Oscar Leeser

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Oscar Leeser
50th and 52nd Mayor of El Paso
Assumed office
January 5, 2021
Preceded byDee Margo
In office
June 24, 2013 – June 26, 2017
Preceded byJohn Cook
Succeeded byDee Margo
Personal details
Born (1958-05-07) May 7, 1958 (age 65)
Chihuahua, Mexico
Political partyDemocratic
OccupationAutomobile dealership owner

Oscar Leeser (born May 7, 1958) is an American politician who has served as the 52nd mayor of El Paso, Texas since 2021. A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the 50th mayor from 2013 to 2017.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Oscar Leeser was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. In 1967. At the age of 9, he arrived in El Paso along with his six siblings.[3] He graduated from Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas. Leeser worked alongside his father Arthur Leeser for 31 years at the Hyundai dealership in El Paso.[4] Leeser's mother, Rhoberta was well known for saying "My Oscar, he's such a good boy" in the dealership's commercials.[5]

Religion[edit]

Leeser is Jewish. His family is buried at Temple Mount Sinai Cemetery.[4]

Career[edit]

Business and philanthropy[edit]

Following graduation from high school, Leeser began his career in the auto industry, working with several dealerships in El Paso for over three decades. Leeser was given a career opportunity in 2001, when he became president and dealer operator of Hyundai of El Paso. He had turned a local store that was only selling 15 cars a month into the number one overall dealer in El Paso. His store also became the number one Hyundai dealer in the South Central Region and ninth in the United States for Hyundai dealers.[6]

Mayor of El Paso[edit]

Leeser first served as mayor of El Paso from 2013 to 2017, and then took a break from public life due to health issues.[7] He ran for office again in 2020, and assumed office on January 5, 2021.[8]

2013 election[edit]

Leeser ran against then-city councilmember Steve Ortega, but initially failed to garner enough votes to meet the 50% voting threshold. There was a runoff election where Leeser won 74% of the votes, defeating Ortega. He assumed office on June 23, 2013.[9]

2020 election[edit]

Leeser was a candidate for mayor again in the 2020 election. He received the largest share of the vote in the November general election, and was elected to a second term after defeating Dee Margo in the December runoff election.[10]

Mayoral Powers[edit]

El Paso officially utilizes a council-manager government type which is affiliated with weaker ceremonial mayors with few to no formal powers differentiating them from city council members.[11][12] However, El Paso's charter bestows the mayor with several privileges associated with mayor-council and strong mayor systems.[13][14] Accordingly, the mayor has the ability to veto any legislation put forward by the city council with the exception of measures seeking to remove the city manager or city attorney.[13][15] Beyond this power, Leeser possesses duties commonly held by mayors of both types those being the responsibility to act on the behalf of the city when dealing with the state and federal government, the ability to make yearly state of the city addresses, and break tie votes.[13][15] Additionally, the mayor is able to appoint individuals to certain positions however, appointments to key posts, such as chief of police, are instead made by the city manager.[15][16]

Veto of Certificate of Obligation[edit]

In August 2021, Leeser vetoed a $96 million certificate of obligation bill passed 6-2 by the El Paso city council. Leeser cited fiscal responsibility and the will of the people as reasons for vetoing the measure. In response, city council member Cassandra Hernandez refuted Leeser's claim that it was the will of the people, citing the need for infrastructure repair. El Paso County, Texas judge Ricardo Samaniego, supported Leeser's veto by calling it a "sound decision". Funds from the certificate of obligation would have gone towards parks, the El Paso Zoo, and the Mexican American Cultural Center.[17]

Curfew[edit]

In August 2023, Leeser elected to perpetuate an 11 p.m. curfew for adolescents in public locations that has existed in El Paso in some capacity since 1991.[18] This was accomplished by vetoing the unanimous decision of the city council to terminate the ordinance.[19] The proposal to eliminate the curfew ordinance was intended to align the city with House Bill 1819, a piece of state legislation that came into effect less than a month later on September 1, 2023, that abolished cities' and counties' ability to impose current or implement new curfews on their populace.[18][20] Therefore, in spite of the veto, El Paso's local rules were overrode and in order to abide by state law the curfew ended.[19] However, the mayor and other advocates of the curfew pledged to petition the state government, alongside the representatives of similarly minded municipalities, to reverse this mandate.[19]

Immigration[edit]

State of Emergency

In April 2023, Leeser joined mayors of other border cities, such as Brownsville, Texas, and declared a state of emergency in El Paso in preparation for the expiration of Title 42 expulsion on May 11. The state of emergency could only stand on its own for seven days, at which point it had to be approved for extension by the El Paso City Council. Leeser declared the state of emergency because it allowed the city to gain access to federal funds, which would help the city open and operate migrant shelters and clear the streets. The shelters are intended to be temporary housing for immigrants while they make their way to their long-term destination.[21] The state of emergency began on May 1, 2023, and lasted until May 8, 2023. At the same news conference where the state of emergency was declared, Leeser stated that temporary, public shelter would be provided to the migrants, and highlighted that the migrants could not camp on the streets,[22] as they did in the fall of 2022.[23]

In September 2023, facing another influx of migrants and asylum-seekers, Leeser held a news conference stating the city had the capacity to shelter the incoming migrants. He added as well that the asylum-seekers did not intend to stay long in El Paso as they moved on to their destinations across the country, but that the city had the ability to provide the resources needed for their journeys.[24] Leeser has stated that the federal government has been very helpful amidst the ongoing border crisis, but admits that there needs to be systemic change.[25]

Shelters for Migrants

In September 2023, Leeser supported the purchase of the abandoned Morehead Middle School from the El Paso Independent School District for $3.8 million. Leeser cited the steep price of housing migrants in hotels as support for the purchase of the school. The middle school will be purchased with federal COVID-19 and Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. The president of a local neighborhood association raised fears about having a migrant shelter near the Charles Q. Murphree School, which is still in operation. The neighborhood association president suggested that the school district instead sell the school to a private company so it can generate tax revenue.[26]

Migrant Busing

In 2022, the state of Texas began sending buses of migrants around the country. Leeser followed suit in July 2022, and offered free trips to Chicago, Illinois or New York City, New York. While completely voluntary, asylum-seekers were strongly encouraged to take the trips, and those who didn't were forced to reside in shelters across the city or on the streets.[27][28]

Leeser, along with Deputy City Manager Mario D'Agostino, restarted migrant busing efforts in September 2023. There are a total of five charter buses for asylum-seekers with destinations in New York City, New York; Denver, Colorado; and Chicago, Illinois. Leeser stated that the charter buses for asylum-seekers are voluntary and they choose which city they would like transportation to.[29][30]

Duranguito[edit]

The conflict surrounding the demolition of the Duranguito neighborhood was resolved in January 2023 by a city council vote rejecting the proposal. In September 2023, the El Paso city council voted to have Leeser send a letter to the Texas Historical Commission which proposes that the neighborhood be nominated to be part of the Downtown El Paso Historic District. This letter would supersede one sent by former mayor Dee Margo, which called to exclude the neighborhood from the National Register of Historic Places. Leeser alone can choose when the letter can be sent.[31]

Leeser has stated that despite not moving forward with the demolition of the Duranguito neighborhood for the multipurpose center, he was adamant that the city would find another area for the project to go forward. He also stated that the funds could be used to upgrade the existing El Paso Convention Center.[32]

City Manager Termination and Search[edit]

Tommy Gonzalez was El Paso’s city manager since 2014, however, there was much controversy surrounding his contract, because it gave him $425,000 annually, on top of a monthly vehicle allocation, health and life insurance, and a retirement plan.[33] In February 2023, the city council was split 4-4 on whether to terminate Gonzalez’s contract without good cause. Due to the tie, Leeser cast the deciding vote to terminate.[34] Ending Gonzalez’s contract was a topic that Leeser campaigned on during his 2020 campaign.[35] In March, Leeser both nominated and advocated for Cary Westin to take over the position as Interim City Manager. The city council then approved the appointment.[36]

Personal Loss and COVID-19 Impact[edit]

In December 2020, Leeser faced a personal loss with the passing of his brother and his mother. George Ira Leeser and Rhoberta Leeser both died with complications from COVID-19 in 2020.[37] In 2021 Leeser contacted Greg Abbott the governor of Texas for authority to continue the mask mandates.[38] Leeser followed the guidelines of the CDC and the government mandates during this time. There were calls for an audit of the COVID-19 vaccine procedure in El Paso, Leeser denied this audit.[39]

Electoral history[edit]

2013 El Paso mayoral election[40]
Party Candidate Votes %
Nonpartisan Oscar Leeser 33,269 74.32
Nonpartisan Steve Ortega 11,493 25.68
Total votes 44,762 100
2020 El Paso mayoral election
Party Candidate Votes %
Nonpartisan Oscar Leeser 42,895 79.54
Nonpartisan Dee Margo (incumbent) 6,301 20.46
Total votes 53,929 100

References[edit]

  1. ^ "City of El Paso Texas". www.elpasotexas.gov. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  2. ^ "Voters choose Oscar Leeser as El Paso's next mayor (KTSM.com article)". Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  3. ^ "Mayor". www.elpasotexas.gov. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Leeser family patriarch passes away". KTSM 9 News. January 9, 2018. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  5. ^ "Rhoberta Leeser Obituary (1931 - 2020) - El Paso, Texas, TX - El Paso Times". Legacy.com. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  6. ^ "Oscar Leeser, El Paso mayoral candidate (KVIA.com article)". Archived from the original on May 12, 2014. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  7. ^ "Mayor". Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  8. ^ "Oscar Leeser". Ballotpedia. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  9. ^ "Landslide Victory For Oscar Leeser In El Paso Mayoral Race". KRWG Public Media. June 16, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  10. ^ https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/2019/03/07/el-paso-mayor-dee-margo-announces-2020-run-after-leeser-joins-race [dead link]
  11. ^ "Government". www.elpasotexas.gov. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  12. ^ "Council-manager government". Ballotpedia. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  13. ^ a b c "Municode Library". library.municode.com. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  14. ^ "Mayor-council government". Ballotpedia. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  15. ^ a b c "Mayor". www.elpasotexas.gov. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  16. ^ Perez, Elida S. (October 2, 2023). "Peter Pacillas to serve as El Paso's new police chief". El Paso Matters. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  17. ^ Martinez, Aaron. "El Paso mayor vetoes City Council's plan for $96 million in certificates of obligation". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 11, 2023.
  18. ^ a b Borunda, Daniel (September 22, 2023). "'Do you know where your children are?' El Paso police go retro as juvenile curfew ends". El Paso Times. Retrieved November 20, 2023.
  19. ^ a b c Perez, Elida S. (August 22, 2023). "Can El Paso's curfew law stay in place with a veto by the mayor? Questions remain as new state law says no". EL Paso Matters. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  20. ^ "88(R) HB 1819 - Introduced version - Bill Text". capitol.texas.gov. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  21. ^ "El Paso declares border migrant 'state of emergency' as Title 42 nears end". El Paso Times. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  22. ^ "Migrants take refuge in Downtown after 'state of emergency' declared by El Paso mayor". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  23. ^ "El Paso declares border migrant 'state of emergency' as Title 42 nears end". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 11, 2023.
  24. ^ "El Paso Times". www.elpasotimes.com. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  25. ^ "El Paso officials worry new rush of asylum-seekers pushing city to 'breaking point'". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 8, 2023.
  26. ^ Silva, Claudia Lorena (September 19, 2023). "City of El Paso considers buying Westside middle school to be used as animal, migrant shelter". El Paso Matters. Retrieved December 11, 2023.
  27. ^ Nathan, Debbie (September 26, 2022). "Inside the El Paso Operation Busing Thousands of Migrants from Texas to NYC". THE CITY - NYC News. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  28. ^ Contreras, G. (2022, December 21). El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser on the ongoing migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/12/21/1144821751/el-paso-mayor-oscar-leeser-on-the-ongoing-migrant-crisis-at-the-u-s-mexico-borde
  29. ^ Powell, A. (2023, September 26). El Paso officials worry new rush of asylum-seekers pushing city to “breaking point.” El Paso Times. https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/immigration/2023/09/26/el-paso-leaders-sound-alarm-over-huge-influx-in-migrant-crossings/70961965007/
  30. ^ Ramirez, C., & Ramirez, C. (2023, September 27). El Paso restarts migrant busing, opens shelter; Mexico agrees to deport migrants. El Paso Matters. https://elpasomatters.org/2023/09/26/migrant-busing-el-paso-mexico-agrees-to-deport-migrants/
  31. ^ Powell, A. (2023b, September 27). El Paso City Council advances Downtown historic district, excludes Duranguito. El Paso Times. https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/politics/local/2023/09/27/el-paso-city-council-nixes-duranguito-buildings-from-historic-district/70973277007/
  32. ^ Powell, A. (2023a, April 19). 3 key takeaways from El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser’s State of the City talk. El Paso Times. https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/local/el-paso/2023/04/19/key-takeaways-from-el-paso-mayor-oscar-leeser-state-of-the-city-talk/70130624007/
  33. ^ "Terminated without cause: Who is Tommy Gonzalez, El Paso's city manager". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  34. ^ "Mayor Oscar Leeser casts tie-breaking vote to terminate city manager's contract". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  35. ^ "Mayor Leeser explains action, silence behind City Council vote on Gonzalez's contract". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  36. ^ "City Council names Cary Westin to be interim city manager beginning in June". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  37. ^ Martinez, Aaron. "Mayor-elect Oscar Leeser's brother, George, dies after battle with COVID-19". El Paso Times. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  38. ^ "Letter To Governor Abbott | PDF". Scribd. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  39. ^ Saenz, Saul (February 8, 2021). "Mayor Leeser won't commit to audit of El Paso's vaccine process during his 1st news conference". KVIA. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  40. ^ "2013 El Paso election results". Retrieved November 5, 2022.

External links[edit]

Media related to Oscar Leeser at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of El Paso
2013–2017
Succeeded by
Preceded by Mayor of El Paso
2021–present
Incumbent