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Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter was killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting nearly 18 months ago, lost her bid to become Uvalde's new mayor in a special election Tuesday. Voters elected Cody Smith, who formerly held the position, by a nearly two-thirds majority. Mata-Rubio earned 33% of the votes.
Nineteen children and two adults were killed in a shooting in Uvalde last May that included a botched police response that remains under investigation. More than 300 officers from multiple law enforcement agencies took over an hour to confront and kill the shooter. The incident sparked nationwide outrage and debates over state and federal gun laws.
Mata-Rubio has since emerged from the tragedy as a fierce advocate for stricter gun control. Ahead of Tuesday's results, Mata-Rubio said she is running to honor her late daughter, Lexi, and to represent underserved residents while propelling Uvalde to economic success.
Reached on Tuesday evening, Mata-Rubio told The Texas Tribune she was disappointed by the election results, but she looks forward to working with Smith to unite the community.
“I’m going to continue to fight for accountability and transparency for my daughter,” Mata-Rubio said.
She added that Tuesday’s results did not deter her from pursuing another political office in the future to ensure that “change comes in her honor.”
Smith, a banker who previously served as a City Council member and mayor of Uvalde, could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. Also on the ballot was Veronica Martinez, an elementary school art teacher.
Mata-Rubio raised the most money of the three candidates, with about $80,000 in campaign contributions by the end of September, according to her finance report. Smith raised about $33,000 while Martinez did not report any campaign contributions.
Smith will succeed Don McLaughlin, the current mayor who said he is stepping down to pursue a seat in the Texas House. Smith will finish out McLaughlin’s term. The mayoral seat will be up for election again in November 2024.
During this month's race, each candidate said in interviews that part of their goal as mayor will be to help bring together a town that has been torn apart. After the shooting, several victims’ families, including Mata-Rubio and her husband, traveled to Austin and Washington, D.C. to advocate for stricter gun laws. They sought a federal ban on assault weapons as well as a state law to raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. Both of those efforts failed.
Those efforts also prompted deep divisions in Uvalde, a 15,000-person town in South Texas where gun ownership is commonplace. Family members of the victims are still seeking answers to questions about the delayed police response. Days after the shooting, the school district announced that Robb Elementary School would be demolished. The building remains standing — ongoing litigation that requires investigators to conduct site visits has led to delays. A new elementary school to replace Robb Elementary broke ground late last month.
Supporters of Mata-Rubio said they feel as if some Uvalde residents are eager to move on too quickly, or are even attempting to push the massacre under the rug. Those advocates saw Mata-Rubio as a strong candidate who would have continued to hold leaders accountable and ensure the shooting doesn’t fade from memory.
“Kim knows heartache and loss and the nightmare,” Brett Cross, whose 10-year-old son Uziyah was killed in the school shooting, said prior to the election results. “I know she’ll work tirelessly to provide better living, better everything.”
Ahead of the election, other residents said Mata-Rubio lacked the political experience to be mayor.
“Prior to May 24th, she was not well connected to the community,” said Diana Olvedo-Karau, a community activist in Uvalde. “I’m concerned that she might have entered the race for the wrong reasons.”
Mata-Rubio had never run for political office and was not politically active prior to the school shooting. In comparison, Smith, was first elected to City Council in 1994 and also served two terms as mayor in 2008 and 2010. The term for Uvalde City Council positions was changed to four years following the 2019 election.