BELEN — After serving two terms as mayor of the city of Belen, Jerah Cordova says even though the Hub City is in his blood, he will not seek re-election come this November.
Cordova, who served four years on the city council before being elected mayor eight years ago, says his decision to essentially call it quits is because of his beliefs in term limits.
“It’s been on my mind for quite some time,” Cordova said of the decision he made last fall. “For me, it was kind of decided in that I’m a strong believer in term limits. I knew that it was highly unlikely I would be running for a third term because I think two terms are enough.”
While Cordova says a lot more needs to be done in the city, he thinks it’s always good to have fresh, new ideas and new faces.
Cordova’s interest in politics were heightened during his college years at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While living, working and studying in the nation’s capital, he realized the stark difference between the wealth and access that stood in contrast to New Mexico.
“Knowing my experience and my capability, I knew I had something positive I could bring to Belen, specifically,” he said. “When I looked into politics and where I wanted to get involved, it always made sense to me that it would be Belen. In wanting to make a difference for New Mexico I knew making a difference for Belen was my passion.”
Cordova was first elected to the city council when he was 26 years old, and elected mayor when he was 30. His decision to run for mayor eight years ago was made with former mayor Rudy Jaramillo decided not seek re-election.
“I’ve always had a bit of deference to those who have come before and respect that if they are going to pursue re-election, that’s probably not the best time to run,” Cordova said. “As long as they’re doing a good job, keep the team together.”
The position of mayor — which is part-time and pays $18,000 a year — is somewhat restricted as a member of the governing body in that he or she only breaks ties during a vote. The amount of pressure and ability to make a difference is also enhanced, he said.
Even though he’s made the decision not to seek re-election, Cordova said his future in politics is not finished.
“I’ve thought about what it means to the city not to be there as mayor, because that does weigh on me a lot,” he said. “I’ve thought about finishing my eight years as a city councilor. I’ve thought about running for the state Legislature.”
He’s even thought about challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in two years, but said he’s not sure he has the resources, the connections and the money that would allow him to be successful.
“If you’re the right person and have the right message, that can sometimes get through to people and they will back you up, but that’s a tough one when you don’t have the money,” Cordova said. “A lot of it will depend on the redistricting that’s taking place based of the census.”
As Cordova reflects on his time serving Belen, he’s happy to be able to help the citizens and better the city. He’s most proud of being able to improve the infrastructure in the Hub City, from paving roads, installing sidewalks and enhancing systems.
“When I came on board, we had significant water infrastructure that was failing — Eagle tank and Well No. 5,” he said. “Water delivery services was at a limited capacity. We did not have the redundancy for water delivery for new development.
“In working with the city councilor, specifically Councilor (Frank) Ortega because he was very passionate about the issue, we were able to rebuild Eagle tank and we were able to do major renovations of other tanks. We’re in pretty good darn shape for our water system.”
Cordova is also glad the city was able to install the electronic meter reading system. The idea came from resident and business owner, Norbert Moya, who suggested the city could do better.
“We put the money together and got it done,” Cordova said. “It created an incredible efficiency for government and it’s always important to reduce government expense and government waste.”
He’s also proud of being able to refocus the city’s attention to the under-served areas of Belen, such as Bernard Avenue, which was recently repaved and received new sidewalks. The one project Cordova is glad to have completed is the much-needed improvements to Martha Jean Road.
The neighborhood had been annexed into the city years ago, but hadn’t been given any real benefit from that, the mayor said.
“A lot of promises were made and not kept,” Cordova said. “We were able to get a lot of projects done for that neighborhood including the new water and sewer infrastructure and the paving that is there. They had a failing community well that was hard to upkeep.”
While Cordova has a long list of accomplishments, he also has a list of projects he hasn’t been able to complete, including drainage and paving of Barboa Court and Gabaldon Place, the intersection reconstruction at 10th Street and Esperanza Avenue, construction of a new Belen police station, new street lights from the Main Street overpass to Walmart and sidewalks on North Main Street from Aragon Road to the overpass.
“My heart will always be with Belen,” he said. “I have an endless amount of ideas of where we can go with the city. You could probably take a photo of a crack in a sidewalk and I can tell you exactly where it is, because I know this town so well.”
As for the future of the Hub City, Cordova wants to be as involved as much as possible, saying he would do whatever he could to help the future mayor and council.
“I want to open up as many financial resources as possible for the next mayor,” he said. “I want to be sure they have a slate of projects ready to go — funding ready to go.”
With only nine months left in his term, Cordova reflects on what he’s learned, saying the lessons have been endless.
“There are government lessons, process lessons, legal lessons, communication lessons — all sorts of stuff that made me to be a better person and to be a better leader,” the Belen mayor said. “It’s been incredibly rewarding. We have an incredible city in Belen. It is vital, it is important and it is always improving.
“We have a lot of folks who want well for their town, and they expect well for their town, and that’s exactly how it should be,” Cordova said. “And they’ll keep the pressure on and they’ll tell you when you’re doing good and when you’re doing wrong.”
For the past year and a half, Cordova said he’s been “setting up city government” so the next mayor can be as successful as he could possibly make it for them.
“That means, ensuring a strong budget,” he said. “Also, ensuring that we have a strong capital improvement plan with funding from the state to be positioned to compete more projects. I’m teeing it up as best I can.
“Goal No. 2 is to have the best team in place and, right now, we have the best city staff in place that I’ve seen in all my time with the city,” Cordova said. “There have been good people who have come and gone, but we have set up a working team that is pushing for progress.”
Cordova hopes who comes next will have the same passion and love for the city as he does, and is grateful to the voters and the citizens for allowing him to serve.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.