The sixth time’s a charm for Socorro mayor
In 1990, Dr. Ravi Bhasker was a fresh-faced 43-year-old general practice doctor, running in his first ever mayoral race. He won with a comfortable margin over four other candidates, including one former mayor and one acting mayor.
Now, with 20 years under his belt, Bhasker has already served more back-to-back terms as mayor than any mayor in Socorro’s history. When Bhasker completes his sixth term and 24th consecutive year, he will have been in office longer than any other mayor in Socorro’s history. Only Holm Bursum II, who served from 1948-1958 and again from 1960-1972, has served more years.
“I think the mayors before me were a lot more imposing figures,” Bhasker said, the evening before his re-election to a sixth term. “They were bigger than life. I don’t feel like that.”
In the early days of Bhasker’s career, politics had a more partisan flavor.
“People use to run on tickets,” Bhasker said, referring to campaigns in 1990 and 1994, when opponents chose candidates for city council as their “running mates,” calling themselves the Better Government Party in one election and the Unity Party in another. “There was more of a system of patronage. Now everyone runs as individuals.”
In 1998, Bhasker ran for re-election against a field of six other candidates. In recent years fewer and fewer people have wanted to take on his record of sound fiscal management and steady progress in improving Socorro’s infrastructure.
“When I came into office, the city had $250,000 to $500,000 in the bank, and it was a question of how to make the next payroll,” Bhasker said. “We have $5 million in the bank now. We’ve brought the city almost 100 percent in compliance with the newer things a city should have, like a sewer plant and a garbage system with semi-automated equipment. We have new wells. We have better facilities and upgraded equipment. We’ve surfaced 36 miles of road at one time or another. We’ve kept the payroll and budget in balance.”
Bhasker says he’s done well on what he calls the “bread and butter issues,” including increasing retirement and medical benefits for all city workers.
“We have a great staff that does the day-to-day work, there’s no question that we have terrific employees at al levels,” he said. “One of the reasons for our success, we’ve always looked out for the employees, and that’s really important.”
When asked what his best and worst moments were in the past 20 years, Bhasker shrugged.
“In my mayorship of 20 years, there’s been all the drama of any small town — actually, any politics,” Bhasker said. “I’ve had the same ups and downs, highs and lows, as any mayor has.” One of the lows has to have been a few years ago, when city hall starting receiving anonymous threatening letters.
“There weren’t just a few, we have a whole file of them, and they didn’t attack just me, they also attacked city councilors personally,” Bhasker said.
When the letters started to become more aggressive, the city opened an investigation.
“A profiler looked at them and compared the unsigned letters with some signed letters we had,” said Bhasker. “Since then, we’ve only received two or three.”
If Bhasker has had a few detractors along the way, he’s also had solid popular support, winning every election with a very comfortable majority. Still, one thing you won’t see in Socorro is a public building or even a park bench with the Bhasker name on it.
“Actually, that’s a pet peeve of mine, when things are named after people, if it’s the public’s money that went into it,’ Bhasker said. If Bhasker stays in office and is elected for a seventh term, he’ll be in the running for longest-serving mayor in the entire state of New Mexico. The record holder is Louis Huning, who retired as mayor of Los Lunas in 2009, after serving 27 years; and Artesia mayor Ernest Thompson, who served 26 years, from 1972 to 1998.
Will Bhasker go after that record? He says it’s unlikely, but he doesn’t completely rule it out.
“We’ll have to see,” said Bhasker. “I’m 63 years old. When this term ends I’ll be 67. I might want to retire.”
Contact Suzanne Barteau