Last month, Corpus Christi City Council District 3 candidate Eric Tunchez went briefly viral for cutting himself a slice of cake. More specifically, the headline-grabbing dessert was a piece of the outgoing representative’s celebratory cake, which he took before she, or anyone else, had a chance to see it. By the time she was ready to eat, her name—piped on in icing—had literally been smeared.
It was a story of rivalry and pettiness, and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times did a masterful job of building suspense. Reporter Julie Garcia unraveled its various twists and turns—and there are a few doozies in there—revealing something much deeper about the candidate than his sweet tooth. Before we go further, let’s take a moment to catch up on highlights from Cakegate:
- Tunchez confessed to cutting the cake, but denied purposefully smearing the name of outgoing councilmember Lucy Rubio. Instead, he says, the icing smudged as he was cutting the cake and a friend requested a piece—but then changed his mind, because he was diabetic. However, surveillance footage of the incident, which took place in Corpus Christi City Hall, appeared to show Tunchez sticking his finger in the frosting.
- The police were involved. No criminal charges were filed, but the officers at the scene documented the incident, which is attached to a case number.
- Tunchez told the Caller-Times that spending time talking about a cake that “was going to be eaten anyway” when “there are crimes that go un-investigated every day” was offensive. He’d clearly tempted fate. Days later, Tunchez was indicted on felony charges of aggravated promotion of prostitution—a charge filed against a person authorities suspect “knowingly owns, invests in, finances, controls, supervises, or manages a prostitution enterprise that uses two or more prostitutes.”
- Tunchez wasn’t the only person to cut a slice of the cake—apparently a second cake-cutter arrived upon the scene, saw that the cake had been cut, and likely thought, “Hey, free cake,” so she cut herself a piece. According to Garcia, when the second person attempted to leave the scene with the cake, a city hall employee stopped her and told her that the cake was not ready to be cut, since the person it was honoring was not yet present. The additional cake cutter walked away anyway.
- Tunchez offered to replace the cake by buying Rubio a new one, which he declared would be emblazoned with the words, “Best Wishes from Eric Lee Tunchez.”
- Tunchez was one of five candidates for the District 3 City Council seat, and Rubio endorsed another. Tunchez, despite the felony charges and cake caper, was not the least likely name on the ballot, though—that distinction goes to Roland A. Gaona, who was dead at the time of the election.
All of that is a lot to take in, but the tale of cake and vendettas at Corpus Christi City Hall does not end there. Some of the places it goes are happy: Rubio got a new cake! On November 14, she was sworn-in to her new position as justice of the peace. The celebratory cake read, “We Love Lucy,” and one of her friends—in a reference to Cakegate—smeared her name seconds before she cut herself a slice. According to the Caller-Times, the cake caper has been a running joke among Rubio and her friends since the incident. The paper reported that the new cake was “delicious.”
Tunchez, came in fourth in the election (he got more votes than Gaona). Earlier this month, he opened up about his arrest, his campaign, and the cake incident in a Facebook post:
After noting the 560 votes he received, he then wrote that—because of the charges filed against him—he needed to turn himself in. On his way to jail, he attempted to mend fences with the former city councilwoman who had been his rival, writing that, “I want to tell Lucy Rubio I was just playing around” and that “she is still my best friend lol.” (Tunchez was released after posting bond.)
Garcia landed the scoop about the cake through a tip from a source on the city council beat, who had told her that they believed a police report had been filed. “I’d talked to Tunchez pretty often as a candidate, so I Facebook messaged him and asked,” she says. “He didn’t respond for a whole day. Then he told me that he cut the cake, but didn’t stick his finger in it.” She then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the video.
Garcia, the reporter, says that the whole affair is “symptomatic of just how bizarre this city council race has been for Corpus Christi.” And it’s not just this race, or even this election. In 2016, the city elected Dan McQueen as mayor. He was sworn in and then promptly quit 37 days later. (McQueen declared his candidacy again in the most recent election, but campaigned only via his Facebook page.) In the District 3 race, Garcia says, “It’s been a lot of trash-talking and pettiness.” But while the cake caper may serve as a flashpoint for the absurdity of the current climate in Corpus, she cautions against fixating solely on his quirks. “What’s been the more disappointing part is that people know about the cake, but not necessarily that Tunchez has been arrested on prostitution charges,” she says. Regardless, the attention from the cake—and the subsequent arrest—seems to have been enough to have stymied Tunchez’s most recent political ambitions. Garcia didn’t take as a given going into the race despite his previous arrest history. “In a race that has five candidates, including a dead person,” she says, “I wouldn’t rule anybody out.”