Editorial: Mayor’s leadership qualities contributed much

In many ways we were disappointed to learn Orlando Ortega will not seek re-election as Portales’ mayor when his term expires in 2010.

At the same time, Ortega’s passion for change and shaking up the status quo just might be the part we like best about him.

Ortega announced Monday he will keep a pledge to step aside as mayor after eight years, giving the community plenty of time to prepare for transition.

While his political career may not be over – remember, he considered a run at the state Legislature in 2004 – we will long remember him for his independence, his vision and his ability to bring people together during his time as Portales’ most visible leader.

The independence: Ortega and longtime Clovis Mayor David Lansford have been the region’s most vocal supporters of the Ute Water Pipeline project in the past decade. But Ortega made waves early in 2007 when he said it was time to stop studying the project’s feasibility and focus on trying to acquire federal funding to build it. Lansford and other project promoters feared the aggressiveness would signal local division and scare away lawmakers. Instead, the pipeline has become part of a 96-bill package that now needs only U.S. Senate approval before the president can make it reality.

The vision: While some Portales residents have opposed growth for fear it would compromise the community’s focus on family, Ortega has worked tirelessly to recruit new business to town and improve the availability of housing. In 2006, an online business journal ranked Portales 15th in the nation in overall quality of life. Almost 600 communities were judged on their economy, traffic, cost of living, education and access to big-city attractions.

The ability to bring people together: He’s been a key reason Clovis and Portales have promoted themselves as a “microplex” the past six years, combining resources to attract business to the region. The success includes a cheese processing plant on the Curry-Roosevelt County line that opened in 2005 and employs more than 200.

Ortega’s announcement that he’ll step down as mayor in 2010 has not been celebrated by Portales’ other city leaders.

“His greatest contribution is his leadership,” Mayor Debi Lee told Portales News-Tribune reporter Sarah Meyer. “He’s the best mayor I’ve ever worked with (in 25 years of city administration).”

When Ortega briefly considered a run for a House seat in 2004, State Rep. Jose Campos characterized him as a hard worker who’s “not shy about expressing his opinion.”

For those attributes and more, we thank Mayor Ortega for his service so far, and we look forward to continued progress as he finishes his term.