Now that the dust has settled after this week’s runoff election, Rio Rancho’s new mayor and city councilor are ready to roll up their sleeves and get down to the daily grind.
Issues they campaigned on include economic development and improving city infrastructure. Looming directly ahead will be discussions on the city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Rio Rancho’s Mayor-elect Gregg Hull started his term at a run, holding meetings with the city manager and department heads the day after the runoff, in which he beat rival Mike Williams in a landslide result. Gregg netted 65 percent of the votes to 35 percent for Williams.
“Right now my main focus is making sure that I learn where the city staff is and the objectives that they have right now so that I can come in alongside them and align with some of the things that they need,” Hull said on Thursday.
He would like to get going soon on initiatives for small business development, to make it easier for job creators to get set up in Rio Rancho.
In the council District 5 runoff, Shelby Smith beat Thomas Buckner with 61 percent of the votes. Smith plans to focus on economic development, water and the budget.
“We’re going to get into that (the budget) immediately,” Smith said on Tuesday night.
The two new governing body members will be sworn in at a ceremony at 6 p.m. on Monday conducted by Municipal Judge Robert Cook. Hull has asked Pastor Jeff Carr of Mesa Baptist Church, which he attends, to perform an invocation at the ceremony.
The newly elected mayor and councilor join new District 2 Councilor Dawnn Robinson and District 3 Councilor Cheryl Everett who won their seats in the regular election on March 4.
City rules required Hull and Smith to undergo runoffs because they were in four-person races where no one received at least 50 percent of the votes cast. They replace Tom Swisstack, who was mayor for six years and Tim Crum, who lost his bid for re-election to District 5.
Hull and Smith’s victories in the runoff election continued a trend in recent Rio Rancho elections of low voter turnouts and wins for conservative candidates.
Turnout for the regular municipal election on March 4, where conservative Robinson and Everett won, was 12.1 percent. In the runoff, 6,551 or 11.4 percent of the city’s 57,488 voters cast ballots for mayor. In the council runoff, 12.5 percent or 1,169 of the 9,372 registered voters cast ballots for a District 5 councilor.
In 2012, runoff elections for council seats in District 4 and 6 where two Rio Rancho Tea Party favored candidates won, the turnout was 11 percent.
“I think it is fair to say that Rio Rancho is more conservative politically than Albuquerque,” said political analyst Brian Sanderoff of Research & Polling Inc. “We see that not only in the municipal elections but in the general elections.”
Suburban communities tend to be more conservative, he said citing regional examples such Valencia County and Edgewood, which also tend to be more conservative than Albuquerque.
Turnout is also a significant factor. When 90 percent of the voters don’t cast ballots, “any mobilized group can have a lot of clout,” he said. “The larger the turnout, typically, the less influence niche groups will have on the political process.”
However, Rio Rancho hasn’t always stuck with that trend.
In recent years, Rio Rancho voters have supported Democratic candidates and measures that don’t necessarily fit with conservative philosophies, Sanderoff said.
For example, he said, they elected Swisstack, a Democrat, as mayor in the mid-1990s, in 2008 and in 2010.
He also mentioned how northern Rio Rancho voters in 2007 supported being included in the Central New Mexico Community College tax district, which enabled CNM to build a campus in the City Center, but also increased their property taxes.
In 2008 they voted for a gross receipts tax increase to support higher education. Last year voters defeated a campaign by some city councilors to reduce that tax so they could create a separate tax to generate revenue for public safety purposes.
“That shows you the other side of Rio Rancho,” he said.