December 3, 2004

Tijuana’s new boss: Who is and why did Jorge Hank win the elections?

By Luis Alonso Perez

There’s a new boss in Tijuana, and he wants everybody to know it.

Jorge Hank Rhon is the new Mayor, and the first one to receive the baton a day before the usual date, so he could throw a big party for everybody. Over five thousand people gathered in city hall to welcome into office one of the most popular and controversial figures in the city of Tijuana.

On the night of November the 30th, food stands surrounded city hall. You could buy tacos, pizza and hot dogs for a standard price of only five pesos (around 45 cents). The free carnival rides and live music made people feel they were in the county fair.

But the city council members gave a big surprise when they started arguing with each other in front of five thousand assistants, because of irregular procedures in the election of a secretary of government. Discussions between members of opposite political parties went on until the crowd got angry and demanded that their problems should be settled another time.

The new mayor remained quiet, sat still, and kept a straight face until the discussion came to an end. Then he stood up and gave his victory speech. A discouraging beginning for the history of what’s going to be, according to Hank Rhon, the best mayor Tijuana has ever had.

Tijuana Mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon delivers his victory speech.

Before everyone in town knew his name because of his intense political campaign, many people in Tijuana have already heard of Jorge Hank somewhere.

In spite of having no political career whatsoever, many people knew of Jorge Hank simply as the son of Carlos Hank Gonzales, one of the most rich and powerful politicians in Mexico’s history. He was considered one of the cornerstones of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000, and when he died he left a 500 million dollar fortune to his son Jorge.

Many people in town have heard of Hank Rhon as a wealthy local businessman that moved almost twenty years ago from Mexico City to Tijuana, so he could take control over the Agua Caliente racetrack, which was also inherited, along with all off track betting facilities, better known as sport books.

His company, known by most people as Caliente is the main gaming and gambling network in the country.

An incident that made Jorge Hank a household name was his alleged connection with the murder of local journalist Hector “The Cat” Felix Miranda. Co-founder of the weekly newspaper ZETA and one of the best investigative reporters in the country. Well known for his keen sense of humor and his constant attacks on Hank Rhon.

Felix Miranda was assassinated on the morning of April 22, 1988, when he was intercepted by another car; the man in the passenger seat got out of the car and fired his shotgun at him. The people responsible turned out to be employees of Caliente racetrack and good friends of Mr. Hank.

Sixteen years have passed now and the case still isn’t closed.

Another reason why Jorge Hank is well known in Tijuana is his unusual passion for animals, which has led him to create his own personal zoo, with bears, siberian tigers and many other exotic animals. That same eccentricity has caused legal problems, when he was caught in a Mexican airport trying to introduce ivory and fur from endangered species.

But not everything that’s known about the new mayor is bad. Many people know him as a generous man that organizes parties on Día de Reyes for kids from poor colonias, and throws a big party for all moms to celebrate mothers’ day with free food and music.

The same way he earned the peoples affection, he won the mayor seat in Tijuana. It’s estimated that it took around six million dollars to get the citizens to choose him as their leader. All that money was invested in television spots, posters, giant banners and even paying for street paving and garbage recollection for underprivileged colonias, which have been long forgotten by past administrations.

His victory removed the National Action Party (PAN) from the mayor seat, the strongest party in Baja California, in the tightest election race in the history of Tijuana. There was a difference of less than 5000 votes, which represents 1 or 2% of the total amount. Unfortunately, more than 60% of the registered voters abstained from voting.

No PRI is in charge of Tijuana again, and they want to recover all five counties in the state, the governor seat and perhaps, take back the Mexican presidency, said the new mayor in his ambitious speech.

The new boos in Tijuana is called Jorge Hank Rhon and he assures he will be the best mayor this town has ever had.

Only time will tell.

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