ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — No one’s made it official yet, but plenty of Democrats — and at least two Republicans — say they’re considering a run for mayor in Albuquerque’s technically nonpartisan city election.
Incumbent Richard Berry beat two Democrats three years ago to become Albuquerque’s first Republican mayor since 1985. He hasn’t said yet whether he will seek re-election next October.
His approval ratings are high, according to a Journal poll this fall. But Berry’s opponents are likely to hit him hard on the sluggish economy and the Department of Justice investigation into use of force by city police.
If Berry runs, he can count on opposition from Pete Dinelli, a former city councilor who was chief public safety officer under Berry’s predecessor, Martin Chávez. Dinelli said he’s been organizing for months and intends to formally announce his campaign today.
Three other prominent Democrats say they’ve been encouraged to run and will at least consider it — U.S. Department of Agriculture executive Terry Brunner, former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and City Councilor Ken Sanchez.
Retired police Sgt. Paul Heh, a Republican, said he’s been urged to run and will make a decision soon.
Pastor Steve Smothermon, also a Republican, said Albuquerque needs a “true conservative” and that he, too, has been asked to run.
There’s still time for new candidates to emerge. Berry didn’t announce his candidacy last time until February.
Election day is Oct. 8. Here’s a look at what the potential candidates had to say:
Berry said he is weighing a campaign for a second, final term.
“I am very appreciative for my opportunity to serve this great city and I am pleased with all we have been able to achieve together, despite the challenges of a difficult economy,” he said in a written statement. “I enjoy the work and I am discussing with my wife and son the possibility of asking those I serve for a second and final term as Mayor. In the meantime there is much to be accomplished and I will work hard every day on behalf of the citizens of Albuquerque.”
In October, a Journal survey conducted by Research & Polling Inc. showed that 68 percent of likely voters in Albuquerque said they generally approved of Berry’s job performance. Fifteen percent disapproved.
Brunner, the USDA’s New Mexico state director for rural development, said he’s been urged to consider a run and will “take a few weeks and look at the race and see if that’s something I’m interested in doing.”
Denish said she, too, has been encouraged to consider a campaign and will decide after the holidays.
“I’m going to wait and see how things unfold a little bit in the beginning of the year,” she said.
Dinelli said he’s been organizing since May. He established a website — pete dinelli.com — and says he’s assembled more than a hundred volunteers.
Dinelli has worked as a prosecutor and a workers’ compensation judge in addition to his jobs at City Hall. He said he is “as Democrat as they come.”
But “I can say with complete confidence I’ve got strong support from both Republicans and Democrats,” he said.
Dinelli made an unsuccessful run for mayor in 1989.
Heh, who has 30 years’ experience as a police officer in Albuquerque, Hobbs and New York state, said a lot of people are asking him to run. “The Police Department is broken,” among other problems, he said.
Sanchez said he formed an exploratory committee and will make a decision before the end of January. He would have to give up re-election to his West Side council seat to run for mayor, and he said his workload at Gilbert Sanchez Tax and Accounting Service Inc. — named after his father — will also be a factor.
Sanchez said he enjoys serving the community and that his 15-year track record as a county commissioner and city councilor demonstrates he would be a strong mayor who works across party lines.
Smothermon, who preaches at Legacy Church, one of the biggest churches in the state, said in a written statement that “several people have asked me to run. But I believe there is still time before a decision has to be made. I feel that (Albuquerque) needs a true conservative.”
State Sen. Tim Keller, frequently mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate, said he is not likely to run, and City Council President Dan Lewis, a Republican, said flatly that he won’t be on the ballot. State Treasurer James Lewis said he considered a run but decided to pass after thinking it over and consulting with his family.
Albuquerque’s elections are nonpartisan, so there won’t be a primary election to winnow the field, but there could be a runoff election between the top two candidates.
Runoff rule heads for vote
The city’s current rules say that whoever gets the most votes in the October municipal election will win the office outright, as long as that candidate has at least 40 percent of the vote.
The city, though, is preparing to hold a special election by mail March 11 on whether to change the requirement to 50 percent.
Supporters of upping the requirement turned in enough signatures in December to force an election on the issue. They say the victor should have to win a clear majority so that two other similar candidates do not split the vote.
Critics argued that the extra elections would be expensive, would unnecessarily prolong campaigning into late November and could draw small turnout.
Some have said the change would make it harder for Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican who will be up for re-election next year, to beat a Democrat. Berry won about 44 percent of the vote in 2009 to beat out two Democrats, Chávez and Richard Romero.