SUNLAND PARK CANDIDATES FOR MAYOR
Javier Perea, Sunland Park Candidate for Mayor
Javier Perea was appointed Mayor in 2012, after Daniel Salinas, who was elected to the position that year, was not allowed to serve. He has a degree in business administration from NMSU. His salary as Mayor is $26,000 per year. This will be his first electoral campaign. I interviewed Mr. Perea in his office last week, beginning with a wide-open-ended question which he snatched up like a basketball player above the rim going for a slam dunk:
(a) Sunland Park is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, growing from about 14,000 in 2010 to about 16,000-17,000 today. It is the Northern part of the city, where the new district is, that is growing fastest. The recent redistricting of city council seats, which produced the new district, was needed in order to equalize the number of voters in each district. (b) The financial situation of the city has improved greatly in the past two years. Audit findings have been reduced from 40 to 5, and the city is no longer on the at-risk list. (c) the demographic character of the city is changing, and it may even lose its status as a "colonia" (a designation used for areas not up to minimal infrastructure standards). (d) Sunland Park is one of the safest small towns in the US, in violent crimes. (e) Improvements in the fire department have resulted in lower insurance rates.
I had to struggle to absorb all of this, given the pace of his speaking, jotting down what I could but probably dropping a point or two. Next, hoping to avoid another slam dunk, I asked him about the status of the proposed international crossing for Sunland Park. This is a sensitive subject, for many reasons. Racino owner Stan Fulton gave Sunland Park a donation of $12 million cash a few years ago when Ruben Segura was mayor to use toward getting the crossing planned, approved and under way. As the city's finances came into question the state has insisted on giving prior approval of expenditures from this fund. An international crossing requires state approval and a presidential blessing. The presidential approval in turn requires an environmental study and all kinds of other hoops to jump through. Governor Martinez at first seemed in favor of the crossing, but the conventional wisdom in Sunland Park is that she is now opposed. There are rumors the state of Chihuahua, favorable at first, is also backing away. The city is paying $90,000 to a border crossing specialist to move the project along, and there is some criticism that, given the growing opposition from the state, this is a waste of money. Finally, the apparent loss of support from the Governor toward the crossing is seen by some as a consequence of, and a reminder of, the scandals of 2012, especially the poor financial condition that brought about state intervention, which damaged the image of the City.
Perea responded that insofar as relations with the state, the City signed a contract paying $575,000 to the Border Authority, an entity of the state, a few years ago for assistance in the crossing, but that there is no evidence the City has "anything to show for it." Thus, although Perea didn't say this directly, he was implying the state has a share in whatever blame might be tossed about in terms of the delay of the project. In spite of this, and the apparent loss of support from the Governor, the City is moving along with the project, and has put out an RFP (request for proposals) for firms to bid on taking over the project. As for what appears to be growing opposition from the state, Perea indicated the negative image of the City after the scandals of 2012 contributed to this, making it all the more urgent to turn this image around.
Changing subjects, I asked what was at stake in the upcoming elections. Perea responded that there needs to be a change in both the culture of the council and in the culture of the city staff, and that continuity is needed with the direction the city has undertaken so far. He hopes if elected to stimulate more community engagement with the City through creation of more committees; he wants to undertake a more comprehensive plan for the city's future; he wants to continue working on an "entertainment corridor," building on the existing racino and on part of the vision Ruben Segura had for Sunland Park; and he hopes to find ways to increase the city's budget. At various points in the interview he stressed the need for greater citizen involvement.