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Five Democratic candidates for council vied for the attention of their fellow citizens at the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos’ candidate forum on Wednesday. The Democratic ticket has room for four of those candidates in the November election, so one of the contenders will be eliminated in the June 3 primary.
Each candidate was allowed opening and closing statements to introduce themselves and their platforms, but answers to questions from voters and the LWV formed the core of the event.
LWV asked each candidate to state their two top priorities.
For Ed Birnbaum, those were water and better cooperation between the lab, the county and the various pueblos.
“Clearly the climate is such that whether you believe it’s global warming or just random climate fluctuation, drought is becoming more important. People are going to be fighting over water in the next several years and for the indefinite future.”
Birnbaum would like to work toward developing better infrastructure for fire protection and bringing people together “in a consensual way” to work on projects such as that.
Michael Redondo is committed to filling the demographic gap for people 18 to 30 years old.
“When I graduated from high school here in Los Alamos, many of my fellow graduates were very excited to leave for college, and a large number of them felt that they were going to leave Los Alamos and never come back again. And that’s something that I really think we need to change.
“My priority is to make Los Alamos the kind of place where our young people want to stay. And not just the young people who grew up here and graduated from high school here, but also the post docs that are drawn here.
David Izraelevitz stretched his priorities to three: operational excellence, following the county’s strategic plan in order to take a long-term view of community needs and maintaining openness and communication between the community and council, something he has advanced through social media and a Facebook page.
“We need to make sure that our budget supports the type of amenities and the type of operations that the community expects, because our competition for residents is not Santa Fe or Albuquerque or even the Southwest. Our competition is the Bay Area, the Boston area. That’s where the laboratory’s recruiting, and, as our main tax provider, we need to support the needs of the laboratory to bring high quality staff into the laboratory.”
Andrea Cunningham’s first priority is small business.
“Looking at the empty businesses that we have in the middle of our downtown, I have been finding out that there have been people that have approached Los Alamos that have been interested in starting businesses here, and yet they have been withdrawn. And to me that’s a real concern, because we need to find out from these businesses and from others that are in town, what are their difficulties, what are the challenges, and what are the barriers that we can remove,” she said.
Cunningham wants to see a business liaison working with the economic development department on those issues.
Cunnington’s second priority is community health issues, particularly mental health.
“We have had real problems with being able to provide mental health services to our youth and having the youth feel valued and a part of our community.”
Susan O’Leary wants to provide better services to citizens.
“What councilors need to do is make sure there is alignment between the vision of the strategic plan of the county and the day-to-day decision making that’s occurring at the county level in operations, in finance decisions, in service levels, in community standards…
O’Leary also had ideas for how to improve communication between county officials and citizens.
“I think that in order for our system of democracy to be the best it can be, citizens need to understand how elected officials are making decisions. They need to have an opportunity to participate in that decision making process.”
One voter asked what candidates thought small businesses could do to become more successful and improve the community.
Birnbaum advocated for business owners working together to create a “mall” at Central Park Square, noting how business had improved in Las Cruces, N.M. once there was a consolidated location. “Central Park Square, theoretically, is a mall, but it doesn’t function like a mall.”
Cunningham wanted to see businesses cooperating to stock products residents need so they did not feel they have to drive off the Hill to find something.
“I would suggest they talk together, work together and find out what they can do to augment one another.”
Izraelevitz wanted businesses to better understand the Los Alamos market, but also to take advantage of what resources are available to them, such as UNM-LA’s Small Business Development Center and the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation.
“What I find sometimes when contacted by businesses that would like some help from council, is that they don’t understand that there are already these resources that are already available.”
O’Leary advocated for businesses researching customer needs and also working with each other and the county to develop a “shop local” campaign.
“If you think about why businesses would come and relocate her in Los Alamos, the best reason they would come is if existing businesses are doing well. And so encouraging citizens to support local business, to buy local, is going to have a ripple effect.”
Redondo wants to see more small businesses owning the property they operate out of. He suggested finding the capital to make that possible by getting local people who invest in things like “golf courses in Georgia” to instead invest in local businesses.
“You’ll notice that the small businesses that own the buildings they operate out of do fairly well. So I would love to see our small businesses partner with the community to help themselves strive, so we can be a community and make our small businesses what they really need to be.”
Candidates supported developing a new comprehensive code and revising the development code, and agreed that public input was important in that process.
Redondo pointed out that state law mandates a new comprehensive code every four years and that it has been at least 20 since the county’s was revised. Izraelevitz, who currently serves on council, noted that a revision of the code is already underway.
Sheriff Marco Lucero wanted to hear candidates’ view on the sheriff as peace officer.
All felt that the having a sheriff was important to the county, but stressed the need for clearly defined responsibilities for the police and the sheriff to avoid confusion.