“I DON’T THINK I’M A POLITICIAN. I think we’re leaders, not politicians. Politicians have all the defects of an honorable man. A leader leads by example. I lead by example.”
These are the words of Cesar De Leon, current Brownsville City Commissioner at Large “A,” captured in an almost four-and-a-half hour exchange with former Brownsville Fire Chief and current Brownsville Independent School District Trustee Carlos Elizondo that was leaked and posted on anonfile.com and shared on Facebook.
Previously leaked and highly edited snippets revealed De Leon’s usage of racial slurs, among other expletives, in speaking about black attorneys hired by the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office, as reported by the Brownsville Herald. The story has been picked up by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Breitbart.
“The citizens of Brownsville have once again been betrayed by an elected official,” Mary Helen Flores, head of Citizens Against Voter Abuse, told Neta in a message on Facebook. “This time we are subjected to local and national scrutiny and scorn due to the horrific racist remarks made by… De Leon. There is no excuse for and there is no context in which his words are acceptable.”
De Leon has since publicly apologized for his comments.
The secret recordings are believed to have been leaked by Elizondo, who, as reported by the Herald, was demoted from his position within the city earlier this month for “no apparent reason.”
In August, local NBC affiliate KVEO reported that the Brownsville Firefighters Association filed a complaint with the Brownsville Police Department in regards to Elizondo making improper ATM withdrawals while he was president of the association in 2016. Previous reports also state the City of Brownsville commenting earlier this week stating the former fire chief is not under investigation, but these released recordings may be proof of the contrary.
In response to the compromising audio made public, Brownsville City Commissioner (District 2) Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa posted Thursday on Facebook:
“As many of you are not aware of, there is a major criminal investigation currently taking place in the city. On many occasions, certain commissioners were asked to stop or change the direction of the investigation and the probe of who was being looked at. When we refused to comply, we were threatened, and what you are seeing is a result. At our commission meeting on Tuesday, our audit findings will be made public.”
Many questions remain. Are the leaked audio clips a blackmail tactic in retaliation to an ongoing investigation within the city? Who was the person (or persons) asking commissioners to change the direction or halt an alleged criminal investigation? What exactly is the nature of said criminal investigation?
It is clear that the full recording was meant to be used against De Leon in case things went awry for someone. Whether or not that someone was Elizondo has yet to be determined. The fact that the tapes were posted after Elizondo’s demotion only adds fuel to the fire. The recordings indeed sent Brownsville social media into a frenzy.
De Leon’s use of racial slurs is only the beginning, and in reviewing the full-length recording, it is apparent there are many issues within the City of Brownsville and Brownsville Independent School District that need to be addressed and explored by the proper authorities.
It may seem as though De Leon is not the only one potentially degrading his position. In the recording, De Leon makes several allegations about Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez offering city jobs to acquaintances, with the commissioner going as far as to explain to Elizondo on how to best stay in the good graces of the mayor. “Mientras no le hagas pedo por todo lo que se a robado,” De Leon says in the leaked audio. “As long as you don’ t give him a hard time for everything that he’s stolen.”
Whether or not these allegations are true remains unknown.
Brownsville City Manager Charlie Cabler is also mentioned in the audio. According to De Leon, Cabler is also complicit in multiple conflicts of interest within his administration, including hiring an assistant fire chief to do contract work on his own home. De Leon tells Elizondo how Cabler’s own daughter was overheard at a local Brownsville bar drunkenly bragging about how her father was getting “free” labor from an assistant fire chief.
Indeed, the audio reveals a complex web of alliances, feuds, and exhaustive abuses of power throughout the political sphere of Brownsville. Compadrismo and corruption, according to De Leon, are alive and well in Brownsville.
“Carlos Elizondo should have been terminated the moment he chose to be on the BISD board,” Flores said. “Elizondo was allowed to break the law. At this time, and under other serious criminal allegations, he should be immediately taken off the city payroll.”
Elizondo may have been in direct violation of a city code that prohibits individuals from holding two official positions, which is referred to in the tapes by De Leon as “Dual Office Holding.” The commissioner goes on to state that the entire city commission was aware of said violation within their executive sessions but did not see a conflict when hiring Elizondo as Fire Chief and dismissed it entirely as there are “bigger issues” to focus on. De Leon remarks that the only way he would turn on Elizondo was if he got a court order that would force the city commission and city management to dismiss him.
“Va haber un punto donde ya no te voy a poder proteger, Carlos,” De Leon said in the leaked audio. “There will be a point in which I will no longer be able to protect you, Carlos.”
Aside from the initial racist comments, De Leon makes more racially charged, sexist comments in the recordings, even bringing up the wife of 7th & Park’s owner Graham Sevier, Dr. Dolly Sevier, and calling her a “twat,” coming from a family of “mojados” (wetbacks) and “muertos de hambre” (lowlifes/dying of hunger).
“He has revealed himself to be an elitist and a racist,” Flores said. “This is not the kind of person we want or need conducting public business on our behalf. His resignation from office is necessary. He degrades the entire city by remaining on the city commission.”
Two and a half hours into the recording and De Leon breaks it down to Elizondo: Most of the trustee’s problems are coming from inside BISD administration and the other board trustees. Elizondo has failed to uphold his friendships and alliances within the city. De Leon remarked that Elizondo should have been smarter in his allegiances. After all, De Leon has no problems with Elizondo holding two positions that directly conflict, which may not be the case anymore since his recent demotion. Elizondo still holds his position as a trustee for BISD.
Throughout most of the recording, Elizondo remains silent, interjecting only when it appears as though his loyalty to De Leon is being questioned. In the recording, Elizondo confirms that BISD is losing a significant amount of students who are now being enrolled in charter schools throughout the city. Why raise taxes then? De Leon challenged. A point he makes because he knows that the city has not raised taxes, unlike BISD, because “people are hurting.”
BISD and the people who run it are also extensively discussed in the recording, with De Leon using choice words for the Superintendent herself. De Leon stated he has a “hard-on” for Grafik Spot, a local business that, from what is discussed in the recordings, is behind several alleged, illegal financial entanglements with the school district.
At one point, Elizondo stated that there could be more investigations if there were pressure, even referencing the suicide of BISD administrator Silverio Capistran, Jr., back in February 2016 after an investigation was pending in the Food and Nutrition Services department at the time.
“Por eso se mato el vato,” remarks Elizondo. “That’s why the guy killed himself.”
Both seem cognizant of the many wrongdoings of their peers, and it is obvious that De Leon holds many resentments towards multiple individuals within the city, BISD, and Cameron County.
De Leon even questioned his own position in the City Commission and said to be considering to run for BISD trustee himself in order to clean the house. The leaked recordings may well be the beginning of that process.
Overall, Commissioner Cesar De Leon may be more of a politician than the leader he perceives himself to be.