Candidates talk about RC issues

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A week after the Rio Communities municipal election campaigns began, the candidates were able to present their views and meet their fellow residents.

During a Rio Communities Association meeting Tuesday night, candidates for mayor, municipal judge and city council were introduced to the newly incorporated community.

The first Rio Communities municipal election is slated for Tuesday, May 14.

After introductions, each candidate was able to address the crowd of about 175 people. They were also allowed to answer one question from the audience.

Only two of the three candidates for mayor, Mark Gwinn and Michael Vallejos, were at Tuesday's meeting. The third candidate, Seth Pfefferle, was not in attendance.

Gwinn, who was born in Belen and moved to Rio Communities in 1964, is a 1969 graduate of Belen High School. He graduated from Western New Mexico University with degrees in physical education and psychology.

He is president of RCA, and helped to spearhead the incorporation effort.

"I've been here pretty much all my life," Gwinn told the crowd. "I'm looking to build a voice for Rio Communities. I want to bring back the community, and make sure we have police protection and a quality of life."

Gwinn said he's proud of the diverse group of people who live in Rio Communities, saying they all come from various parts of the state and country.

"What we're doing is working on a vision for our future and for Valencia County," he said. "We spearheaded (incorporation) to build a better community. We haven't had adequate police protection since we lost our substation. We have the ability to build one of the best communities in this county."

Gwinn was asked what plans he has to bring businesses to Rio Communities. In response, the mayoral candidate said the economic development committee has been contacting businesses who might be interested in coming to Rio Communities.

"We have to showcase our community," he said.

Vallejos, who is the co-owner of High Desert Industrial Supply, said he was asked recently what his vision was for Rio Communities.

"It's not my vision," Vallejos said, "it's the community's vision."

Vallejos said while it's a brand new city without any debt, his No. 1 concern for Rio Communities is public safety.

"We need to make this a safe community," he said. "I would like to enact a community policing program to offset police costs at first."

Vallejos said with economic development comes gross receipts taxes, which supports Rio Communities' economy.

"We have a lot of space — a lot of land available — and a lot of great things and people here," he said.

Answering a question about vandalism and trash in the community, Vallejos said that is why he is suggesting enacting a community policing program.

"I've been broken into twice in the past year," he said. "And it's not uncommon that sheriff's deputies say that they've had a lot of calls and it's the third or fourth burglary call they've been to that day. With community policing, we'll have plenty of coverage for deterring crime."

In the judicial race, the two candidates, Heather Benavidez and Syl Saavedra, were able to address the crowd.

According to the Valencia County Bureau of Elections, Mitchell Abeyta withdrew his name as a candidate on Tuesday.

Benavidez, a mother of a 9-year-old girl, is a New Mexico native, having lived in Rio Communities for 21 years.

She holds a bachelor's degree in political science, with a minor in Spanish, and works as a 13th Judicial District Court trial court administrator for District Judge William Sanchez. She is also a member of the Pilot Club of Belen.

"I think it's so awesome that there are so many people here tonight," Benavidez said. "I've worked in the judiciary for 10 years, and I want to bring back my experience to my home. I believe in fairness and justice, and I know I have these qualities for this position."

When asked if she participated in the efforts to incorporate, Benavidez said she supported the cause, and did vote in favor of incorporation.

Syl Saavedra, another candidate for municipal judge, was born in Roswell and was a teacher and coach at a high school in Wilmington, Calif., for 30 years. Before retiring, he was also in charge of discipline. He is a Vietnam veteran and is a substitute teacher at Belen High School. He was also a member of the incorporation committee.

"It was a band of brothers who came together with a dream to incorporate," Saavedra said. "I have no family here, so I have no special interests."

He said he learned a lot about the judiciary while dealing with troubled students and gangs in the court system.

"When my wife and I came here, we knew it was the best community for us. It's a diverse community. We hope that instead of people moving out, hopefully we'll have people move in."

When asked where he thinks Rio Communities will be in one year, Saavedra said, "Our goal is to make Rio Communities the best community in the state."

(Editor's note: Read Thursday's edition of the News-Bulletin to see what the nine candidates for city council had to say about issues and why they're running for a seat on the four-member board.)


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.