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Former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, who has long said he wants to be governor of Baja California, is beginning to make more public moves designed to help him win the Institutional Revolutionary Party gubernatorial nomination for the July 7 election.
Hank Rhon said in 2011 that he no longer had U.S. permission to cross the border, but on Friday he hosted a group of minor California officials to make a demonstration of sorts of his international credentials.
Update, Jan. 29: Hank, a gambling magnate, holds a public celebration of his 57th birthday at the Caliente racetrack compound. His birthday is Jan. 28 and he held a private affair on that day and a public one on Jan. 29.
Also, the former head of the PRI for Tijuana, Carlos Barboza, said Saturday that while he was interested in the PRI nomination for mayor of Tijuana, his priority was to see Hank win the PRI gubernatorial nomination. Hank's main competition is from federal Deputy Fernando Castro Trenti, who was a top Hank aide during Hank's 2004-2007 tenure as mayor. Hank won the PRI gubernatorial nomination in 2007 but lost the general election to the National Action Party's José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, who must leave office this year.
Frontera's story on Barboza (PDF).
More on Barboza.
Many political analysts believe Hank may have too many liabilities to become the PRI nominee. If Hank became the candidate, President Enrique Peña Nieto could become a lightning rod for criticism that the new PRI Peña Nieto says he represents is actually the old PRI. Hank also faces criticism over his bodyguards having killed a Tijuana journalist in 1988 and over his 2011 arrest (and subsequent release) on charges of illegally possessing weapons.
According to Frontera newspaper (PDF), among 17 dignitaries who visited with Hank were Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano, former West Covina Mayor Michael R. Touchey, and Mexican-American Bar Association official Felipe Plascencia, who has a law office in Whittier. The paper said Lozano credited Hank with improving ties between Tijuana and Southern California during Hank's term as mayor.
The California dignitaries got to see the Tijuana Xolos' locker room a day before the soccer team that Hank's Caliente Group sponsors beat Pachuca 2-0 and ran its record to 4-0. Xolos tickets are a valuable commodity now that the team won the national championship in December and is currently tied for the league lead with the Tigres of Monterrey.
Frontera reported that the California dignitaries' visit was organized by longtime Hank public relations expert Miguel Ángel Badiola. Badiola last year was reported to have impressed then-presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto with his organization of a campaign event for women to the point that Badiola was summoned to Mexico City to talk with Peña Nieto's transition team after he won the election.
Frontera's mention of Badiola role in dignitaries' visit.
Story on Badiola and Peña Nieto.
Hank had a private meeting with Peña Nieto when Peña Nieto visited Mexicali as a candidate last year, but made no public appearance when Peña Nieto campaigned in Tijuana in June.
Hank is now a widower; his wife, María Elvia Amaya de Hank, who had helped him host charitable events for Tijuana's poor, died in September.
Meanwhile, the national newsweekly La Verdad published a cover story on the Hank-Castro race. It said that top Peña Nieto adviser Luis Videgaray, now the finance minister, is opposed to Hank's nomination because it will send the wrong signal about the PRI. The magazine also said that Castro Trenti has the support of Chamber of Deputies leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the former governor of Sonora who had sought the PRI presidential nomination. Beltrones also is identified with the PRI Old Guard. The magazine said that Isidro Pastor, a former head of the PRI in Mexico state, has become Hank's chief political operator and has been living in Hank's Hotel Pueblo Amigo. Peña Nieto was governor of Mexico state from 2005-2011.
Update, Jan. 31: Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, the PANista who defeated Hank in 2007, denies that his government has been out to get Hank. Hank said this week that President Felipe Calderón had made him a target, with the support of the Baja California state government. Osuna Millán, during an appearance greeting students restarting classes at the Autonomous University of Baja California, said Hank's comments had to be seen in the context of the political season now under way. Story, Frontera (PDF).
Every week, Tijuana's Zeta newspaper runs a full-page ad, with a black background, asking Hank why his bodyguards killed journalist Héctor "El Gato" Félix and asking the Baja California governor whether his government can capture whoever ordered Félix's murder.
The page long remained basically the same, with only the name of the governor changing. The 1999 issue at left is addressed to Hank and Gov. Alejandro González Alcocer, governor from 1998-2001; the 2004 issue at center is addressed to Hank and Gov. Eugenio Elorduy Walther, governor from 2001-2007. Last week's (2013) issue at right is addressed to Hank and Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, governor from 2007 to date; the page also contains a photo of Félix at the bottom.
Barboza had actually won the PRI nomination to be its Tijuana District 4 congressional candidate in last year's elections, but later stepped aside after it turned out that the PRI had not met the national requirement that 40% of its candidates be women.