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Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima wins reelection

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima talked to supporters during his election watch party at a popular restaurant November 5th. (Angela Kocherga/The Albuquerque Journal).

LAS CRUCES — Mayor Ken Miyagishima won a fourth term in office rising above a crowded field of candidates in the city’s first ranked choice election.

Miyagishima emerged with strong lead election night with 40 percent of the early voting results and held on to garner 55 percent of the vote to defeat nine challengers.

The incumbent mayor acknowledged the large number of candidates on the ballot including some with strong name recognition posed a challenge.   “You’ve got two sitting elected officials,” he said referring to Gregory Z. Smith, who has served on the Las Cruces  City Council representing  District 2 since 2012 and Doña Ana County Commissioner Isabella Solis.

Voters in Doña Ana County for the first time experienced rank choice voting, a process designed to provide an “instant run-off” if one single candidate does not get more than 50 percent of the vote. Voters to pick their top choice and can also rank the rest in order of preference.

Former mayor William “Bill” Mattiace trailed Miyagishima most of the night with about 20 percent of the vote. In the final round of ranked choice voting was a favorite second choice with 44.92 percent of the vote.

Mattiace served as mayor from 2003 -2007 and narrowly lost to Miyagishima. “I only beat him by 80 votes last time. That’s how I won in 2007,” said Miyagishima.

The mayor’s campaign field organizer praised a team of hard working young people for knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods for getting out the vote.

“This time we have the double whammy of the ten people running and the ranked choice,” said Pat Aguirre, field organizer for Miyagishima’s campaign.

At his watch party at a popular Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces supporters munched on chips and salsa and cheered loudly when early voting results showed the mayor with a commanding 40 percent lead.

Miyagishima’s campaign focused on public safety and downtown development in New Mexico’s second largest city as accomplishments. He also touted his business savvy in a 110 acre land swap with the city of Albuquerque that benefited Las Cruces.

“He’s been around long enough to understand the growth of the city, ” said Earl Missen, chairman of the Health and Human Services committee for the City of Las Cruces.  Missen  said the Mayor had also worked hard to fund non-profits in the city that provide critical services.

Several of those challenging Miyagishima were candidates running for mayor for second time including  Jessica Dolores Lucero, a former Las Cruces City council representative and  Eugenia, “Gina” Montoya Ortega, the co-owner of the popular La Fiesta Bakery.

Bev Courtney, former president of the Las Cruces Tea party, had run for city council and the state legislature and was one of two Republicans on the ballot.

The other Republican, Mike Tellez, had previously run for the state legislature. He joined the state Republican party in seeking legal action to prevent Dona Ana County from counting absentee claiming some were missing all the required identifying information.

The Secretary of State’s Office denied the allegations. On election day District Judge James Martin rejected the request for an injunction.

Several political novices were also on the ballot including 20-year-old Jorge Sanchez, a realtor in Las Cruces who said he wanted to make history and become the city’s youngest mayor.

But voters chose experience and handed a victory to Miyagishima.

The mayor had asked Las Cruces voters to give him a fourth term pointing to what he and the city council accomplished during the past 12 years. “We feel that the city is moving in a good direction why change?” he asked.

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