On Assignment: Vigil’s Quest

Focusing On Homelessness And Addiction

August March
6 min read
VigilÕs Quest
Connie Vigil (Corey Yazzie)
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Walking down the street toward Central Avenue and near my office Downtown, I wandered by a local pizza joint and happened to look in the window to see what was up. A huge pie lover, I am always on the lookout for more opportunities to raise my blood sugar and body mass index with melted cheese and glutinous wheat dough.

Anyway, staring me back from the window of said shop was a small poster for City Council candidate Connie Vigil. In case you want to know, she is battling it out against incumbent Isaac Benton for control of one of the most important City Council districts in the city of Albuquerque.

She isn’t the only one. Though Benton should get another term—just based on the work that he has done for the city and the opportunity we have to engage a leader like him with a plethora of civic issues that require expert attention—there are a host of folks running against him, when last time around he faced no opposition at all.

Reportedly a Republican, Vigil is the only elephant running for District 2 in a election that is supposedly nonpartisan, but she happens to champion certain platform issues that sound progressive.

In other words, everyone knows who the progressives are—Hint: They’re in charge right now in this town and this state—and Vigil wants to work with them.

A vocal critic of the current municipal administration, Vigil is running a privately financed campaign. Taken together, we decided that the above factors were important enough that we should invite the founder of the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance to our headquarters to find out more about her campaign.

Ms. Vigil stopped by Monday morning and we chatted. Here’s a summary.

Weekly Alibi: What’s your background?

Connie Vigil: First off, I grew up in Albuquerque. I went to school at St. Mary’s—through ninth grade—so I’m a Downtown gal. I live in the Wells Park Neighborhood; I attended Highland High School. I got a scholarship to New Mexico Tech where I finished with a microbiology degree and then had a fellowship at the med school. I went on to cancer research; something I did for most of my life. I have a second master’s—in communications and technical writing—from New Mexico State. Most of my career has been involved in analytical studies. My studies at New Mexico Tech really made me an effective problem solver.

How did you get involved in this campaign and why?

Last year, I started a business group called the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance.

Was that your first foray into local politics?

Actually, no. I’ve lived in five other states. That experience has given me the opportunity to see positive developments in other cities. I was on the City Council in Star, Idaho. I was on a two-year term. I was instrumental in getting a community block grant. We were also very vocal about a gravel pit on the Boise River that we thought was going to be environmentally unsound.

When did you return to Albuquerque?

I returned about six years ago. Since that time, I’ve really gotten involved with local issues, specifically those involving the homeless—the needle problem, the drug addiction problem.

Are you concerned about the homelessness and addiction problems here?

That and related issues like crime, yes.

What do we need to do to address those core issues?

I think the problem is multifaceted. Previous to now, we have not worked as a state, county and city government [coordinated together]. Also the non-profits [need to be included]. I feel a key piece, basically, involves solving key issues, problematic issues such as mental health and behavioral health issues, as well as the overarching problem of drug addiction. I feel right now, after talking to many of my [potential] constituents that people feel like they have no place to go, that there is no place to send people who are in trouble. The non-profits helping those people long-term with residential [aid] are few and far between. The [Little] Brothers of the Good Shepherd is one such organization. The key piece of this—as I’ve said, after going up to Santa Fe for several years to talk with the Human Services Department, trying to get them on board—is to recognize we have a statewide problem with mental health services and subsequently, addiction. This year has seen some progress; the state Legislature passed SB 220, which amends the state’s public health act to align and put money into facilities and programs that were limited or ended by the former governor.

Was Gov. Susana Martinez’ mismanagement of public healthcare part of the subsequent mental health and homelessness crisis we are seeing now?

Yes, I think that played a great part in it. That and the fact that Albuquerque has become a drawing point for people in other cities. People are moving here to get our services, homeless services and that type of thing. I think that the combination of people knowing that Albuquerque is a great place to live and the fact that access to those same programs were limited or ended by the former governor has resulted in a larger problem.

So you’re saying people come here for the services, but that services are limited. Explain.

In terms of long-term facilities that will address mental health issues, we do have some non-profits, but they are few and far between. One good thing that the state is doing is the New Mexico Men’s Recovery Academy and the Women’s Recovery Academy. They are addressing residential issues.

One of the initiatives you’ve taken on is a plan for a tiny village. Discuss.

We visited two campuses, one in Oklahoma City and one in San Antonio, Texas. Tim Keller, in fact, also went to Haven For Hope in San Antonio. Unfortunately, the mayor came back and thought it was too big a program, too expensive. But we had some volunteer architects, a retired man named Michael Dickson, stepped forward to replicate the San Antonio campus on a smaller scale. We’re past the planning process. This will happen.

That is encouraging. Why should you be the next councilor for District 2?

I’m not about rhetoric. I have close friends in both parties. I really think that when we come together in consensus—to say we’ve got one of the best cities in the United States—we can also bring lots of different people to the table to talk about and enact solutions—real, viable, long-term solutions.
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