Jerah R. Cordova, who has been mayor of the city of Belen for seven years, said for the past 18 years, he’s worked to protect our nation in a full-time capacity as a federal contractor with the Department of Defense and agencies of the federal government. He is married to Megan Malcom-Morgan.
Q What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
A “I think about Belen — and what I need to do later that day or in the days to come. Because I work full-time outside of my mayoral duties, I spend much of my extra time, like when I’m in commute, thinking through next steps. I also enjoy music, so when I’m caught up on work, I listen to tunes.”
Q What’s a myth about your profession you’d like to bust?
A “Government isn’t politics. Government and politics should be distinct to the extent possible, even if they’re in play simultaneously. Politics is the process of persuasion, usually by way of scheming, slogans, glad-handing and mounds of money, but government is the serious work of projects, programs, procedures and personnel, all wrapped up in revenue and expenditure and dutifully carried out by professionals.
“There are many politicians who can come up with slick slogans but can’t govern because they don’t have technical know-how. Voters should be wary of hollow politicking.”
Q What were you like in high school?
A “I was a nerd and an introvert. I worked hard at my grades and kept to myself much of the time. The mayor you know today — unafraid to give a TV interview or to explain my plans for our city — isn’t who I’ve always been.
“I look back in awe because I was once so quiet and hesitant. With persistence and taking to task the parts of myself I wanted to change, I grew as a person. But I still consider myself a nerd and introvert in many ways.”
Q What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
A “My life’s guiding light is Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American transcendentalist, teacher, author and orator. He got me through challenging times with this line from “Self-Reliance,” an essay he wrote in 1841: “My life is not an apology, but a life.” Which is to say, we must learn and move forward. Emerson has many more nuggets of wisdom in his works.”
Q What did you want to be when you grew up?
A “Haha! The only job I remember talking about as a kid was a leaf blower, literally a grounds maintenance person who uses a blower to clear leaves from sidewalks and parking lots. It looked so cool to have that jetpack on your back.”
Q Who inspires you?
A “I’m charmed by Belen’s history, and I would say the top of my list is John Becker. If you look back, while there were many contributors to Belen’s success, he was both businessman and government before Belen had a mayor.
“He plotted the layout of streets and operated the post office. His name is on paper money, as the issuer. He was bold in every action he took, never afraid of the risk — but smart — and always intent on improving Belen, because ultimately, it improved his family and investments.”
Q If you could work any other job for one day, what would it be and why?
A “I’d want to be a retiree for a day. I work hard and I’ve got lots of years of work still ahead of me, so any day off would be welcomed.
“I’m fibbing a little bit. I actually feel best when busy, like working on my wife’s art gallery, making films through our production company, learning about local history or just playing Bubble Bobble on NES. (Look it up! Bub and Bob are adorable.)”
Q What do you do in your free time?
A “I wander around taking photos, using my cellphone or the trusty Nikon I’ve worked with for years. I like capturing the beauty of the world through light and shadow, unique angles and layers, and moments in time that deserve to be remembered. I cherish showing someone a photo I’ve captured of a common place or activity that brightens their view of it.”
Q What’s something about you most people don’t know?
A “I’m one of the top Famicom experts in the United States. Famicom, you ask? It’s the Japanese Family Computer, a Nintendo 8-bit precursor to the 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) here in the United States. If you do some sleuthing, you’ll quickly find my gaming forum called ‘Famicom World.’”
Q What three books would you to take to a deserted island?
A “Thinking practically, survival books and maybe a book about building a boat out of palm trees.”
Q You find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
A “I would repair every historic building in Belen. I’d make sure every old building has a new roof, is structurally sound and has a restored historic façade. We have a beautiful city with potential, but we need people with money and a devotion to our past to make it happen. As for me, selfishly, I’m sure a good start would be a firethorn red 1976 Firebird, window louvers optional.”
Q Who is your best friend and why?
A “My best friend is Rob Carew. I met him in ninth grade at Belen High School in Chauncey Matthews’ home period. He is fun-loving and kind, and he keeps me in check when I get too serious.”
Q What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re alone?
A “Hard to pick just one! I’m really fond of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” The lyrical flow is smooth and the lyrical content is storybook epic.”
Q Where is your happy place, and why?
A “Belen is my happy place. I feel a sense of calm when I exit I-25 into Belen, passing open land with the big sky above. Belenites are the people I love most, and it’s a town that’s given me a sense of belonging and personal success.
“Out here, we care about family, friends and neighbors, and those who come and go, with our hospitality. No other place captures my heart the way Belen always has.”
Q Have you had a life-changing experience that led you to where you are today?
A “In 2010 when I was running for Belen City Council, I put up a giant billboard at Main and Reinken as one of my campaign ads. Controversy aside for those who recall — yes, I was sued by the City of Belen over it — it turned out to be a great investment. Not only did I end up winning the election, but the billboard helped me meet Megan, who later became my wife and lifelong companion.”
Q What teacher had the greatest impact on you?
A “Melodie Good, Alex Taylor, Shannon Stromei, Chauncey Matthews. I would love to name them all. All of my teachers shaped who I’ve become, just like my parents and friends, who teach me how life should be lived each day. What I would give to hear Coach Taylor’s ice chest lecture one more time, a lecture about a miniscule Earth in comparison to the vast universe — it pushed me to think bigger.”
Q What is your favorite movie scene and why?
A “With the bad guys trying to take over Sommerton Junction in “The Last Stand,” Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) defends the town, guns ablaze. After an intense battle, holding his ground, he looks into the camera and declares, “Welcome to Sommerton!” What Arnold means is — this is my town and you’re not gonna harm it. That’s how I’ve tried to lead. I stand in strong defense of Belen. Always. Whether it’s an attack on our nativity or some rogue trying to keep our business community from growing.”
Q If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be and why?
A “Judy Chicago, and gratefully, I have. Judy could be anywhere in the world, but she and her husband, Donald Woodman, picked Belen. She has given the seminal years of her creative life and immense legacy to us. I will continue to honor that, to guarantee a lasting local legacy. ‘Kitty City’ is Belen after all, and if you haven’t read it, it’s adorable.”
Q What are you most proud of?
A “I’m proud of my ability to accomplish goals, which requires a strategic mix of actively listening to others, knowing my resources and relentlessly following up until the goals are achieved. I know I’ve put Belen back on track after a couple decades of decline.”
Q How would you like to be remembered?
A “I want to be remembered for having passion. In life, everyone gets the chance to find their interests and put the full force of their hands and minds into them. If you do it with passion, you’ll have done it right and have made a difference in the lives of many.”
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