County Council Democratic candidates from left, Michael Redondo and Ed Birnbaum, House Dist. 43 GOP candidates Geoff Rodgers and Vincent Chiravalle and County Council Democratic candidates Andrea Cunningham, Susan O’Leary and David Izraelevits. Photo by Don Casperson/Kiwanis
All seven of the candidates running in contested local races in the June 3 Primary Election spoke at Kiwanis May 13. In a lively 30-minute sharing of views, each candidate had three minutes to introduce himself, explain why he was running, and say why he felt he stood out when compared with other election hopefuls.
Each one was also encouraged to leave copies of his campaign literature on a table at the back of the room, and, when the last talk had ended, Kiwanis members had a few minutes left for questions.
The only local elections contested in the Primary are the State Representative District 43 race on the Republican ticket and the Los Alamos County Council race on the Democratic side.
Vincent P. Chiravalle and Geoff Rodgers (both with experience on the County Council), are the two candidates seeking the GOP District 43 nomination. In the General Election, the winner in this race will face incumbent Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat, who is unopposed in her party’s Primary.
The seven members of the current County Council are: Fran Berting, Steven Girrens, Kristin Henderson, David Izraelevitz, Rick Reiss, Geoff Rodgers, and Peter Sheehey. Those in the four positions up for election this year are Berting, Izraelevitz, Reiss, and Rodgers. Berting is retiring from the Council. Izraelevitz, a Democrat who was appointed to fill a vacancy, has served about three years and is seeking his party’s nomination for a full term. Reiss, a Republican who was also appointed when a vacancy occurred, has served two years and is now running for a full term. Rodgers, a Republican, is a candidate for District 43 State Representative.
The five Democrats running for four County Council slots in the Primary (in ballot order) are: Edward Birnbaum, Michael Redondo, David Izraelevitz, Andrea Susan Cunningham, and Mary Susan O’Leary. Voters in the Democratic Primary Election must, in effect, eliminate one. The four Democrats who win will face four Republicans who have a “free ride” in the GOP Primary—Reiss, James T. Chrobocinski, John L. Bliss, and Billy J. McKerley.
Summarized below are the remarks by each contested candidate, in the order in which they spoke—which was determined by a drawing as the Kiwanis meeting began.
State Representative District 43—Republican Candidates’ Race
Chiravalle, a former County Councilor, has lived in Los Alamos County since 2003. He is a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a member of the local Rotary club, a lector at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and a member of the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico. He noted that as a member of the Knights of Columbus, he has raised money for Las Cumbres, and as a Rotarian, he has served as an organizing member for the Crop Walk and the Turkey Trot.
He said, “Our state government has grown in size,” but, in his view, it has done little to approach the issues. “We have to do better,” he concluded.
His campaign literature lists and explains his five “solutions”:
He believes in “less government,” and is seeking to “minimize government regulations and advance freedom from unnecessary mandates.” He is “business friendly,” supporting “laws that promote free enterprise and encourage individual initiative for economic growth and prosperity.” He believes in supporting education by maintaining “high standards for our children” and ensuring “that state funds produce better tangible results.” He believes in “protecting life,” and seeks to “support and protect all innocent human life from conception until natural death.” And he is “Pro Second Amendment,” “respecting the right to bear arms without more regulations.” He believes that, “Additional regulations on law abiding citizens will not deter violent crimes.”
Rodgers, who has served two terms on the County Council and has been chosen as chairman four times, said he has “first-hand knowledge of the impact of actions (taken) in Santa Fe.”
He said, “Look around New Mexico. We cannot possibly be fated to be on the wrong end of so many things.” He said that New Mexico’s position near the bottom of many lists indicates that education is failing here and that the state does not compete well with its neighbors. It is, therefore, significant, he said, to note that the New Mexico House of Representatives has been “controlled by a single party since (President Dwight David) Eisenhower’s first term.” He said, “We need policies that put the private sector at the forefront.”
His literature emphasizes jobs, schools, and “safer communities.” He says he “knows New Mexicans need good jobs,” and, as a State Representative, he “will work to create an environment where businesses can succeed and grow.”
“As a father,” he says, “he is concerned about education in New Mexico,” and he “knows we can’t settle for being last in the country.” He plans to “support meaningful education reforms that benefit students, teachers and parents.”
He notes in his literature that he “served our country for 13 years in the U.S. Army and Reserves as a helicopter pilot.” He says he has “always fought to keep us safe,” and, in Santa Fe, he “will continue that fight by supporting tougher (anti) DWI (driving while intoxicated) laws.”
Los Alamos County Council—Democratic Candidates’ Race
Izraelevitz told Kiwanis that he moved to Los Alamos County 20 years ago, and he feels that “was one of the best decisions that I have ever made.”
He is an electrical engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), a current member of the County Council (since July 2011) , a past member of the Planning and Zoning Commission (chairman in 2008 and 2009), and he has been a member of the New Mexico Municipal League Board of Directors since 2013. His literature provides a long list of past and present local involvement, including: Big Brothers/Big Sisters (service in Lunch Buddies), volunteer work as a youth soccer coach, work as a team coach in LAMS Mathcounts, service as president of the Los Alamos Jewish Center, and work as a member of the Advisory Board of the LANL Employee Scholarship Fund.
He said he is proud of his record and feels that he has contributed to the community. He noted his strong support for the Trinity Site project, his support for an “incremental approach to broadband,” his support for strategic new businesses, and his work on the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.
He said he has tried to be a “good steward” for the county, maintaining a reasonable budget while moving forward.
He is an advocate of “informed decisions,” and he believes in listening to constituents. He commented, however, that no one can predict the future, and he noted that the ski hill will be a major issue in the coming months.
Cunningham said, “My husband and I moved here from Ann Arbor, Mich., where we attended school at the University of Michigan. My husband gave a five-year commitment to the lab. That was 22 years ago!
“We have raised our three daughters—now 20, 18, and 16—here in the town we love. I am a nurse and have worked in a variety of positions while in Los Alamos, from the ER (Emergency Room) at LAMC (Los Alamos Medical Center), to a small doctor’s office, to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and now, in a new role for me, for the State of New Mexico, as the public health nurse manager for Los Alamos. In between jobs, I did stay at home for several years to raise my children, and that is when I became active in volunteering.” She was a strong supporter of the Trinity Site project, and she represented the Movies in Los Alamos group, which lobbied for the Reel Deal.
She said she is running for Council “in order to serve our community and make it the kind of place that our children would like to return to in order to raise their families.”
She said the Council should reflect “diverse skill sets, backgrounds and experiences … so that each member can bring something unique to the table.”
She added, “As a registered nurse and public health professional, I can offer a unique perspective to the Council.” She has also experienced “the challenges of raising children from babies to young adults in our town”; she has experience with both small business and LANL, the county’s major employer, and she has “an understanding of what it takes to get things accomplished.”
O’Leary holds a master’s degree in business administration and spent more than 15 years in leadership and management positions at The Washington Post, where, she said, she was vice president for advertising and built a solid record of meeting her goals by “focusing on my customers.”
When her husband left the U.S. Coast Guard, the O’Learys moved to Los Alamos with their two children, who now attend Mountain View Elementary School. She said she has been a dedicated volunteer there.
She told Kiwanis that the people of Los Alamos must make sure that the county’s revenues serve the people in the best possible way, making the community a great place to live to support recruitment by Los Alamos National Laboratory, “the engine that runs our economy.” She mentioned the importance of quality of life, as well as economic development, and she pointed out the value of the Ski Hill.
In her literature, she noted her leadership and management experience; her appreciation of Los Alamos County’s “safe, family-friendly environment”; her “strong belief in a government that is efficient and transparent”; and her dedication “to serving our community for today and tomorrow.” She said, “My extensive exzperience running large operations rigorously focused on improving results while being accountable to stakeholders trained me to listen to the customer—our community; and your voice will be heard.” She added, “We all win when the County focuses its energy to ensure that we continue to offer excellent public schools, improved amenities, and a strong local business environment.”
Redondo, who moved to Los Alamos more than 30 years ago when he was 3, is making his second run for Council.
He has an unusually varied background, which includes bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and biology and a master’s degree in regional planning. He is also a former Peace Corps volunteer. (And, he noted, when he was a student at Los Alamos High School, he was a member of Key Club, a youth auxiliary of Kiwanis.)
In terms of the community, he has been a member and vice chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission; he has served on the Los Alamos Historical Society Board of Directors; he is active in the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC); and he is a participant in Park Flight, a bird-banding project at Bandelier National Monument.
“I want to continue to serve this community,” he said, noting his background in planning and commenting that he “knows what it is like to be a child in Los Alamos.” He has also been an extra in movies, a referee in high school soccer, a potter, and a landscaper. He said he would like to improve the business environment in Los Alamos County so that there are more jobs for a wider variety of people. His own most recent and potentially most lucrative job offer, he said, would have taken him to China as a teacher—but he said no. He wants to stay here.
In the meantime, he’s running for Council while sticking to his philosophy that candidates shouldn’t take large amounts of money from donors. As a result, he has had no money to print literature, and his campaign signs are distinctively hand drawn.
Birnbaum moved to Los Alamos in 2012, but he has great memories of seeing Valle Grande during a tour of the West that he took in 1964. He was “just amazed” by its beauty.
He actually grew up in Brooklyn, then earned a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the University of Illinois and moved to Las Cruces, where he joined the New Mexico State University faculty and taught for 24 years while his three children grew up. (His daughter now lives in Los Alamos.) Subsequently, he moved to Philadelphia and chaired the chemistry department for another 15 years before retiring to Los Alamos. His literature says, “During my career, I also developed ties to Los Alamos as a team member of a LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) remediation project. Most recently, I’ve served as a member of the Los Alamos Utilities Charter Review Committee.”
He says he’s running because he would like to bring a “fresh perspective” to the Council, utilizing “my extensive experience in balancing budgets, developing programs and obtaining funding to help ensure that the county is run both efficiently and effectively.”
His literature summarizes his priorities: “water—critical for development, local recreation, and to fight forest fires; education—quality education at all levels is necessary to maintain our quality of life; viability—to thrive economically, but also in an environmentally sustainable manner; fiscal oversight—to ensure that tax revenues are used prudently and effectively to serve the interests of all citizens; (and) transparency—(because) Council actions are most effective when the public is well-informed.”