Betty Flores

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Elizabeth Garcia "Betty" Flores
Mayor of Laredo, Webb County, Texas, USA
In office
1998–2006
Preceded by Saul N. Ramirez, Jr. (1990-1998)
Succeeded by Raul G. Salinas (elected 2006)
Personal details
Born (1944-12-28) December 28, 1944 (age 72)
Laredo, Texas
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Antonio "Toño" Flores, Sr. (married 1962)
Children

Christina Flores

Antonio Flores, Jr. (deceased)
Parents

Eloy Garcia, Sr. (deceased)

Bonnie Lopez Garcia (deceased)
Occupation Businesswoman

(1) Mayor Flores greatest accomplishment was the building of the first commercial international bridge "The World Trade Bridge" which added one more generating revenue to the tax base of the citizens of Laredo, effectively keeping their property tax low. She was also instrumental in building a multi use entertainment arena and helped bring a CHL Hockey Laredo Bucks hockey team to her city. The team announced on May 1, 2012, that it is ceasing operations because of declining attendance and resulting financial losses. It had very successful seasons and won the CHL equivalent of the Stanley Cup several years in a row.

(2) Flores was instrumental in the establishment of the Laredo Energy Arena, formerly known as the Laredo Entertainment Center.

(3) Flores is thus far the first woman in history to have served as mayor of Laredo and the first Hispanic woman to serve as mayor of a major city in the United States.

Elizabeth Garcia Flores, better known as Betty Flores (born December 28, 1944), is a businesswoman who was the first female mayor of Laredo, Texas. She served a brief unexpired mayoral term followed by two four-year terms from 1998-2006. She was the driving force behind the building of the World Trade Bridge, which brought relief to her community after an enormous increase in truck traffic after the implementation of NAFTA. It was the only promise she made to the people of Laredo, declaring that IH35 within the city limits would once more belong to the people of Laredo. After securing the diplomatic notes and financing for the bridge and its installations she worked with her Mexican counterpart to open the bridge on time and on budget. At one time she was forced to tell the Mexican government of Tampaluipas that all truck traffic would be diverted to the Columbia Bridge in the State of Nuevo León (also a bridge that belongs to the city) if the project was not completed and opened on time. She had the full support of the customs and immigration agents in Laredo who were experiencing high level of unsafe conditions due to the small area of the bridges downtown. She is, however, best remembered for bringing a multi-purpose arena to the people of Laredo, the Laredo Entertainment Center, renamed Laredo Energy Arena, the home of the Laredo Bucks hockey team. Though she is a Democrat, she displayed a picture of herself with U.S. President George W. Bush, who visited Laredo two weeks before Flores left office. She was succeeded by Raul G. Salinas, another Democrat who was elected on June 17, 2006. All Texas mayors and city council members are elected on nonpartisan ballots though most have party preferences or have declared party allegiance by voting in a primary or a runoff election.

Early years[edit]

Flores was born in Laredo to Eloy Garcia, Sr. (1923–1998), a businessman, and the former Bonnie Lopez (1919–2012), originally a beautician.[1] Betty Flores was reared in the "Heights" neighborhood of mid Laredo. One of her neighbors was Mayor J. C. "Pepe" Martin, Jr., who served from 1954 to 1978, whom she says taught her loyalty from a young age. Her father was for many years a member of the elected Laredo Community College board of trustees and a philanthropist who gave generously to the institution, which named a building after him. Eloy Garcia gave Betty her first dollar when she was a little girl and her first campaign check when she decided to run for mayor. He lived barely long enough to see her elected. He went to cast his vote in an ambulance refusing to vote at the hospital. Eloy and Bonnie Garcia were in partnership with their children in the E. G. Ranch Partnership. Her mother donated the land for what became the Bonnie L. Garcia Elementary School in the United Independent School District in Laredo.[1]

In 1962, Betty Garcia married Antonio "Toño" Flores, a son of the late Daniel Flores, Sr., and Simona Alicia Flores. His older brother, Dan Flores, Jr. (c. 1937-2016), was a United States Army second lieutenant who served two tours in the Vietnam War and thereafter was named the chief financial officer at Laredo Community College, from which he retired in 2009 under the presidency of Juan L. Maldonado.[2]

Toño and Betty Flores resided for many years in South Laredo and later moved to the then new neighborhood of Del Mar where they still maintain their residence. Their son, Antonio Flores, Jr., was killed by a drunk driver after stopping to help a friend in need. Their daughter, Cristina, is the former wife of Juan Guevara; their grandson is Antonio Flores Guevara. Betty Flores has five siblings: Eloy Garcia, Jr., Elsa Bonnie Jasso, Efrain Garcia, Edna Garcia, and Edgar Garcia.[1]

Flores did not graduate with her class of Martin High School because she left the school after being told she could not longer hold any position in school clubs after her marriage. She returned and finished her pending two credits at Nixon High School. She worked for the Union National Bank and then the Laredo National Bank (since Compass Bank), having begun as a secretary. She eventually became the first woman senior vice president of the bank and was affiliated with the institution for twenty-eight years. "I've worked with men all my life. I was always the only woman in the room. I never focused on that when I was campaigning," she said in a farewell interview with Julie Daffern of her hometown newspaper, the Laredo Morning Times.

Running for mayor[edit]

Flores announced that she would run for mayor in the fall of 1997, after the incumbent, Saul N. Ramirez, Jr., resigned to join the Clinton administration and later becoming the deputy to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo in Washington, D.C. Flores won the special election runoff in the winter of 1998. Then she ran for a full term in May 1998. She defeated an outgoing councilman, Alfonso I. "Poncho" Casso, who reappeared in 2012 to seek a position on the Webb County Commission and a previous city attorney, Fausto Sosa. In 2002, she was easily reelected to a second full term when she defeated a former city councilman, Felipe Cardenas, who had been recalled from office several years earlier, as permitted under the Laredo municipal charter.

Flores was term-limited by the Laredo city charter, which was drafted during the administration of one of her predecessors, Aldo Tatangelo who served for twelve years. She was succeeded by Raul Salinas, but she and six of the sitting eight council members endorsed Salinas' opponent, outgoing city council member John Clifford Galo (born 1958), who in 2012 reentered politics to contest successfully as a Democrat a seat on the Webb County Commissioner's Court.

As mayor, Flores gained national recognition of her city. She was the chairman of the "Cities and Border Task Force" of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. She once ran for the presidency of the conference but was defeated by another woman.

She was also in office when unemployment in the border city began to drop significantly after years of double-digit jobless figures. Laredo gained a reputation as a mecca for entrepreneurs and small businesses and grew rapidly in population. "Laredo is now a city that has had the resiliency to work with new investment and to understand new growth," Flores said.

Laredo Energy Arena[edit]

Flores affectionately calls the LEA, located off the Bob Bullock Loop, "the house that Laredo built." Ray Keck, president of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, said that the LEA clearly tops the list of Flores' accomplishments because she was "the driving force behind that." Keck also noted that Flores worked to keep the Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra together. Then City Manager Larry Dovalina (born 1947) said that when the LEC opened, "people looked at Laredo in a different light."

Flores recalled how the Bucks came to Laredo to take advantage of the new ice center. "I got that now infamous phone call from Glenn Hart and met Julian "Kiki" DeAyala. It took me just a little bit longer to realize how great this LEC would be for Laredo. These two men and their partners will forever hold a special place in my heart." She also lauded the achievements of the Bucks' former coach Terry Ruskowski, who in 2007 was given a "lifetime" contract but resigned in 2011 after several disappointing seasons.

The Bucks management announced on May 1, 2012, that the team is ceasing operations immediately because of declining attendance and revenue reversals.[3]

Flores' legacy[edit]

As she left the office of mayor, Flores said, "I gave some of my best years to this city. It's been a wonderful, wonderful ride. The only thing you can't take away is my love of Laredo." In addition to the entertainment complex and the improved border economy, Flores outlined a dozen accomplishments from her tenure:

  1. Initiated major airport improvements, mostly from $68 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration
  2. Inaugurated a new Laredo police headquarters, opened 16 police substations, and a new municipal court building adjacent to the police
  3. Started the secondary water source project, improved the water infrastructure, and began the city's water conservation endeavor
  4. Initiated the airport "noise abatement program"
  5. Reopened the downtown Hamilton Hotel as an affordable housing complex for the low-income elderly
  6. Worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin greenbelt restoration and preservation
  7. Filed the application process for a fifth international bridge atop the Rio Grande
  8. Started the International Fire and Law Enforcement Training Center
  9. Broke ground for El Portal, a downtown revitalization project
  10. Increased the number of parks and recreation facility, including bike trails, soccer fields, basketball courts, skateboard courts, and a year-round swimming pool
  11. Fought to remove truck inspections away from the international bridges to relieve traffic congestion
  12. Established a smoke-free Laredo, with all restaurants to enforce non-smoking policies.

Discontent with Flores' last two years as mayor[edit]

Despite these accomplishments, Flores left office in a downturn of her personal popularity. In 2005, she told Lou Dobbs, then with the Cable News Network, that virtually all of several dozen Laredoans, who have gone missing in populous and violent-prone Nuevo Laredo, across the river in Mexico, were linked in some way with the illegal drug traffic. Her accusation outraged the families of those who have missing loved ones. The missing Americans were highlighted in several 2006 episodes of Fox's America's Most Wanted, hosted by John Walsh, to highlight the problems of the Americans missing in Mexico. Flores, meanwhile, has defended her allegation of drug connections because she claims to have seen the proof in the victims' records. Nevertheless, Flores said she understood that the families are grieving and need assistance. Unfortunately for the family of the missing, they made wrong choices. The U.S. Marshall issued warrants against one of the missing girls she was accused of falsely connecting to organized crime.

Flores also angered some taxpayers who believed that municipal taxes increased too sharply during her administration. The municipal taxes were increased because property values went down so that the effective tax rate could stay the same. Many questioned the city having paid for liquor and "entertainment"( a mariachi band) for the annual Laredo Day celebration in Washington D.C., something all cities do to thank the agency employees for their hard work. Trips to Washington, D.C. were also criticised by people that who had not worked in the political arena and felt it was overkill. Others have questioned the high salaries of certain appointed city officials. Flores herself received a salary of only $18,000 annually, as the mayoralty is part-time. The salary doubled when Salinas became mayor, but the position is still part-time. Flores committed to doing this part-time job, full-time. She kept her promise during the eight plus years she served, often working late into the night especially after bad weather conditions. Flores directed the city's emergency management team during several such events.

Flores argues that the United States Border Patrol should not be required to pick up illegal aliens for deportation unless those individuals are carrying guns, drugs or involved in any known crime. "I think they should just give them a bottle of water and send them on their way," she said. "Let's face it, they are coming here to work and take jobs that no one else wants anyway."[4] Still others objected when Flores, despite her emphasis on border security, said that the Minutemen volunteers, which seek to prevent illegal crossings by referring aliens to the Border Patrol, were "not welcome" in Laredo. Salinas also criticized the Minutemen. Flores was instrumental in bringing badly needed resources to the border for security and tourist processing. The World Trade Bridge has some of the most up to date commercial processing equipment in the world today.

Though she was prominently featured, usually in a positive light, in the Laredo Morning Times, she once disputed two articles in the paper and withheld two city advertisements to make her point to newspaper executives. The LMT still named her "Laredoan of the Year". The editor found out several years later that the reporter who wrote the story as if she had been presented was not even in town at the time.

Nevertheless, Flores' accomplishments, say her admirers, speak for themselves. She has secured many awards, including "Texas Woman of the Century" from the Woman's Chamber of Commerce of Texas. Because of her emphasis on economic development, Highbeam.com dubbed her the "Margaret Thatcher of Laredo," a reference to the former British prime minister who attempted during the 1980s to turn around her country's sagging economy.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Bonnie L. Lopez obituary, Laredo Morning Times, February 18, 2012
  2. ^ "Daniel Flores, Jr.". Laredo Morning Times. April 29, 2016. Retrieved May 2, 2016. 
  3. ^ Kenny Ryan, "Goodbye, Laredo Bucks: Bucks out after 10 years in city; finances, attendance at issue", Laredo Morning Times, May 2, 2012, pp. 1, 10A
  4. ^ Laredo Morning Times, June 15, 1999, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
Preceded by
Saul N. Ramirez, Jr.
Mayor of Laredo, Texas

Elizabeth Garcia "Betty" Flores
1998–2006

Succeeded by
Raul Gonzalez Salinas