With general elections set for Nov. 6, Bernalillo County has a recently-appointed incumbent, James Smith and first-time candidate, Charlene Pyskoty in the running for the District 5 seat on the county commission.
The county commission is a body of elected officials who execute legislative and executive duties on behalf of county government. The commission oversees anything from budgets, revenues, spending and hiring county employees. Each commissioner represents a geographic district.
District 5 is home to more than 133,000 people. The district covers most of the East Mountains area, from the Santa Fe County line to the Sandia Laboratory/Isleta Pueblo area. It includes the Far Northeast Heights area and the ABQ Uptown shopping district.
The incumbent in the race is Republican James E. Smith, who is seeking to serve his first full term. Smith was appointed to the seat in March 2018, after Wayne Johnson vacated it. Johnson was appointed by Governor Susana Martinez to fill the state auditor position, after former auditor Tim Keller was elected mayor of Albuquerque.
Smith’s challenger is Democrat Charlene Pyskoty, a mental health care provider. This is her first time running for public office.
James Smith: From NM House of Representatives to County Commission
James E. Smith, touts his past experience in elected office.
“My background is with serving in the legislature. This is a very easy move for me to go to the county commission,” Smith said.
Smith recently retired after serving eight years in the NM House of Representatives. He served on the house education and house appropriation and finance committees.
Asked about his accomplishments since taking office in March, Smith cites his work with trying to get better phone and internet service to his district.
“We just had a broadband summit. Broadband is a huge issue in the East Mountain part of my district… Lack of internet connectivity, cell phone coverage is not very good, landlines and radios don’t work very well out there,” Smith said.
Smith said he’s lived in the 5th district since 1991, giving him an upper hand in knowing what is going on in his community. He has served on the Edgewood Chamber of Commerce and he worked for 18 years as a teacher, mostly teaching science at East Mountains High School.
If elected, Smith said he wants to focus on public safety. “I want to get more involved in the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), they’re undergoing some changes,” Smith said. He added that he wants to be involved in the selection of the new MDC chief.
Smith pointed out his collaboration with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department to help clean up crime in the city.
“Public safety is one of the main goals of government That’s one of my passions. It was in the legislature and it is now,” Smith said. “We want our people to be safe.”
Charlene Pyskoty: Mental Health Practice to Candidacy
Charlene Pyskoty is a mental health therapist in private practice. She has never run for public office but said her experience as a therapist would give her the experience she needs.
“The intersection of behavioral health and criminal justice are really important,” Pyskoty said.
Mental illness is often linked to high crime rates and homelessness in the county, she said. She would focus on creating a system where mental health services are more readily available to help keep people out of the criminal justice system.
“The prison system in America is the biggest provider of mental health services,” Pyskoty said.
If elected, Pyskoty wants to utilize the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Initiative to create a cost-effective system where people can get help, outside of the criminal justice system, that will be more integrated with mental health providers. Bernalillo County does not have a facility like this right now.
“I like going out in the community and listening to people,” Pyskoty said. She explained that she wants to work for the people in the county and help make changes by listening to their concerns.
Pyskoty said listening to people has been central in her career and it will benefit her if elected county commissioner.
“I’ve had a lot of success helping people one-on-one and I want to take that bigger,” Pyskoty said.
Voting for Pyskoty and Smith is open to residents who reside in district 5 of Bernalillo County. Early voting begins Oct. 20.
Vanessa Martinez can be contacted on Twitter @VanessarMartin