New Mexico mayor vows to reopen city despite lockdown order

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The mayor of a small New Mexico city announced Thursday that he will allow small businesses to reopen next week in defiance of the governor’s order that shuttered nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks said he’s giving businesses permission to reopen on Monday and is ordering the police force in the city of about 9,000 people to prevent any State Police officers from issuing lockdown violation citations.

“The governor is killing us. She’s totally killing us,” Hicks said. “So we have no choice. So right now, we are reopening. Let State Police come down here.”

Hicks made the announcement after 81 businesses in Grants signed a petition calling for the reopening of the city that sits on historic Route 66, about an hour west of Albuquerque.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday that she’s putting together a bipartisan group of mayors who will work with her office on plans to reopen businesses across the state.

She said she would extend the public health order, which limits gatherings to five people and forces all nonessential businesses to close, to May 15.

Hicks said he is working with Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace — a Lujan Grisham critic — and will use city resources to fight the state against enforcement of any closure order. State Police can cite any of Grant’s 80 or so businesses if they violate the state’s health emergency closure order.

First-time lockdown offenders can be given warnings, second citations for the same offenders are petty misdemeanors with a fine of up to $100 and third-time violators can be fined up to $5,000.

State officials have not said how many businesses have been cited since Lujan Grisham imposed the lockdown on March 24.

Mace said he sympathizes with Hicks, that his deputies will not shut down any Grants businesses if they decide to reopen on Monday and will not interfere with any State Police investigations.

“I understand where the mayor is coming from. I get it,” Mace said, adding that he would not put sheriff’s deputies at risk by interfering with State Police activities.

Hicks is a Democrat but compared the Democratic governor to the Nazis.

“I’ve told businesses to call 911 if State Police show up to their place. We are going to stop Lujan Grisham and her Gestapo,” Hicks said, referring to the secret police of Nazi Germany.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Sackett denounced Hicks for making that comparison.

“To compare an elected official making difficult decisions to protect the public health of all New Mexicans to Hitler is disgusting,” Sackett said. “We condemn it in the strongest possible manner. The world recently observed Holocaust Remembrance Day, and to make such a horrifying and misguided comparison while New Mexicans are taking action to protect themselves and their communities from a terrible virus is beyond the pale.”

Sackett declined to comment on the mayor’s promise to challenge State Police if they try to issue citations.

Cheryl Pynes, 68, co-owner of the Handbag Lady store in Grants and a storage facility, said small businesses want the right to decide if they should remain open and how they should run their business.

“I’m still going to follow safety guidelines and do things differently,” Pynes said. “But it’s our Constitutional right.”

New Mexico has 2,379 confirmed coronavirus cases and 78 people have died.

In other developments:

— The New Mexico Department of Health said a hospital within the grounds of Gibson Medical Center that was shuttered in 2007 is expected to reopen after the Albuquerque building was quickly retrofitted to treat patients with COVID-19. The Albuquerque Journal reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed over the building to the state health department last weekend, making as many as 200 beds available.


This version corrects that the population of Grants is about 9,000, not 11,000.