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“Las Cruces has enough going on that we need a full-time mayor,” City Councilor Greg Smith said about his decision to give up the council seat he has held for nearly eight years and run for mayor.
Smith said residents he’s talked to since announcing last December that he would run for the higher office have also told him it’s time for a change in the mayor’s office. “He’s been there too long” is what Smith said citizens are telling him about incumbent Ken Miyagishima, who will complete 12 years as mayor in November.
Miyagishima has not announced if he will seek a fourth term as mayor in the November 2019 election. 2015 candidate Gina Ortega is running again, and other names have been mentioned in the mayor’s race. Aug. 27 is filing day for mayor and three council races, including the District 2 seat Smith has held since 2011. He received more than 40 percent of the vote that year in a three-person race and was re-elected in 2015 with 54 percent of the vote in a two-person race.
Las Cruces, Smith said, needs a mayor who attends events locally and in surrounding communities where the city needs to be represented and who also interacts regularly with city council members and the public. “That’s what we need and that’s what I plan to do,” Smith said.
Smith, 65, served four years as mayor-pro tem, running city council meetings in the mayor’s absence and filling in for him at other times, he said, adding that he began attending council meetings before he was elected, representing organizations he chaired or of which he was a member.
City elections are non-partisan and Smith is a registered Independent, which can be a political disadvantage, he acknowledged. But he also doesn’t “get colored with the red or the blue pencil as much.”
Without an allegiance to one political party or the other, Smith said, he can “be straight up about who I am and what I think the important issues are. “I listen and I respect the different views that people have,” he said.
An example, Smith said, is the proposal to rename Motel Boulevard as Pat Garrett Boulevard that the council is expected to vote on July 15. Smith said he has listened to the proposal from the Doña Ana County Historical Society to make the change as well as to community members who oppose it. The issue “stirs a lot of emotion,” Smith said, adding that if the cost is $500,000, “I can’t go there.” If the cost can be lowered and the opposition mollified, “then I’m okay with ‘Pat Garrett,” he said. Smith also has proposed renaming Motel as Legacy Way, which would cost $50,000-$60,000, he said, would give “a better impression to visitors” and would instill a “sense of pride” in community members. “I don’t want the community divided on what we name a street,” Smith said.
The four central planks of Smith’s campaign platform form the acronym LIVE in English and VIVA in Spanish: Leadership/vitalidad, integrity/integridad, vision/visión and economic diversity/acción economíca diversa. “First and most importantly,” Smith said, his campaign is “about Las Cruces, who we are, where we are going, what we can be.”
“Las Cruces is shining in a number of areas,” Smith said, including the way volunteers and city staff stepped up to deal with the influx of asylum seekers coming into the city from Central America since mid-April. “We’re doing things I’m very proud of,” Smith said.
As a council member, Smith has sometimes taken the lead in passing resolutions calling for state and/or federal action on often controversial issues like the proposed border wall, school safety and immigration. The city council shouldn’t weigh in on every legislative issue, Smith said, but sometimes “it’s our place.” On those issues that “have impacts on our community … we should speak up, we should be transparent,” Smith said.
As mayor, Smith said he wants to see the city improve its relationship with Doña Ana County, which he said has deteriorated since a divided council vote in February 2019 to seek separate ambulance service from the county. The city, Smith said, needs to be “good partners with the county.”
Smith said serving as chair of the joint city-Las Cruces Public Schools Partnership for Community Schools is “a great fit” for him because he is a former school teacher who believes strongly in the community schools’ model.
Smith said the Plaza de Las Cruces is probably the accomplishment he is most proud of as a council member. “It is such a central feature for Las Cruces,” he said. He’s also proud of plans to move the city Museum of Art into the old post office that now houses municipal court.
Smith said he also recognizes that “other parts of town deserve attention,” and supports development in Mesilla Park, Aggie Uptown at the south end of Telshor Boulevard, city-owned property across from MountainView Regional Hospital, the old country club area, Amador Proximo and elsewhere.
“Basically, I am an optimist,” Smith said. The city isn’t perfect, he said, and there are “things we need to address, improve and change (but) we do have a lot going for us.”
Mike Cook may be contacted at email@example.com.