By Pooja Salhotra, The Texas Tribune
“Mother of Uvalde school shooting victim wants to be mayor” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Nearly 18 months after the deadliest school shooting in Texas, Uvalde residents will elect a new mayor in a special election. Among the three candidates vying to lead the majority-Latino town is Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed at Robb Elementary School last May.
Nineteen children and two adults were killed in a shooting in Uvalde last May that included a botched police response that remains under investigation. More than 300 officers from multiple law enforcement agencies took over an hour to enter the school and kill the shooter. The incident sparked nationwide outrage and debates over state and federal gun laws.
Mata-Rubio has since emerged from the tragedy as a fierce advocate for stricter gun control. She said she is running to honor her late daughter and to represent underserved residents while propelling Uvalde to economic success.
“I’m running for mayor to ensure Uvalde is a place where every citizen feels heard, where we honor our past while building a brighter future, and where tragedies like the one my family experienced catalyze positive change for all,” Mata-Rubio said in a statement on her campaign website.
A lifelong Uvalde resident, Mata-Rubio works in advertising at the Uvalde Leader-News. Her strongest opponent in the mayoral race is Cody Smith, a banker who previously served as a city council member and mayor of Uvalde. Also on the ballot is Veronica Martinez, an elementary school art teacher.
Mata-Rubio has raised the most money of the three candidates, with about $80,000 in campaign contributions by the end of September, according to her finance report. Smith raised about $33,000 while Martinez did not report any campaign contributions.
The winner of Tuesday’s race will succeed Don McLaughlin, the current mayor who said he is stepping down to pursue a seat in the Texas House.
To win the special mayoral election, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the votes. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two will head to a runoff election in December. The winner will finish out McLaughlin’s term. The mayoral seat will be up for election again in November 2024.
Each candidate has said in interviews that part of their goal as mayor will be to help bring together a town that has been torn apart. After the shooting, several victims’ families, including Mata-Rubio and her husband, traveled to Austin and Washington, D.C. to advocate for stricter gun laws. They sought a federal ban on assault weapons as well as a state law to raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. Both of those efforts failed.
Those efforts also prompted deep divisions in Uvalde, a 15,000-person town in South Texas where gun ownership is commonplace. Family members of the victims are still seeking answers to questions about the delayed police response. Days after the shooting, the school district announced that Robb Elementary School would be demolished. The building remains standing — ongoing litigation that requires investigators to conduct site visits has led to delays. A new elementary school to replace Robb Elementary broke ground late last month.
Supporters of Mata-Rubio said they feel as if some Uvalde residents are eager to move on too quickly, or are even attempting to push the massacre under the rug. Those advocates see Mata-Rubio as a strong candidate who will continue to hold leaders accountable and ensure the shooting doesn’t fade from memory.
“Kim knows heartache and loss and the nightmare,” said Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old son Uziyah was killed in the school shooting. “I know she’ll work tirelessly to provide better living, better everything.”
Still, other residents say Mata-Rubio lacks the political experience to be mayor.
“Prior to May 24th, she was not well connected to the community,” said Diana Olvedo-Karau, a community activist in Uvalde. “I’m concerned that she might have entered the race for the wrong reasons.”
Mata-Rubio has never run for political office and was not politically active prior to the school shooting. In comparison, one of her opponents, Smith, was first elected to city council in 1994 and also served two terms as mayor in 2008 and 2010. The term for Uvalde City Council positions was changed to four years following the 2019 election.
Olvedo-Karau added that Mata-Rubio will have a hard time representing the city fairly because she is part of a class-action lawsuit against the city.
The candidates could not be reached for comment.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/11/07/uvalde-mayor-election-kimberly-mata-rubio/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.