The first debate for Albuquerque mayor made one thing clear: while there are three candidates running, there are only two options.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales is a good man. He’s respectful, caring, and competent in his current role. Gonzales has served his country as a U.S. Marine and his community as a sheriff. His people-first approach to running the sheriff’s department has made him popular and deserving of the national accolades he has received. But it was clear listening to his responses to the half-dozen questions about what he would do to reverse the downward trajectory of Albuquerque that he’s not cut out for big city politics.
The night belonged to talk radio host Eddy Aragon.
Incumbent Mayor Tim Keller was low energy, dismissive of the city’s problems, and responded to virtually every question, whether it be about crime, homelessness, or city lawsuits, by decrying how hard it is to be a mayor.
Aragon by contrast was passionate, honest, and angry — which is exactly how Albuquerque residents feel about their city.
Crime is running rampant, homelessness has gotten worse, and city streets and community parks are littered with tents, trash and needles. Downtown business owners beg the city for help as junkies wander like zombies and vandals destroy anything they can.
The city’s approach to COVID enforcement has decimated small businesses, and the failure of leadership from New Mexico’s largest city to give citizens the freedom to choose — whether to mask their children or simply open the doors of their business — has been disastrous.
The contrast was stark.
To almost every question that offended his record, Keller began his responses explaining how hard it is to run a city. Nobody denies that. The question is whether he deserves another shot at it. While he claims his hands are tied by ordinance and the state legislature, his denial of the plight that has overtaken Albuquerque signaled that perhaps he’s not ready for another term.
In his opener, Keller stated that voters entrusted him to lead on “crime, homelessness, jobs, and security.” He summed up a record-breaking homicide rate and 5,000 homeless on the streets with what can only be described as utter oblivion:
“I think that we’ve honored that commitment and respected the magnitude of those challenges.”
This is how politics works. The challenger’s job is to tear apart the incumbent’s record, while the incumbent has to convince voters that all of the problems were there before and are getting better. Keller is clearly running a “don’t believe your lyin’ eyes” re-election campaign.
He boasted of his community policing program, which will put social workers on the streets to respond to non-violent 9–1–1 calls, the $38 million he spent on law enforcement “technology,” a police hiring surge, a multi-million-dollar Medical Gibson Center to house the homeless, his goal of creating even more homelessness encampments around the city, and his vision of a $50 million soccer stadium.
Aragon wasn’t having any of it.
“This approach from Mayor Keller has ceased to work. It hasn’t worked at all,” he said.
Non-violent crime isn’t the problem, as evidenced by the now 86 murders in Albuquerque, and expensive technology doesn’t seem to have helped.
Aragon accused Keller of “catering and coddling” the homeless, being soft on petty criminals, and wasting taxpayer money with another publicly-funded facility (Gibson) when there are millions spent on facilities such as the “tiny house” community that remain mostly empty.
While Aragon was confident that Albuquerque residents would vote down the $50 million bond for a new soccer stadium, he pointed out that our soccer team can’t fill its existing stadium. Meanwhile, our existing facilities, such as the convention center, operate at 30% capacity.
One of the highlights of the debate was when Keller said in the same breath that the sheriff is to blame for crime and that he wouldn’t blame anyone for the city’s problems.
“What would help crime is if the sheriff would just help us with crime,” Keller said, accusing Gonzales of not attending meetings Keller wants him at, then saying without a hint of irony or self-awareness, “The system needs help, not just APD, and it takes a leader who’s willing to take responsibility for our problems, and that’s what I do. I’m not going to point fingers. I’m not going to blame anyone else.”
While Keller accused his opponents of empty talk and doubled down on his commitment to continuing the policies that have brought us to a record homicide rate, it was Aragon who actually laid out detailed plans to clean up the streets.
To solve crime, whether it’s assaults, murders, or car thefts, Aragon proposed longer detainment of criminals, filling up the jails, and ease the burden on police officers. He proposed increasing salaries of APD officers, making them the highest paid police in the state (they’re currently ranked sixth), ending overtime, blocking the city’s end to qualified immunity, and working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to utilize federal assistance in handling criminals who are here illegally.
“I am dead set against sanctuary cities,” Aragon said, adding that the biggest opponents to illegal immigration are legal immigrants.
Keller, meanwhile, threw up his hands, saying “the mayor can’t just wave a magic wand,” only to admit that he supports sanctuary cities. His job as mayor, he said, is to “support immigrants” and “help and protect everyone in the city.” To do that, “trust between the police and immigrants” is essential.
“You cannot have that if you are using anti-immigrant rhetoric, if you’re supporting deportations, and frankly if you’re buying into Donald Trump and Attorney General Barr’s agenda. That makes our city less safe.”
You have to have some sympathy for Keller. COVID was a disaster that no city government was equipped to handle. But his response encapsulates the type of leadership that has failed so many cities across the country, on COVID and beyond.
Keller claimed he enforced the state mandates but tried to help residents and businesses by keeping parks open and spending $300 million in capital improvements.
But with a pandemic that is now endemic, local governments are all that stands between Liberal governors and the people who suffer from their lockdowns and mandates.
Aragon put the onus on the citizens.
“People need to make the decisions on their own,” he said, pointing out that the “my body my choice” mantra used by abortionists needs to extend to COVID vaccinations and masking. With a local economy that was “decimiated” by COVID and state unemployment rate that ranks #1 in the country, citizens need to decide for themselves what is best for their health. The city’s role in that should be limited to providing access to testing and vaccinatino if they so choose. But “shutting down the city was disastrous,” Aragon said.
If we can assume the candidates were honest in this first debate, the campaign messages were clear. Keller is going to “continue what I’ve been doing.” Aragon, observing that what Keller’s been doing hasn’t worked, is going to try something else.
We’ll find out in 74 days whether voters decide to stay the course or try something new.
The Conservative New Mexican will be publishing an in-depth interview with Eddy Aragon in the coming weeks. We will ask about specific policy positions as well as his general leadership philosophy. Our goal is two-fold: to give voters a clear understanding of the issues, and to get those campaign promises on the record so that Aragon can be held accountable for the results of the changes he believes he can accomplish as mayor.
This invitation has been extended to both Manny Gonzales and Tim Keller.
Categories: 2021 ABQ Mayoral Race