Two experienced leaders face off to be the next mayor of Midland

Current Midland City Council member Lori Blong and former Mayor Jerry Morales are both vying to be Midland’s next mayor this November. Both are native Midlanders and proud conservatives.

The candidates vying to be Midland’s next mayor gathered for a televised debate. From left to right: Lori Blong, Robert ‘Allen’ Dickson and Jerry Morales. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

By Mitch Borden

Three Midlanders are running to be Midland’s next mayor, but two names that will appear on this year’s ballot notably stick out: current Council member Lori Blong and former Midland Mayor Jerry Morales.

Earlier this summer, Patrick Payton, Midland’s current mayor, made the surprise announcement that he would not be running for re-election. As candidates filed their paperwork to run, it quickly became apparent the election would come down to Blong or Morales,  especially since Robert “Allen” Dickson, the third candidate in the race, has mostly abstained from campaigning. 

Both Blong and Morales are proud conservatives and native Midlanders, which makes this election less about political differences and more about who locals trust. 

Lori Blong

Lori Blong joined the Midland City Council in 2020, after almost three years serving the community she believes she’s read to lead as mayor. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

Blong is a former teacher and runs an oil and gas company with her husband. 

She’s just wrapping up her first term on the Midland City Council. During her tenure, city leaders dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, secured water rights for the city and pursued ambitious quality of life projects.

Blong said she was motivated to run for mayor to continue the work the council’s accomplished since 2020.

“We’ve begun a lot of important things with the city in the last three years to maintain great transparency, to make sure that we’re keeping the business of the city running as smoothly as possible and that we’re managing budgets as fiscally conservative as possible,” she said.

The issues at the heart of Blong’s campaign range from keeping taxes low to advocating for the oil and gas industry and building out the city’s infrastructure.

One of the projects top of mind for Blong is working toward constructing a pipeline to transport drinking water to Midland. The city council made a massive water deal with a company in the Fort Stockton area in 2020 for over $261 million, but there’s currently no way to transport the water to Midland.

“We need a mayor who understands acquiring those water rights, commissioning engineering studies to make a plan for how the pipeline is going to work and then put those things together so we have access to the water we own,” she explained.

It will take years to complete this project, but Blong said “We cannot be looking at today’s water supply, we need city leadership that’s looking at future generations of water supply.”

One issue brought up during this election is how the city communicates with Midland residents.

Blong lists transparency as a core issue of her campaign and said some locals may feel that communication from the city has dropped off recently because local leaders were good about providing regular updates during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There was a lot of communication through COVID,  a lot of visibility of all of our elected officials because of the weekly presentations on social media and the news,” she said. ”Some of those things have dropped off.” 

Improving how city officials communicate with locals is worth looking into, she said.

Even though Blong is facing off against a former mayor in this year’s election, she’s received endorsements from Midland’s current mayor and three other past mayors. She said even though she’s finishing up her first term in city government, she has the experience needed to lead the city.

Blong explained, “There’s not a lack of experience…I’m running a business, I’m running a family, I’m functioning in leadership in other capacities.”

Jerry Morales

Jerry Morales has been a leader in a variety of ways including being a city council member as well as the city’s mayor. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

Jerry Morales is known around Midland. He owns and operates three restaurants, was mayor for six years and his family has lived in the community for generations.

During his time with the city, he led Midland through some of its busiest years as fracking brought new life to the Permian Basin’s oil fields.

His time as mayor came to a close in 2019 when he was defeated by Patrick Payton, Midland’s current mayor. Morales chose to run this year because he felt over the last three years city leaders have failed to effectively communicate with residents and plan for the future.

“We’re at the end of a five year road bond but what’s next?” he asked. “We’ve secured water for right now, but what’s next? People want to be updated on all of these issues.”

Morales said Midland is in a far more stable place at the moment compared to when he was first elected mayor, as fracking was taking off and oil field workers were descending on the community.

“Our workforce is strong, the community continues to be pretty vibrant, so I think we’re in a good place,” he said. “I just don’t want the community to get behind, because we grow so fast.”

Establishing long term plans for infrastructure across Midland, like roads and utilities, is one of the core focuses of his platform. If voters choose him to lead the city for the next three years, Morales said he would make it a priority that city leadership and staff get on the same page about the state of the city.

According to Morales, the local government needs be more accessible to the public and that voters want more transparency.

“There can’t be walls,” he said. “ We haven’t been communicated to, there’s been no transparency from our leadership.”

Morales prides himself on the fact that if he’s elected mayor, locals will be able to find him at his restaurants to discuss community issues or just to visit with him.

“There’s gotta be trusted leadership and there’s gotta be a face out there,” he said. “And I would keep expressing to [Midlanders] that they would get that through Jerry Morales.”

About Mitch Borden

Mitch Borden is Marfa Public Radio's Permian Basin Reporter. If you have any questions about West Texas' energy industry or the Permian Basin email him at mitch@marfapublicradio.org.
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