Rivera took interesting path to business/civic leadership

Filed under: News |

When Lionel Rivera was elected mayor, the economy was in bad shape. Unemployment was on the rise, programs had to be cut and money was tight. Rivera found that he had to prioritize.

Now, more than a year later, Rivera is still working to promote economic growth in Colorado Springs and he sees better days on the horizon. He said the current City Council is more focused on business development than any other council he’s been on during his seven years in city government.

Rivera said it is a great honor to have been named Best Minority Business Leader and Best Politician on Business Issues for CSBJ’s the Best in Springs Business poll.

Rivera, who also is vice president of Investments at UBS, joined City Council in 1997 and was elected to serve as vice mayor in 2001. He was the first Hispanic vice mayor and mayor in Colorado Springs history.

Needless to say, Rivera has a very busy schedule. “I work long days and long weeks,” Rivera said. And he said he has learned to make “compressed appearances” at events and will typically arrive at a speaking engagement five minutes before he is scheduled to deliver a speech. This affords him more time to work with City Council and UBS clients.

Politics and business have not always been on Rivera’s mind, however. Rivera grew up in El Paso, Texas, and received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Texas Tech University. Microbiology, as it turned out, was not the profession for Rivera. “I found out that I just didn’t have an interest in the medical profession,” Rivera said. “I used my microbiology degree to get commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army.”

While in the Army in Alabama, Rivera decided to pursue further education and received his MBA at Jacksonville State University. He started reading the Wall Street Journal and investing in mutual funds and stocks. He had found his interest.

Rivera said he learned a great deal from being in the Army. “I totally enjoyed my 7.5 years in the Army. You have a lot of responsibility thrust upon you at an early age.”

Making the transition from Army lieutenant to politician was somewhat difficult, Rivera said. “When you’re in the military you don’t focus on politics. You support the commander in chief no matter what his party,” Rivera said. Although his career change was significant, Rivera has not looked back. He moved to Colorado Springs in 1984 and is proud to call the city home.

Rivera admires former Colorado Springs Mayor Bob Issac for his knowledge of the city. Issac carried a yellow legal pad containing general information about Colorado Springs with him in case anyone had a question. “Whatever you are endeavoring in, you have to be over-prepared,” Rivera said.

And Rivera is preparing for some upcoming changes within Colorado Springs. Confluence Park, on the southwest side of downtown, will be dedicated in October, Rivera said.

He is supporting a November ballot initiative to create a Rural Transportation Authority. If passed, there will be a countywide sales tax increase of 1 percent to help fund construction, maintenance and bus projects.

“I don’t think we could grow to be a major area in the country without mass transit and better transportation,” Rivera said. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has become another focal point for Rivera. He said he wants to work to turn UCCS into a space research center and would like to have a business park constructed near the campus.

In a diverse city that is home to many different people with varying interests, Rivera said he is determined not to favor individual groups. “I think all my decisions are made in the best interest of the city as a whole.”

- Stephanie.Cline@csbj.com