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Mayor challenges young adults to change culture

Saying the city faces problems and needs their help, Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack called on the community’s young people to “take on the system” and run for office.

Tom Swisstack.

Tom Swisstack.

“I think your generation is smarter,” Swisstack said during an address Wednesday to the Visionaries, a group of young professionals and entrepreneurs under the age of 40.

He said members of the younger generation are more astute with technology and becoming leaders in business, but haven’t figured out how to transcend that world and start changing systems or culture.

The mayor was a guest at the group’s first meeting of the year at Fairwinds Rio Rancho.

Mike Muscari, the leader of the group, asked Swisstack how the Visionaries can get involved and start giving back to their community. “Where can we make a real impact today?”

Swisstack mentioned several social issues “we don’t talk about as a community.” He shared his concerns about “pockets of poverty” and how the schools are falling behind. He cited the lingering problem of unemployment.

“Drugs and domestic violence and mental health are alive and well in Rio Rancho,” Swisstack said.

Swisstack said there are some prerequisites. People have to be happy and stable before they can commit to a cause or spend time helping others. Muscari said passion can sometimes make up the difference; he had almost no money when he started the Visionaries.

The Visionaries need to get involved in the political process, Swisstack said. They should not get caught up in political labels, “which I don’t care about anymore.” If they “have thick skin,” one or two candidates should run for city council or county commission, he said.

Any candidate who wins should “be 100 percent honest with the public,” Swisstack said, “even if it hurts.”

If one of the Visionaries were to get elected, he or she should start by tackling a few high-impact issues, the mayor said. Monitor the “pulse of the community” and never lose contact with the public.

When asked about his happiest days as mayor, Swisstack, who decided not to run for re-election this year, recalled going to the schools and reading to the kids. He could see the smiles and watch “that future generation start to step up.”

Sandra Atwood, a candidate for city council, said several voters have recently talked to her about the mayor..

“They are concerned about him leaving office because he has cared for the community,” she said, adding Swisstack will leave a legacy of service.

“My whole career’s been spent helping other people,” Swisstack said. He would have made more money working in the private sector, “but I got paid back a lot of times, over and over, because I’m helping other people.

“Take that first step,” Swisstack told the group. They can find mentors, but there really isn’t any “crash course” they can take. He said he believes the Visionaries can become more sophisticated in dealing with the political system. Their involvement would be “a breath of fresh air.”

The Visionaries meet twice a month at Fairwinds Rio Rancho. The group started in 2009 and continues to enjoy the support of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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