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FARMINGTON — Both candidates for Aztec City Commission District 3 are focused on economic development, although they may have different ideas about what that should entail.

Former mayor Michael Padilla Sr. faces Jessica Polatty in the election for the seat currently held by Commissioner Sherri Sipe, who has decided not to seek reelection.

While Aztec candidates run in districts, the candidates do not have to live within those districts and anyone who lives in city limits can vote in those districts. That means each registered Aztec voter can vote in both the district 3 and district 1 races.

The election is March 3. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Candidates can cast ballots in the commission chambers at Aztec City Hall, 201 W. Chaco St.

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Early voting is currently underway during business hours through the end of the month at the Aztec City Clerk's office at Aztec City Hall. Voters can also cast ballots from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 29.

Michael Padilla Sr.

Michael Padilla Sr. has seen Aztec change a lot over the years. He can remember a time when there were three grocery stores and two meat markets.

Now, 22 years after he left office, the former Aztec mayor hopes to enter the political fray once again.

“I’m a believer in small towns,” he said. “I’m a believer in Aztec.”

Padilla's running on his small town values and past experience.

Shortly after being elected in 1990, Padilla traveled to Denver to meet with Safeway corporate leaders. At that time, the grocery store was located across the street from its current location and was much smaller. He said he lobbied for corporation to build a larger store, ultimately leading to the current building.

“I was really proud of that and I’m still proud of the store,” he said.

In 1996, Padilla was named the outstanding community leader by the National Association of Towns and Townships as part of its American Hometown Leaders Award Program. He was chosen from a pool of 256 nominees. The prize resulted in a $1,000 economic or community development grant from Walmart.

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Padilla is an Aztec High School graduate and a Vietnam War Veteran who served on the City Commission from 1990 until 1998. During his two terms on the commission he was appointed mayor. But, in 1998, Padilla chose not to run for reelection. He said he believes in term limits and that drove his decision not to run.

Last year, Padilla attended several Aztec City Commission meetings to speak out in favor of passing a Second Amendment Sanctuary City resolution as the Legislature considered gun control bills that critics claimed could violate Second Amendment rights. He said the way the city commissioners acted during those meetings and how they treated people made him consider running for office.

More: Aztec residents demand Second Amendment Sanctuary City resolution

He said when he served as mayor he listened to his constituents and voted based on their positions even when he was completely against it. As an example, he said he voted in favor of a subdivision in northwest Aztec even though it would not have curbs and gutters. He explained that he believes all subdivisions in the city should have curbs and gutters.

“Elected officials have forgotten who put them there,” he said.

Not seeking reelection in 1998 meant he didn't complete all the projects he started — including changing Aztec's government from a commission to a city council with an elected mayor rather than one appointed by the City Commission. He said that would be one of his goals if he wins.

Some of the advisory committees that the city had when Padilla was mayor have also gone away and he said he would like to bring the Planning and Zoning Committee back.

In terms of economic development, he said if he was elected he would like to return the downtown back to “what everyone wants it to be.”

While he agrees that an arterial route is needed to divert heavy truck traffic away from downtown, he said he doesn’t support the East Aztec Arterial Route because of where it is located. He said it will join U.S. Highway 550 at a dangerous intersection and he is concerned that the vibrations could impact the water treatment facility.

Jessica Polatty

Ever since Jessica Polatty moved to Aztec on Aug. 3, 1998, she has been active in the community. She currently serves on the Economic Development Advisory Board in Aztec as well as the economic development committee in Bloomfield, where she works as the director of the Bloomfield Senior Center. She represents Bloomfield in the regional Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative.

In the early 2000s, Polatty served six years on the Planning and Zoning Committee. 

On June 1, 2000, Polatty and a couple other artists started a co-op gallery in downtown Aztec known as Feat of Clay. That gallery will celebrate 20 years of business this year.

"I've been there the whole time...so I know what it's like to have a business downtown for that long," she said.

In addition, Polatty was president of Aztec's Main Street association and was involved in the former Oktoberfest, which later morphed into the Aztec Highland Games. She chaired the highland games association for several years, but has since stepped back to allow people with new ideas to become more involved.

In terms of economic development, Polatty said Aztec has been too focused on only one part of the city — the downtown. She said the downtown should be for small businesses like Feat of Clay and Soaps on Main because the buildings are not large enough for big operations with 20 or more employees.

"We need to think bigger and we can," she said.

Polatty said the city has an inventory of available buildings. She is working with the city to develop a packet that would include that inventory as well as an informational guide to starting up a business in Aztec. That packet could then be sent to real estate agents as well as existing businesses, especially ones located in Colorado.

"Doing business in southern Colorado right now is very expensive and we can beat those prices," she said.

She also wants Aztec to work closely with Bloomfield to develop the economy in the eastern part of San Juan County. She has organized a couple of meetings for Bloomfield focused on mapping the trails in and around the city. During the most recent meeting in late January, Bloomfield officials learned from community members that there may be 30 to 50 miles of trail that could potentially connect Aztec and Bloomfield and even have spurs to Crouch Mesa.

More: As New Mexico focuses on promoting outdoor recreation, Bloomfield works to map trails

"That is going to be so great to be able to join trail wise these two towns," she said.

Polatty said Bloomfield and Aztec will need to work with the Bureau of Land Management to develop those trail systems.

She said she will also be an advocate for the seniors. In her role as Bloomfield's senior center director, she has seen the challenges senior centers face in funding. Polatty said there is a lengthy waiting list county-wide for home-delivered meals. 

More: Seniors turned away from meal at Bonnie Dallas Senior Center

She said Sipe has been a major advocate for the seniors and will leave big shoes to fill, but she believes her experience has prepared her to fill those shoes.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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