By Carolyn Carlson
— Newly appointed Albuquerque City Councilor Roxanna Meyers says two things define who she is.
First, her father worked as an engineer in Window Rock on the Navajo Nation, where she was raised. And second, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma during her pre-teen years but beat it.
“I am extremely tenacious,” she says. “I don’t have ‘can’t’ in my vocabulary.”
Meyers was appointed by Mayor Richard Berry in December to fill the District 2 vacancy created when nine-year veteran Councilor Debbie O’Malley won a seat on the Bernalillo County Commission. Berry has said he chose Meyers because she actively sought the appointment.
Meyers says in an interview with the Compass that she decided to throw her name in the ring because of her granddaughter. “I decided she didn’t have to live in a state that is last on every list,” she says.
Principles Over Party
Meyers has been around the business block. Throughout her 30s, she worked her way up to becoming president of Wells Fargo, making her the first female bank president in New Mexico. Next, she bought Century Sign Builders, and by the time she was 50, the business had grown into a multi-million-dollar company with a branch in Phoenix.
She and her contractor husband Stanley Mount live near Old Town, and she’s been active in state and city business communities for years, including a stint on the board of the National Association of Industry and Office Parks. Her résumé lists about a dozen local community, economic and business organizations that she’s involved with.
During the 2008 election cycle, Meyers donated money to national Republican candidates including the McCain / Palin Victory campaign and Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. Locally, she has supported Heather Wilson, Darren White and Janice Arnold-Jones. Meyers’ husband also donated to a couple of political action committees, including the Associated Builders and Contractors PAC, and to Democrat Martin Heinrich.
Meyers says just because she is the Republican appointee of a Republican mayor in a Republican-dominated Council, she doesn’t make decisions along party lines. “I would describe myself as someone that makes decisions based on principals—not party affiliations.”
The Minority Voice
“Albuquerque is a city with a soul, and that soul is District 2,” Meyers says.
After the 2010 Census, a partisan City Council vote of 5 Republicans to 4 Democrats adopted a new district map that created a Council seat on the south end of the city’s Westside. The map eliminated Councilor Isaac Benton’s Downtown-centric region and combined it with D2, creating a massive district.
District 2 today starts near Montaño and extends south to Rio Bravo. It’s bordered on the east by University and on the west by the river. O’Malley and others have said it’s “the size of a small nation.” It’s the largest political district in the city, encompassing about 38 neighborhood associations. It also contains 27 of the city’s 29 federally designated “pockets of poverty,” along with high-income neighborhoods along Rio Grande.
In January, four citizens from the Barelas, Downtown, North Valley and Huning Castle neighborhoods filed a lawsuit against the city, saying the redistricting dilutes minority voting strength and violates both the state and U.S. constitutions. The suit alleges the city adopted a map that “minimizes the opportunity of Latinos to participate in the political process and to elect the representatives of their choice.”
Meyers says taking on the new City Council job is a challenge, but she thinks she can represent all of the people in her sprawling district, including the folks who are at or below poverty level.
“I know my district very well,” she says.
Roots of Poverty
Meyers says she does not support the voter-mandated $1 minimum wage hike. Raising the wage is not fair to businesses and will not bring people out of poverty, she says.
“I am against anyone trying to legislate someone else’s business,” she says. “If anybody really wants to know how to get people out of poverty, it is not through a minimum wage increase. It is not going to make a difference.”
She says quality education is the solution. “In the United States, especially in New Mexico, if you really want to get out of poverty, were really motivated, there are some great ways, like the United Way, to help.”
Meyers says going after more state, local or federal money to fund capital projects or to provide educational support services isn’t the answer, either.
“You have to spend your time and money wisely,” she says. “From what I have seen so far, the city is not spending its money on game-changers, something that will really make a difference.”
Meyers says while she’s learned a lot since she took a seat at the Council table, getting up to speed can be overwhelming.
“I am still taking it all in. What I know about city government you could put in a thimble,” she says.
She and Commissioner O’Malley represent many of the same constituents in their new positions, yet they haven’t sat down and talked.
While the City Council doesn’t have oversight of Albuquerque Public Schools, Meyers says a good public school system is critical to attract jobs that pay above minimum wage. One of the things she says she can bring to the Council table is a gift for marketing the city to help bring quality employers. Meyers plans to work with Albuquerque’s Economic Development Director John Garcia on ways to use $5 million in so-called claw-back funds designated for promoting the city.
“What world-class things can I do?” she asks herself before answering: “I look at Old Town and think, Wow we have such a gem. If you have a soul like this, you can bring a vision to life of what Albuquerque could be.”