A mayoral debate was hosted by Loma Theater on Monday night with Mayor Ravi Bhasker, Mary Ann Chavez-Lopez, Jim Burleson and Juan JC Trujillo. Ignacio P Chavez was not present. There was an estimated of fifty in attendance with many more watching live on Facebook according to Melissa Hurtgen, moderator of the event and operations manager of La Loma.
Hurtgen said she thought it was a great night.
“Especially for my first time moderating and for the candidates not knowing what I was going to ask. We don’t feel there were any winners or losers of the night. I feel like everybody up there showed their true colors. Of course, we would have loved to have heard more elaborations on answers, but we are trying to get in all the questions we could. We had a really great turnout online,” Hurtgen said.
The event began with an opportunity for each candidate to make an opening statement, followed by what was explained by Hurtgen as a voluntary “clear the air moment” where each candidate could respond to a rumor about them that they wanted to give clarity.
Ravi Bhasker addressed questions regarding his health.
“You can see that I am alive and I’m doing well,” Bhasker said.
Bhasker stood up and gave a spin to the audience to show that he was okay and said that last year he had a ruptured appendix but that he was fine now.
Burleson addressed an incident in 2007 where he said that he was attacked by five armed drug dealers as a victim of a violent crime. He said that the men were beating him and threatening to kill him.
“I was able to reach my pistol, I shot the main attacker and from then on there was a huge question about my integrity as a human being, which blew me away,” Burleson said.
Mary Ann said she was questioned regarding a misuse of COVID funds and purchased equipment instead of making repairs on the apartments.
“When you get any funds through HUD or any type of funding or any other government agency, those funds are ear tagged, so the funds that we used were not for the apartments because they were ear tagged for the Section Eight house choice voucher so that’s how we used them.”
JC Trujillo defended his qualifications as mayor and spoke to projects and accomplishments he’s been involved with at the schools and the strong relationships he has locally, state, and nationwide.
“I am the most qualified, I am young and healthy, I’ve been in Socorro all of my life, I have the knowledge, education and background.” Trujillo said.
Electric co-op plans
One of the questions given at the debate asked if candidates were in support of Mayor Bhasker’s plans for a new electric utility and city utility rates rising as a result.
Mayor Bhasker defended the city utility rates and his electric project. He said that the utility rates were in the lower and middle tier of all cities the size of Socorro. He compared rates to other cities in New Mexico and said he could save residents money with the electric co-op.
“I support it to a point,” Chavez-Lopez said. She said she was concerned about how long it would be before the lower rates went into effect and what might happen if the current rates went up in the meantime.
Mayor Ravi rebutted saying that the electric co-op didn’t have the authority to raise rates without involving the PRC.
Burleson said that the problem with the electric project is that the PRC can regulate rates currently but if it was municipalized, he questioned what would happen if we had someone who doesn’t have the integrity that Mayor Bhasker has and raises rates.
Trujillo said he thought there was a lot of misinformation and that he did his own research, and he thought the city should spend the money elsewhere.
“I don’t think that that’s the direction we need to be going,” Trujillo said.
Regarding a question about allowing so many cannabis stores to Socorro, Mayor Bhasker said that the state, against his advice, legalized marijuana and marijuana shops.
“Cannabis is a business, it’s legal; I’m not in the business of picking winners and losers,” Bhasker said. “If the state says I can only have seven in town, like we do with liquor licenses, we will go with that.”
Chavez- Lopez said that she felt that there should be a limit to the amount of cannabis stores that could open in Socorro and suggested they could do some type of resolution to limit the stores.
Trujillo said that there are nine cannabis shops currently and the issue he sees is that people who are using cannabis recreationally are dipping beyond their disposable income. Money that should be spent on rent and utilities is spent on marijuana, in his opinion.
Burleson said that he supported the cannabis stores because they are renovating buildings and when they go out of business the city has nice buildings to rent.
“As a free market society, we need recognize that people have the freedom to do these things,” Burleson said.
The candidates were asked who they would bring in to fill the four top city positions – clerk, treasurer, police chief and fire chief, if elected.
All agreed that no changes would be made to the current city staff and reassured the audience that no one should be worried about losing their job with the city. Bhasker said that personnel policies protect employees if a new mayor is elected. The other topic they all agreed on was supporting whoever wins the mayoral election.
The debate ran for over an hour and a half; candidates were asked other questions, which included topics such as homelessness, sidewalk safety, beautification of the city, mayoral term limits, communication, mayoral behavior, benefiting your own business, youth violence, crime and holding the police department accountable.
The full video of the debate can be viewed on Loma Theater’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@LomaTheater