Mayor Leo promotes La Joya at state, national levels
LA JOYA - Hidden in the back of his convenience store, Mayor Billy Leo has a museum of his political career.
Serving as mayor for 16 years, Leo said he has made great strides for the city.
has promoted this small city at different political levels including state and national arenas.
Now, after many years, Leo
is contemplating retirement.
The elder Leo provided public notary services to file citizenship papers for Mexican immigrants, and served on the board of directors of Great Society poverty programs to provide jobs, housing, food assistance, dental services, summer youth programs and legal aid, according to the Handbook of Texas.
fought for farmworkers' rights and organized the Hidalgo County Political League
dedication to the city he
was able to provide a sewage system and paved streets from funds he
received from the state.
was a very active man. At the time, La Joya
was pretty dead and he
activated it," said Leo
did many great things and I learned from him."
The mayor's father also chaired the Hidalgo County Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations
(PASSO) that was comprised of 1,000 members and was the largest group of its kind in the state.
Billy Leo graduated from La Joya High School in 1965 and joined the U.S. Army where he was stationed in Korea from 1967-1969.
Upon his return to the states, he attended classes and graduated from Texas A&I University with a teaching degree in political science.
"I found out being a teacher wasn't like being a store keeper," he explained.
"Because when I was in a bad mood I could kick a box or two and if I scolded a child he
would probably shoot back at me!
Teaching wasn't for me."
, who is one of four siblings, returned to La Joya
after a year of teaching in Rio Grande City.
took over the store in 1980.
"Everyone expected me to go into politics after my dad died and all the pressure came to me and I wasn't ready," he
said as he
reading glasses around his
"It just happened by accident."
While in high school, Leo
father with campaigns and other political endeavors.
During a school board election, Billy Leo
was asked to go pick up a family of three to bring them to the polls to vote.
parked next to the opposition who swayed Leo's voters to their side.
"Oh boy, my dad was furious!
I had just flunked my first test.
I drove eight miles to pick them up and the opposition got them.
But that's how politics is," said Leo
got mad at me in front of everybody and I learned a valuable lesson.
Don't park next to the enemy and I still had to drive them home."
explained that his
father taught him that if a politician gives his
should keep it.
told him to always work hard, make well thought out decisions, and walk a straight line.
Leo absorbed the wisdom and was elected as mayor in May 1981 after serving as a La Joya school board member for seven years.
father died a month later.
"My father did a lot and was a very intimidating 260 pounds - his
voice carried out.
I'm very modest and I had to force myself.
I force myself to talk to people sometimes because that's not me; I'm shy," said Leo
"I am not a complete politician.
I just like doing the work, but believe it or not it's hard for me to be able to talk to people."
The mayor's unknown introverted nature didn't stop him from getting involved and making things happen for La Joya
term in the 1980s, Leo
led the city as it earned funds from the state and worked hard to promote the city in Austin.
ever ran into someone who'd never heard of La Joya
, or "LJ," as he'd call it, he'd champion the city at all costs.
"I would respond shockingly, 'You haven't heard of LJ?
It's on the southern tip of Texas.
You can't go any down further 'cause then you would be in Mexico!' It's how I promoted us," said Leo
with a laugh.
promotions worked, and in 1983, Texas
Governor Mark White appointed Leo
to the Community Block Grant board that helped determine project funding.
In that time, La Joya
was able to receive $3 million in grants for South Texas
Some of the funds provided La Joya
with its own water and sewer system.
also created fire and police protection.
was also able to get politicians to take notice of the importance of the Democratic voters in La Joya
gathered numbers, divided and analyzed statistics of how many people voted in each city in Hidalgo County and whom they supported.
"That's how we began to sell the city at the state level," he
"They had been neglecting us as a city and community."
was able to help people from South Texas
get hired at the state level in administration after becoming friends with Richards.
Leo also has been a Democratic National Committee member for 12 years and has taken part in the Democratic National Convention for delegates for 16 years.
After serving his first term as mayor, Leo served as Hidalgo County Clerk for eight years.
was re-elected as La Joya's mayor in 1996 and has been re-elected ever since.
La Joya City Commissioner Angie Garza has worked alongside the mayor for years and said Leo has revitalized the city.
"I don't have too many years left and my future is very simple; I have to sell," Leo
"I would like to keep my office though.
I just don't know what I would do with myself or my time if I didn't even have the store to manage."
As for the future of La Joya
is still concerned.
There is a need to expand, but no funds available to do so.
also wants the city to attract more businesses for growth.
La Joya Mayor Billy Leo reported that residents reluctantly evacuated their homes as the rising waters began to overtake residences closest to the river in south La Joya.
Officials estimate 20 to 30 homes were flooded in La Joya
Mayor Leo was no different as he brought in his own trailer to help residents in the lowest parts of the city remove clothing and furniture from their homes as the water continued to rise last weekend.
"We told people to at least get their furniture out," if they wanted to wait and see if their homes flooded, said Mayor Leo.