Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Miyagishima becomes the city’s longest-serving mayor of all time

By Mike Cook

On Saturday, November 20th, Ken Miyagishima will become the longest-serving mayor in Las Cruces history.

Miyagishima, then a member of Las Cruces City Council, won the 2007 Mayor’s Race, defeating incumbent Bill Mattiace by about 80 votes. He was sworn in on November 19 and is completing 14 years of service – he is in the middle of his fourth consecutive four-year term – this year to surpass Sam Klein, who was mayor four times between 1932 and 1953.

Martin Lohman, elected in 1907, was the city’s first mayor. Until 1990, mayors were elected from the district by the city councils. Only Miyagishima and his predecessors Mattiace and Ruben Smith were elected by the people. Counting Klein’s non-consecutive terms as a single mayor, Miyagishima is the city’s 30th mayor.

Miyagishima, who was born in Mississippi but grew up in Las Cruces, began his political career in 1990 when he ran against incumbent Leonard Lee Rawson as a state representative and lost only 200 votes.

Miyagishima said his first campaign event was at Hillrise Elementary School.

“My speech was terrible,” said Miyagishima, who was 27 years old at the time and was very nervous.

“‘This is the worst speech I’ve ever heard,'” he recalls of his mentor and political advisor Joe Thergood. “‘If I had a tomato I would have thrown it at you,'” said Thergood.

Miyagishima’s first fundraiser was held at the China Temple. His goal was to raise $ 1,000, but he only raised about $ 500 in donations, he recalls.

During a campaign at a RV park, Miyagishima introduced herself to a local resident who said, “’Miyagishima? What’s that last name? ‘”He shoved Miyagishima’s campaign card back into the candidate’s chest and said he would not vote for him.

“I just stuck with it,” said Miyagishima. “I’ve knocked on so many doors. I knew this district so well. I knew which streets there were dogs in. “

After this choice it was Thurgood ???? the Miyagishima announced that he now has political enemies, “the people who come after you (who will) are trying to bring you down”.

“That was a great lesson he gave me,” said the mayor, “not to be so naive.”

But Miyagishima also had a political cache for his strong finish and name.

He watched and met with “local bigshots,” including Senator Frank O. Papen, former Democratic National Committee wife of New Mexico Mary Gail Gwaltney, then Representative and future Mayor Ruben Smith, and Chope’s Bar and Café owner Chope Benavidez.

Chope’s question to Miyagishima was, “Why are you wearing a tie? Democrats don’t wear ties. “

When Smith ran for mayor’s office in 1991, he asked Miyagishima to join his campaign team.

“I learned from him,” Miyagishima said of Smith. “I learned from his mistakes.”

A year later, Miyagishima was elected to the Doña Ana District Commission, won a triple Democratic primary in June, and was elected in November with no Republican opponents.

He served two four-year terms on the commission and then took a year off before being elected to represent the sixth city council in November 2001. He lost twice to Mattiace as mayor before winning in 2007.

During the 2007 campaign, Miyagishima said he was inspired by a woman who told him in an email, “’You really care about people. You are a just and just man. ‘”

It was huge, he said.

Miyagishima was re-elected in 2011, 2015 and 2019. In this last race he was the front runner among 10 candidates for mayoral, as the city used the rankings for the first time.

Miyagishima said it was too early to make a decision on a fifth term as mayor in 2023.

Miyagishima said he hopes everyone who succeeds him as mayor continues to focus on “customer service and responsiveness.” The mayor answers emails from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week, he said.

He has also worked closely with Las Cruces Public Schools on the Stay School and Fitness and Nutrition Challenge initiative he has presented to third graders at Las Cruces Elementary Schools for the past 14 years. He is also a champion of the mayor’s top teens and is a strong advocate of city-district partnership in community schools.

Miyagishima is also proud of the help he has given to individual voters.

He helped a woman find a dealer to meet her warranty and repair her gearbox, helped release a young man from custody by the Mexican authorities on the US-Mexico border because he was confused about his name , and helped another woman regain custody of her children from her ex-husband in Mexico in a well-publicized story.

“It was like being in a spy novel,” said the mayor.

“For me, this is what we do,” he said.

Miyagishima said his ongoing goals for the city are urban land development across from the MountainView Regional Medical Center and the Amador Proximo area of ​​the city west of downtown. He also wanted an increase in services for the growing numbers of homeless people in Las Cruces, the Mayor said, including the opening of a public campsite near the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope to provide a safer alternative to sleeping on the street.

“It never gets boring,” said Miyagishima. “Something always happens that affects someone’s life.”

Comments are closed.