RC voters elect first mayor, council and judge

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The numbers have been tallied and New Mexico’s newest city has a governing body.

Not quite 30 minutes after the polls closed, the unofficial numbers for the first-ever city of Rio Communities municipal election divulged that Mark P. Gwinn won the first mayoral race, Cyndi M. Sluder, Mary Lee Serna, Frank Stasi and Kaylon D. Northcutt are the city’s first city councilors, and Heather R. Benavidez is the first municipal judge.

And now the heavy lifting begins, with the building of a government from scratch, Gwinn said.

“We have a large responsibility from our community in the next year,” Gwinn said. “There is a lot that we have to do — pull everyone together and get them on the same page. We have four councilors who are from different walks of life and they will all bring their vision of what they want us to be — and it will be great.”

After the New Mexico Municipal League is informed of the election results, Gwinn said the organization will help the new governing body establish basic ordinances for conducting meetings and day-to-day business. The league will even teach the new councilors and mayor proper parliamentary procedure, he said.

“We will work through all this and make it happen,” the new mayor said. “Folks wanted change. People came out and showed their American spirit. I’m excited for Rio Communities. We can start building a voice.”

Sluder said the day before she was to file for candidacy, she went on a run and prayed. She said, through prayer, she knew she had an opportunity to make a difference in Rio Communities.

“He has wonderful things in His plans for our community and I’m going to be part of that and a vital part of our community,” said Sluder, who helped with incorporation efforts 12 years ago. “I’m grateful and inspired.”

Sluder admitted she didn’t run a traditional campaign: She didn’t put up signs and didn’t “walk the streets,” asking for votes. She said it was her long-standing commitment to the community that showed voters her passion for the city.

“People know that I’ve been in the community helping with the food bank, Let’s Move That Food and Tierra Bonita,” she said. “I’m going to blaze the trail and we’re all in it together — all for one and one for all. We have a great group of people. I’m humbled by this show of support and confidence.”

Serna said when she ran for office, her position was to wholeheartedly represent the people of Rio Communities.

“I am quite excited. I am very happy because of the wonderful support of the people of Rio Communities,” Serna said. “I appreciate the votes.”

Saying she would have an open-door policy, welcoming calls and input during meetings, Serna said serving on the council was all about the people.

“This is not about Mary Lee,” she said. “It’s about the people of Rio Communities. We are starting from the ground up, so the council has to come together and work very hard and very diligently. We have a long road, but we can do it.”

After living in Rio Communities for 33 years, Stasi said Valencia County has been good to him and his business.

“I wanted to give back,” Stasi said. “I am pleased I won and happy to be part of the community.”

For the last three months, Stasi has been a part of an economic development committee for the newly incorporated city. He says there are people showing an interest in the fledgling city.

“I would like to get more people on the economic development committee. I know those who didn’t win will show an interest in the community,” he said. “We will work together for the common good and benefit of Rio Communities. We’re going to prosper. We have so much to offer.”

Northcutt said this is a great opportunity to start something “really good” in Rio Communities, and hopes he can play an intricate role in shaping the city into a place where everyone can be proud to say they live.

“I feel honored that I was elected, and can tell the people that I will work harder than I have ever have before to make sure their needs are met,” Northcutt said.

He said while he doesn’t believe there is corruption in Rio Communities, his first priority will be to keep corruption out of the city’s government.

“I don’t want to hear of any corruption,” he said. “This is a small town — it shouldn’t be here.”

Another priority Nortcutt has is the safety and security of the citizens. He says he hopes the new governing body can find a way to reduce crimes, such as burglaries.

He also wants the new city to start recreation activities for children and bring businesses to Rio Communities for the citizens’ convenience and to boost the city’s economic development.

Gwinn received 638 votes, beating out his closest competitor in a field of three, Michael Vallejos, almost two to one. Vallejos garnered 362 votes and Seth Pfefferle received 41.

In the race for city council, the four candidates with the most votes serve. The two with the most votes will serve four-year terms, while the other two councilors, mayor and municipal judge must run for office again in March. This sets up the proper election rotation for the future.

The top two vote-getters in the city council race, Sluder, with 656 votes, and Serna with 580, will serve four years, while Stasi, 571 votes, and Northcutt, 507, will begin campaigning next spring, if they want to retain their seats.

Other candidates, and their vote totals, were Elizabeth Sagrestano, 227 votes; George Moscona, 490; Helga Woerner, 270; Nella Bunny Guenther, 120; and Paul DeWitt, 319.

Only two ran for judge. Benavidez got 600 votes to Syl Saavedra’s 436.

“I’m honored to have been elected and grateful to those who supported me,” Benavidez said. “I’m looking forward to serving the residents of our new city.”