SUNLAND PARK, N.M. (AP) – The mayoral candidate has been barred from City Hall, can’t contact city workers and is charged with trying to force an opponent out of the race with a secretly recorded video of the competitor getting a topless lap dance.
That’s Daniel Salinas, and he’s running Tuesday against the man who received the dance and another largely invisible candidate to be the next mayor of Sunland Park, near the dusty Texas-Mexico border.
It’s an election that has taken a series of twists and turns over the past few weeks, prompting prosecutors last week to take the unusual step of trying to delay it after the secretary of state issued a report alleging widespread voter fraud, including at least six residents from nearby El Paso already casting ballots in the race.
But voting went on Tuesday, with state and police keeping a close eye as some of the town’s 5,000 registered voters cast their ballots. Unofficial results showed Salinas as the apparent winner with 637 votes compared to Gerardo Hernandez’s 553 and Jose Luis Hernandez’s 66.
Emilia Carrillo, 56, said she only showed up because her son was running for city council.
“If my son was not running, I wouldn’t have voted,” she said. “I’m so disappointed with the way the campaign was made. It’s like when I used to vote in Mexico, only that over there, the wrongdoing it’s more obvious, here it’s a little bit more undercover.”
Bianca Burciaga, 46, said that she would have rather had the elections cancelled. But since the state decided voting should proceed, “I came to vote to prevent someone from being elected.”
Salinas, who is mayor pro tem, is prohibited from entering the building or contacting the workers as a condition of his release from jail last week on $50,000 cash bond in the alleged extortion of opponent Gerardo Hernandez.
Those conditions kept him away from polling stations while Hernandez was at a school, waiting for voters with his granddaughter in his arms.
Councilmember and Salinas supporter Christian Lira said Salinas backers are already working with a lawyer on possible ways for Salinas to work around the bail conditions if he is elected.
“I know people’s morale is low, they are disappointed, but we want to put all this behind us and work for the city,” he said.
Even if Salinas manages to win, the results will likely be challenged in court.
“There is going to be more litigation, regardless,” assistant district attorney Scot Key said, “whether we start it or a losing candidate starts it.”
Key said prosecutors continue to investigate voting irregularities and they have filed a motion seeking possession of “some questionable absentee ballot boxes.”
In addition to election issues, the state auditor is in the town of about 14,000 this week to investigate the city’s operations and finances, looking for any violations that would give the state authority to take over the city. Hernandez said he would welcome the intervention.
“This way we’ll have a clean slate. To know what is the real situation and how I will receive the city,” he said.
The events are bizarre even for this town, which has seen several police raids on city hall in recent years and which ceded some authority to the state after a 2004 audit.
Salinas, Gerardo Hernandez and Jose Luis Hernandez are vying to replace outgoing Mayor Martin Resendiz, who withdrew his bid for Congress after admitting that he signed contracts while drunk with an architectural design firm that is now suing the city.
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