Louis Valdez lost an
election for student-
body president in the third grade
But in November, he became the youngest person in the United States to be elected mayor.
Valdez, 23, is the new mayor of the border town of Nogales, Arizona. Despite his age, he's a professional man, dressed similar in style to a prep-school student: oxford shirt, tie, pressed trousers and sensible shoes.
The former University of Arizona political science major has one year of school left, but he is taking time off to work for Nogales and its citizens. He plans to finish college in the next year and a half and to continue on to graduate school to major in public administration.
"He was very active in class and very much interested in politics," says Thomas Volgy, a UA political science professor and former mayor of Tucson.
"The three years that he had were an advantage," Volgy says. "Very few, if any, mayors have had any political science classes in their backgrounds."
As mayor, Valdez has the power to veto, to dismiss all officials and to control the budget. He is what he calls the "the CEO of the city." With his responsibilities, he emits an overwhelming demeanor of confidence and control.
phone calls and trying to get more acquainted with people keep Valdez busy each day, says Christina Dominguez, executive secretary to the mayor.
"He's always willing to see people when they come in," Dominguez says. "He never turns people away. He's a very friendly man."
"I like to make myself accessible to everybody because it's really the essence of my job as mayor," Valdez says.
"Even if someone comes in to tell me that their street needs to be cleaned or that a light is out on their street, this is important," he says. "It's the little things that mean so much."
Nogales resident Philipe Acosta, says he supports the young mayor and is confident in the quality of Valdez' leadership.
"Everybody thinks he's doing a great job so far," says Acosta, a 63-year-old parking lot attendant. "The support and morale of the people of Nogales and even the Presidente Municipal (the mayor of Nogales, Sonora) is incredible."
After two months in office, Valdez is one goal shy of completing the three he had planned for himself.
Already, he has established a youth-advisory council and an environmental council. Valdez organized the youth-advisory council to benefit young Nogales citizens who pay taxes and are registered to vote. It is offered as a forum for them to voice their opinions, problems or concerns about their government.
"It's important for them to know they have a voice and that they can do something," Valdez says.
Problems with water and
air pollution, and
outbreaks of cancer in the community of 20,000 people prompted the young mayor to initiate an environmental council.
He says he also wants to change the city from a strong mayor form of government to a strong city manager/council form of government and improve higher education.
"Pima Community College has a satellite school at Nogales High School, but there isn't an established community college sponsored by Santa Cruz County," says Valdez, who attended Pima Community College before attending the UA.
"When he was campaigning, he didn't make any promises," says Hector Martinez, a UA business administration junior and a lifelong Nogales resident. "He just said he was going to do his best for the community. I think this is pretty good."
Valdez says he doesn't
feel awkward or
overwhelmed in his position, even when there's too much going on at one time. Sometimes he feels "anxious," but for the most part, things feel "natural" to him, he says.
"There are times when things get so incredibly busy and I don't have the time to do everything myself," Valdez says. "I have to draw on the help of my staff to help me during these times. They help me tremendously."
In addition to his job as mayor, Valdez is on the board of directors of the Nogales Literacy Project and is trustee for the Nogales Unified School District.
In his limited spare time, Valdez likes to attend sporting events Ä especially basketball games. He also enjoys dancing, golfing and hanging out with his family and friends.
I'm a family person," Valdez says. On weekends, his family has barbecues which include his mother's "famous salsa."
Valdez says he always loved politics, and now he does whatever he can to increase his political knowledge.
"Politics is very competitive and unpredictable," he says. "It keeps you sharp, focused and on your toes. This is exciting to me."
Valdez says he believes that to become involved in politics, one has to love politics from the start.
"It's not for the faint-hearted or the thin-skinned," he says.
"You have to be committed to becoming well informed on policy issues. You have to do your homework and you have to know what you're doing."
"Most importantly, you have to be yourself," Valdez says, who prefers to reserve the title "mayor" for official occasions only.
As for Valdez's future, he plans to run for re-election in 1996. He is committed to remaining in his hometown, because that is where his roots are.
"Historically, the young people who grow up and leave Nogales go to college only to return when they retire," Valdez says. "I wanted to take the reins and change this."
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