The mess in Sunland Park underscores an unfortunate axiom of contemporary politics: Unscrupulous politicians can only prey on the public with our own complicity.
In 1961, shortly before assuming the duties of the Presidency, John F. Kennedy stood before the Massachusetts legislature and, in what became known as his “City Upon a Hill Speech,” famously intoned that there were four qualities that the public should look for and evaluate in their elected officials.
“History shall not judge our endeavors,” he said, “and a government cannot be selected, merely on the basis of color, or creed, or party affiliation. Neither will… loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these.”
Instead he said, “courage, judgment, integrity and dedication” were the four most indispensable traits of leaders who would be worthy of the public trust.
As a student of history, I have always revered John F. Kennedy — despite his personal shortcomings — for the ideal of selfless national service that he elevated during his time in public life. It was only in reading Chris Matthews’ recent biography of Kennedy that I was struck at how far from that ideal we have actually strayed.
The lack of statesmanship and the rise of partisan acrimony are but just two attributes of a system that seems, in the words of FDR, to be “frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” Apathy also pervades, owing to the lofty rhetoric and illusory promises of politicians more concerned with the next election than with being elected officials.
But that apathy comes at a price, as evidenced by the scandals emerging from the small community of Sunland Park, where elected officials are accused of serial deceit and exploitation. The mess there underscores an unfortunate axiom of contemporary politics: Unscrupulous politicians can only prey on the public with our own complicity. If ordinary citizens understood that their participation is the strongest safeguard against the corruption and abuse, then perhaps more people would be inclined to fulfill their civic obligation.
Too much at stake
I’m mindful that the problem of apathy won’t be solved in this election cycle or even in the distant future. But I am also unwilling to sit by idly while Rome burns, and allow the public’s already tenuous confidence in government to disintegrate.
It’s why, throughout my campaign for the county commission seat that includes the City of Sunland Park, I’m making it my mission to listen and serve: listen to the voices of those who are fed up with politics as usual, and serve those who have been alienated from the electoral process. Wherever I travel, I hear a common theme reverberating among ordinary people: We’re sick of scandal and we need honest leadership.
My No. 1 goal on the commission will be to remediate that crisis of confidence by serving as an effective advocate for the communities of the south valley, working to expand economic opportunity in the region, fighting gang violence through enforcement and prevention, and promoting accountability and transparency in county affairs.
It’s true that I’m not a native of New Mexico and I don’t have the extensive family ties of my opponents, but just as President Kennedy exhorted a previous generation to look beyond “color, creed or party affiliation” as a litmus test for candidates, so too I hope the voters will look beyond tribal loyalties and parochial divisions in casting their votes in this race. There’s simply too much at stake to do otherwise.
In the end, it’s up to us to uphold the final prong of Kennedy’s four-part test as a national ideal again. If we truly endeavor honest and faithful service from our politicians, “with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest,” it all begins at the ballot box.
Cotoia is a member of the Democratic Party State Central Committee and has written several guest columns for this site. He is employed as a paralegal with Holt Mynatt Martinez P.C. in Las Cruces and is a Democratic candidate for the District 2 seat on the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners.