Rio Ranchoans should know Tuesday night who their next mayor will be. They should also know the city will be losing a dedicated public servant and a tireless advocate for Rio Rancho in Tom Swisstack, the community’s only mayor elected to the position three times.
The mayor, of course, announced he would not seek re-election in September, giving his would-be successors the benefit of knowing very early in their campaigns they would not be facing an incumbent.
Swisstack has had his share of critics over the years, occasionally including the editorial staff of this newspaper. But through it all, he’s provided steady leadership in both boom times as well as very trying times for the city of Rio Rancho, all the while balancing a successful professional career with Bernalillo County.
He had already been a Sandoval County commissioner for some seven years when he was elected to his first term as mayor in 1994, taking office just as Rio Rancho was about to form its own school district. Asked about career highlights, the mayor recently told Observer reporter Gary Herron that his participation in those efforts, including working with Intel to develop and build Rio Rancho High School, ranks among his proudest moments.
In 2002, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he served until 2008 as a strong advocate for his constituents in the city and the county. In a special mayoral election, voters returned him to the office to fill the two years remaining in the term of Kevin Jackson, who resigned amid a scandal. Swisstack helped restore stability at City Hall over the next two years and won re-election in 2010.
Rio Rancho was not immune to the Great Recession, and the mayor concedes some of his most difficult decisions the past six years involved tax increases, budget cuts and leaving needed positions unfilled. But there have also been a number of successes, with Swisstack playing important roles in the recruitment of companies like Hewlett-Packard to Rio Rancho, the emergence of the CNM and UNM West campuses in the City Center and development of the Presybyterian Rust Medical Center and UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.
One certainly has to appreciate Swisstack’s ability the last two years to work with a city council largely divided by political ideologies.
His affable style and accessibility will be sorely missed. From attending multitudes of civic functions to answering media questions, he has been the face — a very positive one — of Rio Rancho. He deserves a big-time thank-you for a job well done.