security are among Torres’ top concerns. He touts medical tourism from California as one strategy to generate revenue. He also looks south to Medellin, Colombia for inspiration. "They’ve done an amazing job transforming the city. We propose something similar in Tijuana, to go to the most dangerous neighborhoods and transform them through culture, sports and health centers," says Torres.

This election has not generated as much interest as Tijuana’s mayoral and gubernatorial elections over the last six years. Those elections made international headlines because of the flamboyant billionaire candidate, Jorge Hank Rhon. Rhon drinks tequila spiked with the penises of various animals and allegations of drug trafficking swirl around him. There were rumors his wife would run for mayor this year. But she didn’t.

Victor Espinoza, who’s a political scientist at Tijuana’s Colegio de la Fontera Norte, says that would have spiced up the election. He says Bustamante and Torres have failed to get much attention because they are basically run of the mill candidates and their ideas don’t differ much. "There’s not texture, there’s not gossip about their private lives. How boring, no? I also think people are more concerned with resolving their own day-to-day economic situations than in politics."

On the street in downtown Tijuana, Fabiola Ortiz struggled to name the candidates and asked her 8 year-old son for help. "Ahhhh, how embarrassing. I don’t remember the other. I can’t remember." She says whether she’ll vote depends if she gets out of work early.

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