Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
It is easy to forget the man with silver hair and glasses, who he was and what he meant to the city of Roswell, as he sits humbly behind his desk with a view of the police station. Bill Owen’s office sits directly across from the police station where the former two-time mayor of Roswell used to oversee functions for the city.
In paying tribute to the people from the past, it was 20 years ago in March of 1998 when he defeated Mario Reid and Betty King with 43 percent of the votes. He won again in 2002 with over 70 percent of the votes, defeating Eloy Ortega and Bernie Dickison.
What made Bill Owen an intriguing interview was that outside of eight years, he has lived in Roswell his whole life. I asked the former mayor how sports related to running for mayor. Owen compared campaigning for mayor to competing in marathons and to playing golf.
Some of his training partners for marathons were Rick Mooney, Fred French, Rick Kraft, Paul Whitwam, Al Berryman and Bruce Ritter.
Owen felt like to run a marathon, he had to be in decent shape. He had been running for years in 5Ks and 10Ks. He decided to run a half-marathon with his friend Rick Mooney, when they decided to go to Austin, Texas, and train for a half-marathon as a team. He wanted to run 13.1 miles.
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“I thought as hard as I trained, I shouldn’t leave it,” Owen said. “I continued to stay running, and I decided to keep running a marathon with half-dozen people. When you’re running a marathon, you may run with someone, but basically, you’re on your own.”
He started out running a 5K, 10K, and then from there, he started three months out, and two weeks before the marathon, he ran his longest run of 21 miles, generally on a Saturday morning. He did that once a week to build his body up and his endurance.
“I really wanted to get involved in the community,” Owen said. “My dad, Robert, worked for the city and was city manager. I grew up hearing city stories and City Council meetings. I started thinking maybe that would be interesting, I first thought about running in ‘86.
When Owen was off City Council for six months to a year, he started planning to run for mayor. Using the same discipline for running a marathon, he went into planning mode. He gauged the interest in people supporting his campaign. Owen asked himself some tough questions like, do I really have a chance to win? Is there enough support out there for me?
“There was a lot of strategic planning to running for mayor and a marathon,” Owen said. “When I ran for City Council in Ward 2 in 1988, ‘92, I only had to worry about one ward. However, when I decided to run for mayor, I had to be concerned about five wards.”
Owen felt like when he ran for office, he always had people telling him what he was doing was right, along with the complaints as well. Once he decided the support was there, he started to put his team together.
On selecting his team, he chose people from a variety of businesses and some personal friends. While running for mayor, he chose some people from the oil and gas business, married couples, a retired police officer and a retired state police officer to help with questions about crime, as he sought ideas to help solve problems.
Another idea he shared was when he ran for mayor as he had a letter drafted to send out to the citizens of Roswell, with the people supporting him on the actual letterhead. With the names of a cross-section of people hoping that name recognition and people from all vocations would feel connected.
“My thinking was that regardless of who got a letter in the mail, if anybody got one of those letters, regardless of who that person is and what they did for a living, they’re going to be able to look over the list of names and know somebody,” Owen said. “They might pick up the phone and call that person they knew to find out what I’m about.”
Then he had to figure out how to raise money and when, because he couldn’t start too early. Owen estimated that he spent $25,000 on his mayoral campaign when he ran.
“You can’t run for office on your own,” Owen said. “That’s one of the flaws in the system. You do have to raise some money. Just because you’re a nice person, and you mean well, if you don’t raise some money and have some support, there is no way you can convince a big percentage of the voters that you’re the person. It just doesn’t work; you have to have a way of getting your message out there. To do that, it takes a lot of effort.”
Owen remembers that he had to have a team of people behind him to help raise some money for TV ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, and some yard signs. Where are all the meetings taking place? What groups do you speak before to this group? and what is your message?
Why should they elect you? Nothing matters until you get to the filing date, one of the biggest commitments is when he walked through the door to fill out the papers and sign on the bottom line to announce he was going to run. The filing date for the city is eight weeks before the election. This year it was Jan. 6, and the election will be held on March 6.
“It’s like running a marathon,” Owen said, “it’s like counting down from March 6.” “People who are running are in full gear. They had better be. You’d better have your team together knocking on doors and when someone answers, you’ve got a minute to tell them who you are.”
Owen feels like putting the signs out too early is the kiss of death. He said a lot of times people are driving by them and not paying attention to them, or worse they could be stolen. He said most of the people are not even thinking about politics yet. It may come up in a conversation. Most people are working, making a living and going about their lives. Owen felt like the last month was a good time to put signs out, but more importantly, the last two weeks before the election, and the same with newspapers.
With early voting, it chances how elections are run today. With the expense of mail, Owen would target market in each district instead of just one ward, but when he ran for mayor, he had to plan for five wards.
As a golfer, he recently played one of his better rounds. On the first green, he three-putted, on the second and third green, he three-putted to start the day. However, he stayed with it and made three birdies and an eagle.
“Who would have ever thought to start out the way I did,” Owen said, “that it would end up being one of the best rounds of golf I had in the last year. If you are in a campaign, you’re going to have some things come up that are going to throw you for a loop. You are going to have people go on the attack because they heard you supported this issue or that issue. That, in and of itself, is enough to turn people off of you.”
Normally when that would happen, Owen would try to take that opportunity to turn it around and explain his position to that voter. Most of the time, Owen feels like a voter will take a snapshot of why he voted the way he did on a particular issue without understanding his position. Many times, he took the time to explain why he voted the way he did.
One of the main differences since he has been out of the office for 12 years, was that there were no social media he had to account for. He feels like once a candidate gets elected, he will have to make choices on his own. As an elected official, he would continue to listen to voters and his team, but he usually made decisions on his own and making the best decisions he could.
“Many times, you hear of people running for office.” Owen said. “A lot of times they want to change this. But once they get elected, they realize that whatever it is they wanted to change is only a small percentage of what the job entails. To me, you don’t want to vote for someone because of one issue, there’s so much more that goes into being in office.”
Owen cautions voters to ask themselves if the person who they are voting for has Roswell’s best interest at heart and if they’re going to make Roswell a better place. Not because they are going to support a particular issue.
In golf, he relates that anyone can give you a good idea. Owen thinks that he has received a lot of his ideas watching golf on TV.
Owen graduated from Goddard High School in 1971 and was part of the state championship golf team as a sophomore in ‘69. He played golf at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, but moved to Washington D.C., halfway through his sophomore year. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in law enforcement. Upon graduation, he worked for the FBI for five years. He met his future wife, Kay, when they both worked there.
In late ‘79, he was in the insurance business, for a while before getting into the oil and gas business.
Owen always believed he was going to win the elections when he ran. He always felt that he never wanted to have election night come and then wish he could have done more. His thoughts are like baseball; he had to touch all the bases and knock on as many doors as he could. He felt like he had to have a team effort, and because he couldn’t do it by himself, which is like in sports, you have to keep going in spite of opposition. Especially if they lost.
Owen continued to work for David Petroleum Corp. while being mayor. As mayor, his day often started with him at City of Hall at 7 a.m. where he reviewed paperwork and signed paperwork, and at 8 a.m. went into his office. At 10:30 a.m., he would head back to City Hall for meetings with counselors and staff or anyone who wanted to meet with him. He spent a lot of hours after 5 p.m. in meetings. He figures that he averaged 25 hours a week on mayoral activities with a lot of photo opportunities.
Owen has one piece of advice to the future mayor of Roswell. The future mayor is not going to realize the amount of extra effort they’re going to put into being mayor, contrary to being a city councilor. That is one thing Owen never understood until he was elected. Overnight the mayor becomes a high-profile person. On any day being the mayor could be important to somebody.
One of the things Owen used to do as mayor was read the paper and write congratulation letters to people on their achievements or milestones in life.
After many years of trying, Owen finally got Kay to take up golf. Last November, Kay was hurt in a bicycle accident in Sierra Blanca. She hurt her hand but is doing fine and on the mend.
Owen and his wife Kay are enjoying life, as they have added a third grandchild born three months ago. His son Jerrot and daughter Jena both graduated from Goddard in 2000, and 2003 respectively.
“I want to be remembered as someone who loved the Lord,” Owen said, “and my family. I have made my share of mistakes in life. I continue to do my best. I’ve been blessed more than I deserve.”