(MCT) — Raton, N.M., Mayor Charles Starkovich insists the form of government in his northern New Mexico city is rife with racism and discrimination against Latino residents. He says the “white people in the country club” control all the power, even though the small community of 6,800 people is 60 percent Hispanic.
So the 61-year-old mayor is taking a stand: He quit.
Starkovich said in a letter delivered to City Hall on Wednesday that he was resigning as mayor and city commissioner in protest to Raton’s at-large voting system. Starkovich said the system violates the federal Voting Rights Act and that he plans to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department.
“It’s a silent form of racism,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “And it waters down voting strength of a particular class of people.”
The town’s now ex-mayor says he has steamed for years as he watched political power “stolen” from Latino residents. Raton has five voting districts, and the Latino population is spread just about evenly throughout. Four of the five commissioners live within blocks of one another in one district and don’t live in the areas they purportedly represent.
Under the present system, he added, a resident of one district could cast votes in another district.
“The east side of Raton is 90 percent Latino, but the white class from the country club area is voting to keep a Latino commissioner out in another side of town.”
He said Raton has just one Hispanic commissioner when it should have at least three, if voting percentages held true.
City Manager Pete Kampfer told the Associated Press that he was disappointed in Starkovich’s resignation but agreed that Raton’s system discriminates against the city’s Hispanic residents.
“My protest is over a form of government rather than discrimination over a class of people,” Starkovich said. “When it comes to big congressional races, people have one vote for the person who represents them in that area, and that’s the way it should be here in Raton. I’m trying to draw attention to an institutional at-large voting scheme that has never been challenged since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Starkovich, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture employee, said the response to his protest resignation has been positive.
“People tell me they don’t want to lose me but they are also tired of the racism here,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Nobody’s thrown any rocks through my window, at least not yet.”