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Ex-Mayor Credited With CNM

By Lloyd Jojola
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Former Albuquerque Mayor Louis Saavedra, who as an educator was credited with building Central New Mexico Community College into one of the state's largest institutions of higher learning, died Friday morning.
        The Albuquerque resident was 76.
        "He was at heart a very gentle soul, a very gentle person," Mayor Martin Chávez said. "I think probably his life's greatest accomplishment is (Central New Mexico Community College). I can't imagine CNM would have been what it is today without him."
        Saavedra, a native of the Socorro County mining town of Tokay, held a master's degree in educational administration from Eastern New Mexico University.
        Saavedra was elected mayor in 1989 and served one term.
        He earlier served on the City Commission after being appointed to fill a vacancy in 1967. He won a full term in 1970.
        Saavedra was the founding administrator of the Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute — now known as Central New Mexico Community College — starting out as principal in 1965, when the institution was governed by the Albuquerque Public Schools board.
        TVI became independent in 1979, and at that point Saavedra became school president.
        TVI began with a couple hundred students in 1965, a 1989 Journal profile of Saavedra reads. "By the time he retired last June, the school was granting two-year degrees and had an enrollment of 18,000."
        Saavedra served as president of TVI until 1989.
        "He was an excellent president for our school and was most influential in what we are today," said Robert Matteucci, chairman of the CNM governing board. "He was very instrumental in getting for us a really, really good faculty."
        The school evolved from mostly technical-vocational classes into the broader liberal arts, Matteucci said. "He was instrumental in making us a well-rounded community college."
        CNM President Katharine Winograd, in offering condolences to the Saavedra family, called him "a historic leader at CNM who contributed tremendously to the success of CNM and its students.
        "He will be dearly missed."
        After retiring from TVI, Saavedra announced his campaign for mayor and later won a runoff election. He succeeded Mayor Ken Schultz.
        "One of the things that made him very different from the other mayors was that he was much more of a manager in terms of how he dealt with issues at City Hall," said Lawrence Rael, who served as a deputy chief administrative officer during the last two years of Saavedra's administration. "Almost exclusively, he left all the decisions, the operational decisions, up to the CAO and department head and would come in on occasions just to talk about issues he thought were relevant or that he needed to get involved with."
        Saavedra was "very smart" "a great human being" and "a genuine statesman," he said.
        But his reserved political approach also left a certain public impression.
        "I think folks during this term coined him as the 'Stealth Mayor' because he really wasn't as public of a figure that maybe folks perceived him or wanted him to be," Rael said. "He was much more private in many ways, and quiet."
        Saavedra was mayor at a particularly tough time.
        "When he came into the mayor's office in 1989, city finances were in a deep hole, and he worked very quietly but thoroughly and left four years later with city finances in very strong shape," said David Campbell, who served as city attorney in Saavedra's administration.
        "What Louis was able to accomplish was done in a very quiet way," Campbell said. "He was very good at recognizing talented administrators, hiring them, and then getting out of their way and having them work."
        Saavedra was successful in implementing many quality of life projects, this following voters approval of a tax that was intended to pay for such initiatives as the biological park, museums and aquarium.
        His administration should also be remembered for such things as expanding the open space program and for recycling projects, Campbell said.
        But his time in public life was not without controversy.
        An investigation commissioned by TVI after Saavedra became mayor recommended the former president reimburse the school $4,883 for charitable and political contributions he had made from the TVI general activity fund.
        Also, he faced questions over an insurance policy he had secretly received from the school's governing board. He eventually had to pay the money back.
        Saavedra died of cancer. The illness was short, less than two months.
        Dr. Mark Unverzagt, Saavedra's physician who had known him for years, talked about the great admiration and respect he had for the former mayor.
        "I think (he was) one of the most decent, honorable people I've ever known with a wonderful sense of humor, really erudite and witty and clever and just fun to be with," Unverzagt said.
        "In the face of this illness, he showed extraordinary courage," the doctor said. "It was not an easy diagnosis to have, and he was enormously courageous, graceful — again just sort of reflecting, I think, who he was as a person."

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