The frantic hunt for employment may be familiar for most seniors. But not many consider running for mayor.
Marco Lopez of Nogales, Ariz., did just that upon graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in liberal studies and political science in December 1999. He was elected mayor in September 2000.
Lopez, now 25 and re-elected for another term as mayor of Nogales, gave an informal talk Thursday evening at La Casa Cultural on his path to becoming the youngest mayor in Arizona. Lopez was one of several prominent figures speaking at La Casa during Latino Heritage month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. He described how he decided to run for mayor, and what he learned on the job.
The 2000 mayoral election for Nogales, a small town with a population of 22,000 on the U.S. side and 44,000 on the Mexico side, was a competitive one for Lopez, who ran against two much more experienced candidates, Lopez said.
“I knew off the top that my weaknesses were age, of course, and inexperience — but I also knew my strengths, which were my vision and my energy,” Lopez said.
During his campaign, Lopez used his energy to visit community residents door-to-door to make up for his weaknesses, which also included relatively low campaign funds. Besides counting on the younger generations who could relate to him, Lopez said he also relied heavily on the support of elderly women, who in turn got their family members to vote.
“I think I was able to inspire enough confidence in them that they thought I was, well, their grandchild,” he said.
Lopez also focused a lot of energy in the media. He said that the press can always be useful, especially when his office keeps an open door policy by letting them in on every single detail.
“Once you stop feeding the press, they’ll start looking, and once they start looking, they’ll say anything,” Lopez said.
When he finally came to office as mayor in January of 2002, Lopez admitted that the job was much harder than it looked.
But he began by focusing on international border issues. In a town in which 88 percent of residents speak Spanish and 92 percent have family on the other side of the border, he said, international cooperation is vital. After all, Lopez said, 60 percent of the town’s sales tax comes from consumers in Mexico, and about 90 percent of the vegetables delivered to American supermarkets come through the town. But recently, homeland security has been a particularly tricky issue because of the restraints on border migration, Lopez said.
“People don’t realize that the little border community can have such a big impact,” Lopez said.
Lopez said he hopes to continue his career in politics, eventually focusing on larger issues such as border migration. He said the pinnacle of his career would be to become Ambassador to Mexico or Secretary of State. Because Lopez was born on the Mexican side of Nogales, he said he could not run for president.
Some students who attended the talk said they found Lopez inspiring.
Daniel Martinez ’05, who attended the discussion, said that, like Lopez, he has wanted to help people since he was young.
“I’d like to start local, maybe as a state representative or a state senator,” Martinez said. “I’m checking out my options.”