In 1979, Mayor Ray Salazar was running for a second term, and many observers believed he would be re-elected without much trouble. Then came retired FBI Agent Tom Westfall. Westfall and his campaign manager, historian Leon Metz, ran a vigorous campaign, with conservatives as their core constituency. Westfall made an issue of the construction of the former city hall building, where Southwest University Park now stands, and the deal that made it happen. He also accused the mayor of mismanaging the city finances. Salazar ran on his record, defending the construction of city hall and its location. He ran his achievements as mayor, including working to improve and provide affordable, quality housing in South El Paso. Salazar stood firm against the utilities and opposed any tax rate increase, but some of his key proposals were rejected by members of his council, some of whom were holdovers of the previous administration.
The 1979 election was the first election in which single districts were implemented. Salazar had been elected in 1977, pulling off an upset over Don Henderson. Salazar ran as an independent, but on council he had an unofficial alliance with alderman Richard Wagner and mayor pro tem Dan Ponder. He also found support from alderman Polly Harris, but she was a independent and swing voter. Salazar respected her and considered her an ally and friend.