In Tijuana mayoral race, businessman claims victory over tough-talking ex-cop

Mayoral candidate Julian Leyzaola greets voters in Tijuana in May.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Businessman Arturo Gonzalez Cruz has declared victory in Tijuana’s mayoral election, edging out Julian Leyzaola, a controversial ex-soldier and police chief whose candidacy made headlines across Mexico.

With 99% of ballots counted in Sunday’s vote, Gonzalez was ahead with 152,556 votes compared with Leyzaola’s 124,098, according to Baja California’s electoral institute. Four other candidates were trailing substantially.

Leyzaola campaign officials said they planned to wait until all the votes were counted before making a statement about the election.

As police chief of Tijuana from 2008 to 2010 and later of Juarez, Leyzaola earned praise for purging the police of corrupt officers, taking on the city’s powerful drug cartels, and lowering crime, but he also earned the ire of human rights advocates who accused him of torture and other abuses. Leyzaola decided to run for mayor of Tijuana after an assassination attempt in Juarez in 2015 left him paralyzed from the waist down.


Leyzaola made the case that he was uniquely qualified to tackle the city’s most pressing problem: a spiraling homicide crisis that has transformed Tijuana into one of the deadliest cities in the world.

“Easy,” Leyzaola often boasted at campaign events. “I’ve already done it once.”

He frequently criticized Gonzalez, the onetime president of Tijuana’s golf club, for not being tough enough to take on drug gangs. “The first threat he receives, he’ll flee to San Diego,” Leyzaola often said.

But Leyzaola, who ran with the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, could not compete with Gonzalez and his large coalition of parties led by Morena, a new leftist party that has swept to national dominance over the last few years thanks to the popularity of its founder, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.


Lopez Obrador won in a landslide in last year’s July 1 presidential election, and Morena picked up significant victories in congressional and gubernatorial races.

Like Lopez Obrador, who vowed to rid Mexico of endemic corruption, Gonzalez promised to make combating corruption a priority. He also vowed to reduce the city’s crime rate.

Morena candidate Jaime Bonilla declared victory in the Baja California governor’s race Sunday night, and Morena candidates appear to have prevailed in the four other municipal elections held in Baja California on Sunday.


Twitter: @katelinthicum