Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Person Of The Year: El Balli

Laredo attorney and man who pronounces his last name like that of an Indonesian province, Roberto Balli, is this year's Person of the Year. 

Earlier this month, Balli was dealt a crushing and well-deserved blow to his political career: he lost his re-election bid to a write-in candidate.  Sure, that candidate came from a respected family and had plenty of resources to beat an unscrupulous incumbent, but those are the breaks in local politics.  Serves him right.  Balli treated his female challenger with the same contempt that Henry Cuellar used against Jessica Cisneros.  There was nothing honorable about his attitude.  

But apart from his boorish behavior, Balli was embroiled in a scheme that should be a topic of discussion today.  People went on record to state that the former ferret face council member, along with firefighter union members, solicited votes from District 8 residents as they went around distributing bags of food. The food packages were paid for with federal money.  Balli, of course, denied the allegations that his actions were nefarious.  That plan failed to win him another term; he is now history.  

Far be it from me to drag Balli's good name through the mud.  I mean, it's not like the man did the same thing before -- rounding up needy people and showering them with gifts, in return for their votes.  THAT'S NOT HIS M.O.!!!

Balli's legacy as District 8 council member does have its merits.  He hosted a mean movie night event at St. Peter's Plaza.  He installed a gym space and food panty-like store at the Southern Hotel, after the downtown HEB closed.  He signed a steel beam for the outlet mall downtown.  He landed on the FBI's target list of public officials suspected of corruption.

And he went along with buying expensive property from political insiders, instead of pushing for the use of vacant, city-owned spaces for the relocation of the Planning & Zoning Department.  Oh! and he named a downtown building after his campaign manager.  

Balli kept busy.  But now he can ride off into the sunset and rest on his laurels.  He can take a load off from having to constantly insist that he really did live in District 8, and not at his lavish north side estate.  He can let go of having to keep public records private, because he used to be a highfalutin attorney and NOT because it showed that he was using a fake homestead address to gain favor.

Balli did more dubious things in his short stint than most politicos do their whole careers.  And it looks like he'll go unscathed.  I would say so long to him, but I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of Roberto Bali.  Thanks for the memories, sir.  You showed us how the game is played.  The old patron system is long dead, but you kept the spirit of their immoral character alive.  And for that, you are La Sanbe's Person of the Year.  

Bravo, Mr. Balli, or Bali, or whatever the fuck your name is.     

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Man Could Tweet


(Passage from Armando Cisneros' obituary)

It will be two weeks tomorrow that we learned of Armando Cisneros' sudden passing.  The news shocked everyone that knew him.  There had not been any hint of a recent illness; and Maximiliano, as I knew him, had been very active on Twitter.  Through online communications with acquaintances and his brother Luis, I found out what happened to our friend Max. 

The last time I ran into him was in July 2019, during a meeting in city hall chambers.  The purpose of the gathering was the ethics commission deciding the fate of his friend "Vish."  The outcome was not favorable for the private citizen.  Max, it seemed, lived for that sort of civic engagement.  If city leaders were going to meet, I knew Max would be there.  He was so committed to being involved, aware and to bettering his community, as the testimonial above states.  He served on several municipal committees.  In 2014 he helped to start Our Laredo, a band of local activists whose mission was to educate the public of the goings on concerning city government.  

Max's devotion was something to be admired and emulated.  He showed us how to speak for ourselves and those who didn't hold positions of power.  

What made Max more special was his wit and laid back demeanor.  There was no air of pretentiousness.  He brought to the table a wealth of knowledge with a sense of accessibility.  It was apparent in his tweets.  He was a smart individual, willing to be a part of the world outside of his own, without being overbearing.  I'm so thankful that he was very active on Twitter, something rare for many Laredoans.  His presence on the social media platform made me feel connected to him.  I won't get a chance to meet Max again, but I want to share some of his tweets, to give people a different look at the man who stood up to power.

The "apparently" tweet was his response to a viral video of Laredo Karen, a woman that went on a rampage at a local trail against people that were wearing masks.  The video maniac used the word apparently several times and Max referenced an old clip of a precocious, budding news person.

Xesus Xeriscaping was Max responding to one of my obsessions: native plants.  Did I mention he was creative?

Leonid Brezhnev.  Who in the hell namedrops Leonid Brezhnev?!  Max! that's who!  I'm losing my shit just reading that tweet.  I criticized Donald Sutherland's bushy eyebrows in HBO's "The Undoing."  Max upped the ante with a reference to a former world leader.  Bravo, Max.  That tweet I may have to frame.

One feature I share with Kirk Douglas is a chin dimple.  But don't call me Spartacus.  As a fellow blogger and tracker of Laredo lore, Max was keen to the peculiar editing of the movie "Eddie Macon's Run," a movie that was filmed in Laredo in the early 1980s.  Max brought to our attention another movie with a more nonsensical plot: "Viva Max."  The movie has a Mexican brigade, trying to cross into the United States by saying that they are going to march in the WBCA parade.  It's an obscure movie with a crazy story.  Just my kind of viewing.  Viva Max Cisneros for the heads up!

Laredo's Border Blaster was Max's suggestion at naming my podcast.  Ultimately it was decided to use The Tweets of Laredo, an homage to "The Streets of Laredo."  Max may have joined us in the podcast debut, albeit, as a fly on the wall.  He didn't join in in the conversation.  I was really hoping to having him on as a guest in future recordings.  

BOLAS, or Blogs of Laredo Association Statistics, or something like that, was a Max original.  The man was creative AND PROLIFIC!  Max came up with that acronym for Laredo's small circle of bloggers.  In the tweet he was asserting the veracity of my status as Laredo's Most Imposing Blogger, a label appropriated by another local writer/blogger/historian.

Less is less was Max's entry for a slogan for Laredo.  Mine was: Laredo: don't expect much.

Blogger. Brezhnev. Borat.  Not sure if Max was familiar with Borat's work but he was able to take a stab at the character's language.  Magnifico!

There is a Tic-tok video that features workers at a border fence construction site. In the background there is a Mexican immigrant scaling the tall structure and scurrying to freedom in the U.S.  As that is happening, one of the workers exclaims, miralo, miralo, iralo, iralo!  That caught Max's ear; and ours too.  Language is flexible in our part of the world and Max was masterful at putting it to use.

Someone tweeted the word mollycoddle.  Having a steel trap for a brain, he shared with us having read the word in "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis.  Guess what my next book purchase will be. 

In the T minus mooch tweet, Max was referencing the days counting down to the November election.  Mooch refers to Anthony Scaramucci and his short-lived tenure in the Trump administration.  One Scaramucci is 11 days or so.  

Max grew up on Laredo's west side.  When I tweeted about a man that drove a truck around my neighborhood selling menudo, he shared a similar story.  The vendor he knew, however, sold Baaar-ba-cooa!!!!!  Max was an educated man but son had street cred!!!!!  

Speaking of flexing his street credentials, max could provide advice to newcomers who had trouble deciphering the nuances of our language.  To TPR reporter Maria Mendez he offered the term Ladero, easing her anxiety about the right way to pronounce Laredo.  Max made it known that, here, all is fair in love and wording.

The mosca tweet alludes to VP Mike Pence's eye malady and his allure for flies.  Max was just speculating on Pence's red eye and throwing in some code switching. 

Church's Fried Chicken opened its dining area in late September.  I made a joke about how only three customers could fit.  Max imagined the consequences after patrons downed a "3-piece with the works!"  I'm guessing that includes an apple pie and jalapeƱos.  I could be right.  

This is only a taste of what Armando Cisneros tweeted while he was with us.  His presence on Twitter was reassuring and delightful.  The man had a knack for it.  I'm definitely going to miss his humor and insight. I'll definitely go back to reading Max's tweets.  I'm sure they're bound to inspire a host of emotions.   

RIP Max.  We'll try to hold down the fort for you.  

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Song And Dance Is Over


Four runoff races were decided yesterday:

Ruben Gutierrez is the new District 5 council member, replacing one-term incumbent Nelly Vielma.  Gutierrez was interviewed on KGNS last night and said something to the effect of, the people are tired of the same old politics.  That's funny, considering that he took $23,000 from the Fire Department PAC and $9,000 from the Laredo Police Officers Association to fund his campaign.  One thing that's ingrained in city hall's functioning is the pay-to-play schemes.  Local first responder unions have made it a habit of backing candidates and they expect reciprocity when their contracts are renegotiated.  

Congratulations, Mr. Gutierrez.  You're a part of the game and you haven't even been sworn in yet.

Outgoing District 7 council member and political martyr George Altgelt will be replaced by newbie Vanessa Perez.  She edged out veteran Betty Flores.  Flores face-timed with KGNS' Ruben Villarreal last night, while eating fajitas at the Firefighters Union Hall.  This union-backed candidate lost her bid, but won our hearts with her online video mastication.  

Making history was write-in candidate Alyssa Cigarroa, daughter of local cardiologist, Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa.  She rode the family's coattails to victory against a defective Roberto Balli.  Balli could've ridden off into obscurity, without leaving a trace of actual progress for District 8, but he managed to rack up a list of questionable activities that should be studied in the coming months.  And I may just do that. 

(Brenda Camacho from KGNS posted the results of the races on her FB feed last night.)

For Laredo College Place 7 trustee, Karina Elizondo beat Ricardo Gonzalez.  

One last thing I wanted to mention about election night is the gatherings that took place after the polls closed.  In the Laredo Times photo above, you can see the candidates mingling with MANY people, NOT social distancing and probably violating the city's curfew.  Covid-19 has brought us a worrisome spike in cases and both hospitals are experiencing high census numbers and staffing issues.  Candidates didn't want the virus to spoil their campaign activities, though.  Win or lose, they were going to go celebrate the end of the political season.  I hope and pray for them that no one gets sick now.