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Final mayoral TV debate gets heated

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Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates intensified their criticism of each other on Monday in the last televised debate ahead of next week’s election.

Incumbent Richard Berry at one point suggested that his challengers shouldn’t even be running because they “don’t believe in our city.” That drew outraged responses from challengers Pete Dinelli and Paul Heh.

The hourlong debate, moderated by host Gene Grant, was sponsored by KNME-TV and the League of Women Voters. It was taped in the afternoon and aired on PBS Channel 5 at 7 p.m.

Berry, in particular, seemed to confront his opponents more aggressively Monday than he had in past debates. Dinelli and Heh always have been highly critical of Berry, and they certainly didn’t back down Monday.

The tensest exchange came about halfway through the debate after a question about neighborhoods. Dinelli said Berry’s actions in office show he doesn’t really “care about our neighborhoods,” and Heh added that he never saw Berry at neighborhood meetings.

Berry’s response was forceful.

“To say I’ve never been to a neighborhood association meeting, that’s a ridiculous claim,” Berry said. “… I think people in Albuquerque are starting to see a pattern here, where we’ve got two gentlemen who frankly don’t believe in our city.

“They can say they love it. They can say they have a passion for it. They can say they’ve been to a few meetings, but they don’t believe in our city. They shouldn’t be running for the mayorship of this great city.”

In rebuttal, Dinelli said he took “real strong exception” to Berry’s comments. He said he was born and raised in Albuquerque, as were his children.

“Please don’t tell me that I don’t love my city,” Dinelli said. “Don’t tell me that I don’t have faith in my city. Please stop it.”

Heh, a retired police sergeant, was also harsh.

“How dare he say I don’t love this city,” he said. “I spent 25 years of my life protecting this city. I love Albuquerque.”

Election Day is Oct. 8. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, the top two will compete in a runoff Nov. 19.

Berry, who used to work in the construction industry, is Albuquerque’s first Republican mayor in more than two decades. Dinelli, a former prosecutor and ex-deputy city attorney, is a Democrat. Heh, a Republican, retired from the Albuquerque Police Department in 2011.

Monday’s debate was also the first time the candidates discussed the city’s future water supply on television.

Berry said the city needs to continue its water-conservation measures and look at desalination for a potential supplemental supply of water in the future.

Dinelli said the city needs far more conservation, especially in city government buildings.

Heh said the federal government should pump desalinated water from the Gulf of Mexico to Albuquerque because the aquifer has been “poisoned” by a fuel spill at Kirtland Air Force Base.

No contaminated water from the fuel spill has reached city drinking wells.

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