ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — An elementary school building honoring Manny Aragon, a once-respected state leader, is still named after Aragon four years after he pleaded guilty to corruption charges and started doing time in federal prison.
“This is a black eye in our neighborhood,” said Isabel Cabrera, vice-president of the Clayton Heights – Lomas del Cielo Neighborhood Association near the UNM football stadium.
The “Manny M. Aragon Library” at Lowell Elementary School was dedicated to the former state senator in 2004, well before he admitted to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks meant for construction of the Metropolitan Courthouse in downtown Albuquerque.
The naming of the library was intended to symbolize Aragon’s work to secure state dollars to build that library. But four years later, in 2008, Aragon’s conviction came along.
“He betrayed the public trust,” Cabrera told News 13.
Cabrera is among a group of area residents who believe Aragon’s name should have been removed from the library a long time ago.
“The consensus with the neighbors is it needs to come down,” said neighborhood association member Paula Welsh.
When the National Hispanic Cultural Center removed Aragon’s name from its “Torreon” tower at the center’s southwest Albuquerque campus in 2009, residents living near Lowell Elementary School thought the same thing would happen at the school.
But nothing has happened yet.
“We fully expected that they would do the right thing. This is a place where we educate children (and) present role models to children,” Cabrera said.
According to Martin Esquivel, the Albuquerque School Board Member who represents the neighborhood, the issue appears to have flown under the radar – despite the concerns of neighbors who claim they’ve made their concerns known.
“If we had named an elementary school after him and it’s a little bit more prominent I could see how that could come to our attention quicker,” Esquivel said.
The naming of the library occurred several years before Esquivel was elected into office.
Now he says it’s time to take the issue to the rest of the school board.
But first APS policies and procedures require more community input.
Even though Aragon admitted wrongdoing, there are still some in the neighborhood who feel he still deserves some respect.
“We’ve got to learn to forgive,” said Oscar Mancha, who lives directly across from the library in question. “He’s paying his dues. Believe me he’s paying his dues.”
Mancha says it is okay with him if the library stays named after Aragon.
“I would imagine that there are a number of people who still greatly respect Senator Aragon,” Esquivel said. “But I think most people would say it’s not appropriate to name a library after somebody who’s sitting in prison.”
“But it’s simply not my decision,” Esquivel said. “The whole entire board has to consider it.”
Esquivel is hoping to have the issue before the school board within the next few months.
According to Cabrera and Welsh, it should have happened a long time ago.
“We’re probably the laughing stock of many people that come to this neighborhood,” Cabrera said.
Aragon is currently serving a five and a half year sentence at a federal prison in Colorado. He is scheduled to be released in August of next year.
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