SUNLAND PARK, N.M. (KRQE) — City councilors in the troubled New Mexico border city of Sunland Park appointed a new mayor Wednesday night.
The council voted 3-2, with one abstention to select 24-year-old Javier Perea for the job. He'll be sworn in next week in the council's next scheduled session.
Former Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Salinas won the election in March but was barred from taking office under the terms of his release from jail.
Salinas, 28, was charged before the election with trying to force fellow candidate Gerardo Hernandez from the race with a secretly recorded video of him getting a lap dance from a topless woman.
Hernandez has filed an appeal, claiming there was fraud in the election's absentee ballot. If a judge sides with Hernandez, the mayor's seat could be declared vacant again.
Hernandez, who received the second-most votes in the election, said he's confident that his appeal will result in him becoming mayor. However, it's unclear when a judge will rule.
Councilors had declared the mayor's seat vacant because Salinas is in jail on additional charges and can't take the oath. The council on Wednesday could have chosen to hold a new election, kept the old mayor or appoint a new mayor.
Hernandez was hoping to get appointed and said he was disappointed to be passed over.
"This is a result of the actions of the same gang that was running the city before," Hernandez said.
Salinas faces some two dozen felonies on allegations ranging from extortion to illegal kickbacks and padding expense reports to cover partying and hookers at a conference in Mexico.
He's pleaded not guilty to 18 charges and been ordered held on a $250,000 cash bond for his third criminal case in two months.
Federal, state and local officials have launched a widespread probe of the town, and the state auditor is trying to determine whether to recommend that the governor move to take over the town.
A capacity crowd of 150 attended the city council's special meeting Wednesday at the Sunland Park Senior Center, located next to City Hall. Another 50 people waited outside the center to hear the results. The meeting had been rescheduled from last week, when an overflow crowd forced officials to postpone it.
Perea, who graduated from New Mexico State in 2010 with a degree in business administration, said he planned to introduce himself to Sunland Park residents and evaluate the city's problems.
"Just give me the chance and I will prove to you that I can make it," Perea said after his appointment.
Twenty people spoke before the councilors voted, including Salinas' attorney, who wanted his client to be appointed mayor.
The son of Mayor Pro-Tem Isabel Santos spoke on behalf of his mother, who also was hoping for the appointment.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.