On a recent Saturday morning, a day after what would have been Lexi Rubio’s 12th birthday, dozens gathered in the Texas city of Uvalde for a run in her honor. Blasting Lexi’s playlist, Kimberly Mata-Rubio, her mother, took off from under a towering mural of Lexi, one of 19 children and two teachers killed in a shooting at her school last year.
This was more than a fund-raising run for charity — it was also a campaign event of sorts, as Ms. Mata-Rubio and the other competitors made their way past a series of signs in yellow (Lexi’s favorite color) announcing her candidacy for mayor.
Ms. Mata-Rubio, a former news reporter, would be the first woman and only the third Latino to lead the Hispanic majority city, one that has been bitterly divided in the aftermath of one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings.
Her campaign, in which she is vying with a veteran local politician and an elementary school art teacher, often prominently features her daughter’s favorite color and reminders of a tragedy that many would prefer to leave in the past.
Ms. Mata-Rubio said she understood immediately that everybody in the small town of 15,000 people had lost something, if not a loved one, then certainly a sense of security. Like other parents, she complained that the authorities had released confusing and often conflicting information that made it hard to understand why they took more than an hour to confront and kill the gunman.
The Uvalde parents also pushed for a ban on assault weapons like the one used in the attack on Robb Elementary School. The issue prompted deep divisions in a rural town renowned for white-tailed deer hunting, where many households have guns and rifles are a regular prize at school raffles.
But as president of Lives Robbed, an organization made up of mothers and grandmothers of the Uvalde victims, Ms. Mata-Rubio has organized rallies, flown to Washington and sat through legislative hearings in Austin. And it did not feel like she was doing enough.
When she saw an opening to run for mayor, she texted her husband, Felix, asking for advice.
“You’re Lexi’s mom,” he replied. “You can do it.”
For her, the mission is clear.
“We still don’t have answers. We still don’t know what role everyone played then and what role everyone is playing now,” she said of the many ongoing investigations into the delayed police response by the local district attorney and others.
She said she also wants to bring the town together over the still-contentious issues of assault weapons, and whether police officers who failed to confront the Uvalde gunman should be fired or face criminal charges.
“I want to have the difficult conversations so that everybody feels heard,” Ms. Mata-Rubio said. “I’m going to be raising my children in this community. I want to bring the community back together again.”
She is running against a veteran local politician who hopes to return to office, Cody Smith, and an elementary school art teacher, Veronica Martinez, who have said during their campaigns that they not only want to bring Uvalde back from the nightmare of the shooting, but also to focus on other issues.
In the most recent election in Uvalde County, which includes the county seat and six other small towns, voters largely failed to support politicians who backed more control on guns, delivering a political blow to the families of the victims who campaigned on their behalf. But a much narrower pool of voters will decide the mayor’s race, those who live within in Uvalde itself.
Ms. Mata-Rubio’s campaign raised the most money in the 30-day period that ended in September, $80,000 to Mr. Smith’s $50,000, according to the most recent campaign finance report filings, with many of her donations coming from out of town. Ms. Martinez has not sought contributions.
The Nov. 7 election, with early voting this week, was called after the current mayor, Don McLaughlin, announced he was leaving City Hall to run for a Texas House seat. The winner will need to run for a full four-year term in 2024.
If Ms. Mata-Rubio or Ms. Martinez were to win, they would become the third mayor of Hispanic ancestry and the first woman to lead the city.
George Garza, 85, who in the 1990s became the second Hispanic mayor, said the city’s Hispanic majority has often gone unrecognized in city politics. “Representation is important,” he said.
Mr. Smith, a former mayor and a senior vice president at First State Bank of Uvalde, was first elected to the City Council in 1994 and also served as mayor in 2008 and 2010. He declined to be interviewed, but has called for supporting better communication between law enforcement agencies.
Ms. Martinez, said she supports in principle some form of an assault rifle ban, but said the city must also focus on local issues that affect everyone, like lowering what people pay in property taxes on their homes.
She said she hopes to change the culture in a City Hall that often does not feel inviting to residents.
“Maybe I can effect some change, and do some good by having an open-door policy,” she said.
Some voters like Amanda Juarez, 42, a teacher’s assistant, want to see a fresh face in city government, but she said that she worries that Ms. Mata-Rubio may focus too much on the tragedy and gun control issues. She said she appreciates Ms. Martinez’s calls for lowering taxes on property like her mobile home, whose assessed value recently went up by several thousand dollars for no apparent reason. “We need people who are going to solve our issues at the local level,” she said.
To help win over voters interested in such grass-roots issues, Ms. Mata-Rubio has been knocking on doors and handing over yellow campaign signs and cards with her key campaign issues: Bring People Together, Protect Our History and Boost Our Economy.
Moments after taking part in Lexi’s Legacy Run, as it was called, Ms. Mata-Rubio canvassed the streets and she ran into Antonia Rios, 80, a potential voter who was excited to see her. “No te conocía. I didn’t know you. You are very young,” Ms. Rios said, combining English and Spanish as many do in this town 60 miles east of the border with Mexico. “Yo voto por ti. I’ll vote for you.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.