Sunland Park Mayor Jesus “Ruben” Segura shocked many on Tuesday when he didn’t file to seek a fourth term in office. He will create quite a void when he leaves the job in March.
In an interview, Segura gave little reason for his departure and no clues on his future plans. It was a typical response from a politician who has held his own over the years by keeping his cards close to his chest.
“I need to move forward to other challenges and other opportunities, and I think in due time they will be revealed,” Segura said in refusing to share his plans. “I want my friends and foes to be wondering.”
As a popular mayor of a city of fewer than 15,000 residents who are largely poor and Hispanic, Segura, 39, has become a player on a statewide level in part because of his ability to garner enough Democratic votes, when he desires, to help statewide candidates. Sunland Park is a place where voter turnout can be insignificant or can determine an election’s outcome, and it depends in part on what Segura says and does to encourage voting.
When Gov. Bill Richardson took office, Sunland Park was facing the prospect of potential takeover by the state after a special audit found huge problems in its operations. Months later and after lots of political wrangling, the audit instead died quietly.
Few knew what sort of deal was struck – that’s the sort of information Segura never talks about, even off the record – but it was the beginning of an up-and-down relationship between the governor and Segura.
A fight over Santa Teresa development
They fought over development of Santa Teresa, a community west of Sunland Park whose growth was tied up in legal battles for more than a decade until Segura and Doña Ana County commissioners struck a deal in 2006 that gave both governments a say in the process. Before that happened, Segura led protesters in burning “Richardson for Governor” T-shirts in front of a television camera when the governor backed a plan that would have left Sunland Park out of the process.
They later patched things up, and Richardson’s last visible move to help Sunland Park came in March when he redirected several million dollars originally pledged elsewhere to facilities in the border city.
Segura’s fight with the county included standing up to a threat of arrest when the sheriff’s department showed up to stop the city from digging a utility line along a state highway. The city and county were racing to provide services to the Santa Teresa area and the county commission had, earlier that day in 1997, approved a moratorium on such development in a meeting that may have been held without the required public notification. When Segura refused to stop construction, he was arrested. The charges were later dropped.
Time to ‘encourage new blood’
Segura’s success goes far beyond the Santa Teresa fight. He convinced a popular amusement park to relocate to Sunland Park from El Paso. He’s led the charge for an entertainment corridor in Sunland Park that is on its way to fruition and, though he hasn’t won this battle, he’s fought tirelessly for a border crossing.
Segura was 27 and working on his master’s degree at New Mexico State University when he was first elected mayor. Loyal residents have been inspired by and followed his leadership ever since.
“I want to thank the people of Sunland Park who have been my bosses, who have been very loyal and committed,” Segura said. “I hope that I have given half of what they’ve given to me.”
I’m not going to say Segura’s term has been all positive. In fact, the findings in the special audit that later died a quiet death were quite concerning. But Segura has empowered a community that, as a suburb of El Paso on the other side of the state line, has historically been alienated from and ignored by El Paso and Doña Ana County.
The only clue Segura gave for his departure is that he “wanted to encourage new blood.”
“This is a position that is vested in the people of Sunland Park,” he said.
The election is March 4, and the city’s new mayor will take office later that week. I pushed and pushed, but Segura would give no clues about his own future.
“I think that people in due time will know what I will be doing,” he said.