Torrance County official known as dedicated public servant

ESTANCIA, N.M. (AP) — Torrance County Commissioner LeRoy Candelaria, a semi-retired rancher and Vietnam veteran known for his public service, has died. He was 73.

Torrance County officials made the announcement late Thursday, saying Candelaria had health issues. He was finishing the second year of his latest four-year term. The Republican was elected to the commission in 2004, again in 2012 and most recently in 2020.

Colleagues said Candelaria always had the rural county’s best interest at heart and that his experience and wisdom will be missed. Members of the tight-knit community east of Albuquerque shared their condolences on social media, with one saying Candelaria would walk a mile just to say hello.

“This is a hard day for Torrance County residents and staff. Today, we lost a dedicated public servant and friend,” Commission Chair Ryan Schwebach said in a statement.

The commission earlier this year endured much criticism from voters who denounced certification of the primary election results. At the time, the New Mexico secretary of state’s office had said it was inundated with calls from officials around the country concerned that certification controversies like those in Torrance and Otero County in southern New Mexico would become a new norm.

In Torrance County, commissioners were denounced as “cowards and traitors” by a hostile crowd before voting to certify results from June’s primary. Candelaria explained that he had taken time outside commission meetings to explain his position that New Mexico’s vote-counting machines are well-tested and monitored.

Candelaria supported the county clerk and acknowledged that many people were still upset about the 2020 presidential election.

“Let’s worry about the next election and not take things personally,” he said at the time.

Candelaria graduated from Mountainair High School in 1968 and joined the U.S. Army, where he served in the 4th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. He later served in the Army Reserves, 387th Combat Engineers.

Family and friends said he was a strong advocate for veterans as well as active duty personnel and first responders.

After retiring from the state transportation department, Candelaria went to work for San Bar Construction in 1998 and continued with the company until his death.

Candelaria also was a member of the local soil and water conservation district, the Estancia Basin Resource Association and the New Mexico Acequia Association.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Concepcion “Concha”, his son Anthony and daughters Adriana and Miranda. Service plans were pending.

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