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‘Mayor of Starbucks’ muses about city

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Larry Connolly savors a tall latte at Starbucks, while contemplating civic engagement. Connolly has become a regular at local governmental meetings and has spearheaded initiatives for young professionals and for the arts. (Alison Penn Photo)

With his amenable personality, colorful socks, and round tortoiseshell glasses, Larry Connolly is a familiar character to many Roswell citizens thanks to his honorary title as the Mayor of Starbucks, and frequent appearances at numerous local meetings and events.

Mayor of Starbucks

“I was an introvert all my life,” Connolly said. “I said I am just going to do it. I’m living in Roswell, and I’ve got to meet some people. I just forced myself to do it. It was easy because you had Starbucks. Starbucks was one of the best things that happened to Roswell, Stellar, too, and we are going to have a Dunkin Donuts. You need a place for people to meet.”

On his first day at Starbucks, Connolly said a former manager looked at him and said that he looked like a latte guy, which is now his usual order. The same manager also created the Mayor of Starbucks nickname. Connolly also said his advice to young, industrious people is to get a job at Starbucks, and pursue their College Achievement Plan.

Connolly accepts his title proudly, but calls himself an idea man and a facilitator. In the iPad he carries, Connolly has a large list of contacts that he brings together. He said he especially enjoys helping people new to town and estimates that he introduces 50 to 60 people per year.

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Man in motion

Connolly is from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, but he has lived in Atlanta, Miami, and now Roswell. He attended college at Georgetown University, and studied economics. His son from his first marriage and his daughter live in Denver, where he visits them three to four times a year.

In his free time, Connolly reads 10 different newspapers including the Roswell Daily Record, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. The other papers are from Minneapolis, Houston, Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago, and some of the Canada. On an occasional Sunday, Connolly will drive to the Vaughn train depot to watch the trains going to the big cities. He said his love for trains began when he was 5 years old and from learning his family business involving trucking, transportation, and eventually courier services. Connolly’s business days came to end when he had a stroke.

Landing in Roswell

In 2004, Connolly moved here with his wife, Ellen, to take care of her mother who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“I remember coming to Roswell, and I was so depressed,” Connolly said. “All I knew about Roswell was aliens. The first day I drove down Main Street, I saw the Visitor’s Center and the Conoco gas station. I stopped and went in. The people were very nice, charming, and everything like that. I thought maybe this will be OK, and then I went to the Roswell Museum and Art Center. I was in the main gallery looking at the Peter Hurd paintings. I looked and I saw the names Mr. and Mrs. Fred Winston — they owned half the paintings in this gallery. I used to live two blocks away from Frederick Winston, so that means I went to school with him. It turned out it was that family. So I thought Roswell can’t be that bad.”

Connolly had traveled through New Mexico in his youth, but said he was unaware about how much was in the state. In regards to Roswell, Connolly said he does not believe in aliens, but sees the value of the UFO museum, and what it brings to Roswell.

“The thing that surprised me when I came here was how impressive the city was in terms of the art museum, and things like that for a little city of 50,000. Then I started going to the city hall meetings, I discovered that the old guards — they had done all the work, and there wasn’t any new young blood coming up. That bothered me a great deal.”

From the Starbucks ritual, Connolly and the others who sat at the table, Jack Swickard, former editor of the RDR, Chuck Thompson from the radio, and others started meeting young professionals.

“We formed a group called Young Professionals & Arts Collective. It was my idea,” Connolly said. “Caroline Madison and Sarah Mitchell had moved here. We got to know them here. We had about 15 young professionals for the core group. Now they kid me that I came up with the idea, and said ‘Let’s get this going,’ I went on a trip for two months, and they had to do all the work. We started that, and I got involved in some of the different things at the museum helping them out.”

Civic duty

“What else is there to do when you are my age, 76 years old?” Connolly asked. His attendance at the meetings at City Hall began seven to eight years ago when his wife went on a trip to Santa Fe.

“It was a Thursday night, and I had nothing to do, so I ended up going to a City Council meeting at city hall up on the second floor,” Connolly said. “I tell everyone it was good for a laugh, so I started going. I just started going to different meetings, and it got to be a habit. I tell people my wife Ellen says in the morning, ‘Go! Go to every meeting, and then come home.’

“Finance, City Council, the big one, and the Legal Committee. Those are the most important meetings, so those are the ones I enjoy the most. The county, the monthly commissioners’ meeting, is the best entertainment in town. Those commissioners — they get everything done, but they have more laughs. In some ways, it’s a comedy show. They just kid each other. It’s not like the City Council meeting where they are very by the book, but that’s the way it is.”

Connolly said he reads the Week Ahead brief in the RDR to see which meetings are happening, and attends five to nine meetings, depending on the week. City Council meetings can be viewed online, but Connolly chooses to go in person to be able to talk to the councilors, and to get to know them personally.

“You have to go to a half dozen meetings before you understand what the hell is going on,” he said.

Connolly said he has never run for public office, nor does he ever have intentions to, but he enjoys being involved.

“I can not begin to tell you the improvements in city government that I have seen,” he said. “It’s absolutely amazing. The city government, city staff, and the cooperation between them.

“It had to do with a new mayor, and Dennis Kintigh gets things done. I think Kintigh is the best thing that has happened to this city. He’s a bull in a china shop, and sometimes you don’t like the process. But it also has to do with hiring a really capable city manager. They brought Joe Neeb in from South Dakota, paid him big money, and he got the staff working. The city staff respects him.”

Connolly said one of his favorite city councilors is Juan Oropesa.

“He and I probably disagree on half of everything,” Connolly said. “I call him ‘Councilor No’ because he always says ‘No.’ I absolutely love that guy. He has a lot of common sense.”

Connolly also said Caleb Grant, a councilor of Connolly’s ward, is talented, and that he appreciates city councilors Steve Henderson and Savino Sanchez.

To get involved in the city politics, Connolly said, “Pay attention, tell the city councilors what you want, and hold them to it. Don’t get all of your news from social media. There is more fake news on social media. It is horrible.”

Creating contact

For trusted news, Connolly said, “Go to the paper or the radio. I cannot imagine how anybody could not read the newspaper. I’ve been reading the newspaper since I was a little kid. If you see something you don’t understand, ask about it. You should read more than one paper. Instead of watching TV, I read newspapers. If you’re reading an article that is worthwhile, you can save it and send it. Ten articles a week, I send to my friends. It’s a way to keep in contact with people. “

Connolly said being informed, having a sense of humor and being open to others is important.

“You have to exercise your mind,” he said. “If you don’t keep up to date, you become dull, and you end up sitting in your La-Z-Boy watching TV. You don’t meet people. It’s a wonderful question to ask people, ‘Why?’ It’s a way of starting up a conversation. You can’t be too friendly.”

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.