By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
There seems to be far more unity than disagreement among Tucumcari City Commission candidates in the March 4 municipal election over what the issues in the city are and what priorities should be.
The key issue is a need for unity and the potential harm that recent division among city commissioners could do to the city if it continues, according to all candidates interviewed.
Most candidates even agree the city should place high priority on attracting new businesses, especially a proposed racetrack/casino, both by presenting a unified city commission and by cleaning up unsightly properties, chief among them the Sands Dorsey building’s ruins downtown.
The division that some recent commission decisions have demonstrated, such as firing, then re-hiring City Manager Doug Powers, the recall of District 2 Commissioner Jimmy Sandoval and an unsuccessful attempt to recall District 1 Commissioner Dora Salinas-McTigue, and squabbling over how Lodgers’ Tax proceeds should be distributed, seems to be fading, even as competitive campaigns start up in three commissioner districts in the city.
Here are the candidates in each of the districts for the election:
District 3: Edward Perea, Ruth Ann Litchfield and Ernest Dominguez (incumbent)
District 4: Thomas Even and Robert Lumpkin (incumbent)
District 5: Lorenzo Emillio, John Mihm, Wilfredo Gonzalez and Nitin Bhakta. (Incumbent Mayor Amiel Curnutt is not running.)
There is no contest this year in District 1.
In District 2, where Commissioner Jimmy Sandoval was recalled in a Jan. 2 vote, the commission is expected to make a decision as early as Thursday on whether to choose a new commissioner by appointment or through a special election.
On the issues, the candidates in the municipal election are saying very similar things.
The current commissioners seem to be saying “ ’I want this’ and ‘I want that’ instead of working together,” District 3 commission candidate Edward Perea said. The commission “needs to set goals,” he said. “They need to decide where they want the city to be in six months.” In addition, Perea said, the commissioners need to “finish what it has already started before they begin anything new.”
Ruth Ann Litchfield, another candidate in District 3, said “Our town is not united. We’ve got to work together. All of us. That’s the only way to get things done.”
Ernest Dominguez, the current District 3 commissioner, said, “Somehow, our community got split. We need to come together and all work together.”
Commissioner Robert Lumpkin, who is running to retain his District 4 seat, said the city should unite in recognition that some good things are happening in Tucumcari.
“Gross receipts tax receipts are higher,” he said, “and tourism is up.” There is new interest in the history of Route 66, and that is helping the city, he said. In addition, he said, volunteer painting crews have been re-decorating old gas stations in ways that recall the glory days of Route 66.
District 5 candidates Lorenzo Emillio, John Mihm and Nitin Bhakta also agree that the appearance of division within the city needs to be addressed before other issues can be resolved.
“This time of personal politics has got to end,” Emillio said.
Bhakta said, the division is hampering progress. “The commission is not getting things done,” he said.
Mihm said city commissioners should “think about the greater good of the community, not their own agenda,” The division, however, shows that Tucumcari residents are “passionate about our city,” he said.
On the record, none of the candidates would venture an opinion on the causes of the split on the commission, but all candidates stressed the need for the divisions to go away, all stressing the impact on the city’s image with visitors and possible investors in the area’s economy.
The city’s greatest need over the next four years?
Nitin Bhakta: “Economic Development.”
Ruth Ann Litchfield: “Jobs.”
Edward Perea: “Street repairs” and cleaning up old building sites.
Robert Lumpkin: Attracting the racino “and businesses like it,”; encouraging energy development in the area, including renewables and conventional resources; and promotion of Conchas and Ute Lakes as recreation sites.
Lorenzo Emillio: More transparency, more citizen involvement, improving the city’s appearance.
John Mihm: City leaders should promote Tucumcari “as a great place to do business, whether for building new business or expanding an existing one” and “make sure the city works as a unit” to fulfill its “potential to move forward.”
Thomas Even, candidate for District 4, declined to comment.
Wilfredo Gonzalez, candidate in the District 5, could not be reached for comment.