Insults usually don’t sting Pecos Mayor Ted Benavidez. He had to grow thick skin to enter politics with his blemished background.
Benavidez admits to being a former drug dealer. He also says he’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, sober for 16 years.
With his history, he’s unlikely to phone an editor with a complaint about how he’s portrayed in a news story.
Benavidez felt a bit more defensive after New Mexico State Police and the media reported a double murder occurred in Pecos a week ago. He said they probably didn’t mean to slur his small village, but they did.
“The murders, they happened way past the end of the village limits. It was two, maybe even three miles away, but everyone keeps saying Pecos, Pecos,” Benavidez said.
State police Officer Ray Wilson wrote the news release about the double homicide. I asked him if he was correct in identifying Pecos as the town where the crimes happened.
Wilson sent me an email stating: “1 Camino Don Luis, Pecos NM is the address where the crime occurred.”
Sure, that’s how the U.S. Postal Service lists the home where violence exploded. But my question was if the homicides actually happened in Pecos or a different community. Wilson didn’t respond to the followup.
Benavidez says the murders were in unincorporated San Miguel County. Pecos was an innocent bystander. San Miguel County’s assessor and and address verification offices didn’t find the location in their databases.
Plenty of reporters have been faked out by the post office. I used to live in unincorporated Arapahoe County, Colo., but my mailing address was Denver, which is a different county altogether. I moved to Mt. Lebanon, Pa., where I paid my taxes and voted in the township’s elections. Still, I had to list my address as Pittsburgh to receive my mail.
All mayors have to be hometown boosters, and that was Benavidez’s first reaction to Pecos being thrust into a double murder case.
Then he decided there might be an upside to the media repeating the state police’s statement.
“I now think it’s good and bad. Even though the murders weren’t in Pecos, maybe the governor and others will give us some help after all the attention. We have terrible drug and crime problems,” Benavidez said.
Now 61, he says he was on the wrong side of the law as a younger man.
“I ruined a lot of lives. I used to sell drugs in the towns around here,” Benavidez said.
Born Telesfor Benavidez in 1960, he graduated from Pecos High School, class of ’78. His next stop was a six-year hitch in the Marines.
Once back in Pecos, he drank to excess and then took the wheel of his vehicle. By Benavidez’s account, he wrongly escaped punishment for drunken driving several times.
Court records show he finally was convicted of the crime in 2003.
He says a judge called him a menace and he spent time in jail. He calls that episode an awakening.
Was there another?
“After my second wife left me,” Benavidez said.
His drug of choice was cocaine. He says he quit using and stopped drinking alcohol, too.
Benavidez ran for mayor of Pecos in 2018. The 80-year-old incumbent had stepped aside, spawning the village’s first contested mayoral election since 2002. Benavidez won the three-way race with ease.
Voters reelected him last month in a tighter race. He defeated challenger Jennifer Guhl, 121-107.
Pecos has enjoyed a growth spurt, by Benavidez’s calculation. It had about 1,300 residents in the 2010 census. He says the city now has 749 water meters, and one meter typically equates to a household of three people.
The village probably has more than 2,000 residents today and an abundance of growing pains, he said. Drugs and the crimes they bring are two of the biggest, in the mayor’s view.
Having sold drugs himself, Benavidez knows the criminal element will always try to outmaneuver police. He favors strong enforcement coupled with a strategy to fight drugs on the demand side.
“San Miguel County doesn’t have a treatment center. That is part of the solution,” he said.
He envisions his village joining with the county government and bigger cities such as Las Vegas, N.M, to shrink addiction through treatment.
Benavidez insists he isn’t a politician. He sees himself as a knowledgeable servant — someone who knows firsthand every trouble spot in the village. The pace is faster than outsiders might expect.
“Being mayor is a full-time job,” Benavidez says.
He hopes it’s a story of redemption, too.