Los Alamos County Councilor Antonio Maggiore
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
When Antonio Maggiore ran for his seat on the Los Alamos County Council in November 2016, he said he was tired of complaining and wanted to make a difference in the community. Among his priorities he listed helping small business, improving public transportation, and of course protecting the environment.
In an interview with the Los Alamos Reporter, Maggiore said people have been telling him during the past few months that they are sorry that he is not continuing as a councilor.
“I did what I set out to do, which was to give a voice to the people of this community, and hopefully to people who were less well-represented before my service. I have some hope that some of the current councilors and some of the incoming councilors will continue to represent that section of the community,” he said.
During his four-year term, Maggiore has been outspoken about issues that are important to him. He said some of that comes from his own life experience and some of it is speaking an obvious truth.
“If we’re living with integrity, speaking the honest truth should come easy to us. It’s a complicated world we live in. It’s not always easy to say an obvious truth and oftentimes there are giant walls in the way,” he said.
Maggiore said he is fortunate to have lived through enough challenges that he can pull back and put himself in other people’s shoes at any given moment. He has found it frustrating at times on Council not to be able to act with the immediacy and directness that certain situations require.
“Did this County do everything it could possibly do during the pandemic to support local businesses, for example? Yes, within the framework we’re allowed to operate in. And that’s really the rub. You’re only allowed to operate within a certain framework and then your hands are tied and the things you want to do out of the best of intentions to support local business – to keep your local radio station afloat, to keep these vital things in the community – your hands are tied for no real good, valid reason at that moment,” he said.
He complained that when councilors talk about wanting to help small business, it’s a frustrating truth that “they are told basically, ‘That’s illegal; that violates the Anti-Donation Clause’, and you’re not allowed to ultimately do anything you want to do for small business”.
“It’s ultimately that everything is done through loopholes or everything is prevented from being done through loopholes,” Maggiore said.
The lack of affordable housing and housing options in general was one of Maggiore’s big concerns when he ran for Council. Now four years later, some progress has been made and some goals have been achieved but others won’t be realized until two or three years after he leaves Council.
“Although the pace of achieving goals is frustrating I can see the progress. I’m super thrilled for example when I drive through the new roundabout and I marvel at the way that construction has gone on by and large seamlessly. When one thinks about the amount of stuff that they’re moving under the road as well as how that road has changed shape and elevation with new lanes and merging traffic – it’s amazing. I think that’s absolutely incredible,” he said. “I am very happy to see the new apartment buildings on DP Road taking shape. I am extremely happy that finally maybe Cyndi Wells will get a parcel of land to build her store that would mean so much to her. There are small victories and there are some larger battles with larger entities that you feel you haven’t made any progress on.”
With many councilors linked to Los Alamos National Laboratory as current or former employees or consultants, Maggiore, a small business owner, has at times during his four years has been quick to express dissatisfaction with LANL’s interaction with County Council.
“One can’t just take what the Lab tells you on face because I would say 50 percent of the time what the Lab tells you is an outright lie. I would say even if the Lab tells you something, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to stand behind it. Anything the Lab tells you is mutable, is totally changeable at a moment’s notice when your management organization changes every six years and your federal leadership changes every four years,” he said. “Yes, they’re the biggest employer in town. They’re also the biggest headache, the biggest polluter, the biggest bad faith actors. They’re a lot of things and not all of them are good.”
Maggiore said for 25 years the Department of Energy has been trying to give the County land in Rendija Canyon and that for 25 years they haven’t bothered to clean that land up.
“The legacy waste cleanup situation is just a fiasco. They created a separate division that they could deliberately underfund. It’s classic government and it’s nothing less than I would expect from the feds,” he said.
Asked if he feels Council is pushing hard enough on the cleanup issue, Maggiore said to say Council is not aggressive on cleanup is not true.
“We fight, we advocate, we go to Washington, DC every year, we fight for cleanup money. With the exception of DOE we fund the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities which is to lobby specifically for cleanup issues with a voice of the region in addition to just our voice. We fight for cleanup issues but we’re fighting for crumbs to begin with from an entity that doesn’t care about cleanup. They throw crumbs to cleanup because as a larger entity they don’t care about cleanup. They care about production of bombs and let’s make no mistake, that’s all they care about. What happens to the land, what happens to the surrounding communities, they could really care less about as long as they get their bombs.”
Maggiore said if the feds really cared about the Los Alamos community, they would be using their employee drug testing vans to conduct random COVID testing and ensuring the community’s welfare.
“You don’t see them doing that because they don’t care. Their only concern is how to make more bombs as quickly as possible. They ultimately don’t care how cleanly they make them. They only care about the end result. It’s insanely frustrating but how many people in this town are getting their healthcare paid for by the feds with Patriot cards because they didn’t care about a safe workplace, they only cared about the bombs. It’s never been about caring for this community at a federal level and I don’t think it ever will be,” Maggiore said. “That’s a frustration with the larger DOE complex as a whole and not the individual Lab employees that are part of our community.”
Maggiore said he is optimistic about Triad National Security LLC which he says has been more open, communicative and willing to do outreach with surrounding communities. He also expressed hope that the new federal administration will temper weapons production and focus more on science.
It’s no secret that Maggiore has enjoyed representing the County on the North Central Regional Transit District board. He said the NCRTD is a fantastically well-run organization that continues, since they secured their tax revenue with a ballot initiative two years ago, to be on an incredibly sound financial footing. He noted the recent addition of a developmental route from Mora to Las Vegas, the building of a new operations center in Taos and the addition of a new transportation hub behind the Jim West Transit Center in Espanola.
“They’re partnering with LANL to do a transportation study to figure out how to improve and streamline routes up to Los Alamos including the possible addition of park and ride style commuter routes from as far away as Albuquerque. Every time I’m behind a blue bus on the highway, I beam with pride. The NCRTD is an organization I served for all four years on Council. Driving down to Espanola for meetings isn’t always the easiest to work into my schedule but I think in the course of four years, I missed two maybe three meetings. It’s a wonderful group,” Maggiore said.
He noted that one of the most impressive things about NCRTD is the partnership with tribal entities serving as far as Dulce, the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, Mora, Angel Fire, Santa Fe and Edgewood.
“They’re consistently ranked one of the best transit organizations in the country especially when it comes to rural transit. They have a huge service area and provide a wonderful service that is a lifeline. Many of the routes are centered around access to hospitals, social services, and the other thing that really amazes me is the level of para-transit services and on-demand rides service they offer especially to the greater Espanola Valley up to Chimayo and other places. If you think about how isolated some of those members of the community are and to have rides to medical appointments and other things is a lifeline and is integral,” Maggiore said.
He noted that during the COVID pandemic, the number of riders has been limited but that the CARES Act assistance for NCRTD was generous and well-structured.
“People don’t realize how much of transit is federally funded through grant money and other things, and how much of that funding is dependent on specific ridership numbers – maintaining them or growing them. As you can imagine during a pandemic, everything grinds to a halt and people are being told not to ride on public transit and you’re only allowed to have five people to a giant bus. The CARES Act really did a good job of supplementing and making sure that transit agencies don’t go belly-up in the short-term during the pandemic,” Maggiore said.
“I think the more we can do to reduce traffic in town and in the surrounding area the better, the more pleasant it’s going to be for everyone,” he said.
Developing new routes is a slow process, Maggiore noted. Some of the initiatives developed while he was on the board will come to fruition five years from now, he said.
On the proposed North Mesa Housing Project, he said he is very cautiously optimistic.
“I think it has the potential to be something fantastic for this community. I worry deeply that this community is not willing to dream big enough when it comes to the project and will take the easy way out and just pawn the land to some developer and just take what they get. I couldn’t feel stronger that that would be the wrong approach. I think you have the potential property with the partners involved to create something that really works and satisfies the needs of everyone in this community, and I worry we’re going to miss the mark greatly, ultimately, that’s my big fear,” Maggiore said.
“There’s a difference between lip service to a goal and desire and ability to achieve a goal. It’s frustrating that LAPS is not in a position provide housing for staff themselves because they have been consistently underfunded by the feds and the state for the last umpteen years and they’re as hamstrung by legislation as the County is. We as the County can donate money to the schools all day long but we can only use it for capital projects,” Maggiore said.
He lamented that the County can’t assist LAPS with issues such as salaries or maintaining a building trades program that could directly benefit the community.
“Again it’s frustration that our hands are tied when it comes to actually partnering with LAPS and working for the benefit of the whole community,” Maggiore said. “We can’t go to the school district and say we see a gap and would like to fund it. We’re not allowed to do that. That to me has got to be one of the most infuriating parts of my service on Council – visualizing what’s possible and being told it’s not possible, consistently, so soon out the gate that what is potential never even becomes a glimmer in an eye. That to me is unbelievably depressing, particularly because it is often by design.”
Asked if he will ever get back into politics, Maggiore said he is not sure.
“Right now I need the break. I feel like I did a good job and it’s better to get out while some people think fondly of you as opposed to everyone hating you,” he chuckled. “That’s not entirely true. Always leave them wanting more. Isn’t that the old adage? It’s extremely heartening to know that people felt that I represented them, that people appreciated the service.”
Maggiore said he read every email he received while on Council.
“Not everyone is kind. Not everyone is positive. Some are far nastier than others. And I made a point early on of not responding to any of them. I think in my time on Council I responded to very few emails, partly because the absurd number of Inspection of Public Records Act searches that come through. As a small business owner and someone who worked other jobs on top of it, time is a commodity but I made sure to read every email and to take every email into account whether I personally agreed with the writer’s perspective or not,” he said.
He said the fact that someone in the community felt strongly enough to take the time to express themselves is important to him.
“Every single opinion that comes in to me on Council sits with me on Council and sits with on the dais and sits with me in the back of my head when casting my vote. It is very hard to receive passionate emails from people explaining why you should vote one way and to have those emails ringing in the back of your head when you for whatever reason are voting a different way. I think if those dissenting views don’t hang with you and haunt your mind for weeks, sometimes longer after casting a vote, you probably haven’t thought about that vote long enough or hard enough,” Maggiore said.