Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of profiles the Journal will publish over the next few weeks on Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates.
Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
It was the shooting death of a 4-year-old girl — in a fit of road rage, of all things — that pushed Michelle Garcia Holmes into the mayor’s race.
As a retired police detective and former chief of staff in the state Attorney General’s Office, Garcia Holmes decided Albuquerque needed a “crime fighter” at City Hall.
After some prayer, she said, she prepared for a campaign. But the death of Lilly Garcia, the youngster shot on Interstate 40 two years ago, was the spark that got her thinking about it.
“It made me question, ‘Is this what we’ve become?’ ” Garcia Holmes said in a recent interview.
She is now one of eight candidates competing to succeed Mayor Richard Berry, whose term ends in November. Election Day is Oct. 3.
Garcia Holmes is registered to vote as an independent, and her campaign isn’t as well-funded as much of the field. But she said those qualities are an asset, not a weakness, in her bid for the mayor’s office.
“I’m not a politician, and I think that works to my benefit,” Garcia Holmes said. “I don’t need a job. I’m jumping into this because I’m for the people, not the parties.”
Garcia Holmes, 55, lives in the Wells Park, Sawmill and Old Town area along Mountain Road. She ran for City Council in 2003, finishing second among a four-candidate field but hasn’t held an elected public office before.
Years in law enforcement
Garcia Holmes grew up in Albuquerque, attended Valley High School and joined the city police force in her early 20s, intrigued by a ride-along she had taken as a teenager. She liked the idea of justice, she said, and “going after people who did really bad things in your community.”
Garcia Holmes at first looked so young that her supervisors assigned her to an undercover operation at Eldorado High School, where she posed as a student and helped bust drug dealers selling to teenagers.
Eventually, she became a detective. Her work included investigating a serial rapist known as the “Ether Man” — the first time in New Mexico, she said, that prosecutors obtained a “John Doe” indictment against someone’s DNA. The suspect was later caught in Colorado.
She also investigated the “Hollywood Video” murders in 1996, when three store employees were killed during a robbery and the grandparents of one of the employees were kidnapped and executed in the East Mountains. Two suspects were later convicted.
All of that experience, Garcia Holmes said, would give her a strong handle on addressing what she calls the epidemic of crime in Albuquerque.
“When you’ve been in a room with a rape victim,” she said, “you understand how important it is to have her rape kit processed. When you’ve been in a room with parents who’ve had their child murdered, you understand how important it is to do a good investigation.”
Garcia Holmes said she has other experience, too. She worked as chief of staff under then-Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat, which she said gave her a strong understanding of the legislative process.
She worked on the passage of laws on human trafficking, DNA collection from people who are arrested on felony charges and campaign finance.
“I think she’s very talented,” King told the Journal in an interview. “I think, for the mayor’s race, that her background with APD and law enforcement could be a real benefit.”
Garcia Holmes says crime is at the root of many of the city’s other problems. Improving public safety, she said, would in turn help Albuquerque’s business climate and ordinary residents’ qualify of life.
She opposes the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central Avenue and said she’s concerned about the use of gross receipts tax revenue bonds to fund it — a process that allowed the project to bypass voters.
Any tax increase should go before voters, she said, but she doesn’t believe the city needs to raise taxes.
Garcia Holmes’ campaign had about $33,300 in cash on hand, according to a campaign finance report she filed Aug. 11. Her cash on hand ranked sixth out of the eight candidates.
Among her donors are King, the former attorney general; former state Sen. Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque; and Tara Shaver, the anti-abortion activist who led an unsuccessful campaign to enact a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Each gave her campaign $100.
Shaver said she and Garcia Holmes have their Christian faith in common. Garcia Holmes said she grew up Catholic but now attends Calvary Albuquerque.
“We don’t really view her as your typical politician who’s going to say one thing to get elected and do another,” Shaver said of Garcia Holmes. “Her convictions are deeper than the surface.”
Garcia Holmes said she’s the right person at this point to help the city.
Over and over on the campaign trail, she said, she’s heard stories about the devastation wrought by crime in Albuquerque — something she believes she’s uniquely well-suited to address.
“We’re at a turning point,” Garcia Holmes said. “We have to get a handle on crime in our city, and I think that’s the biggest difference between me and the candidates I’m running against.
“I’ve been there. I’ve been in the trenches. … We need a crime fighter in the mayor’s office.”
The candidate field
Albuquerque voters will head to the polls in October for what’s likely to be the first of two rounds of voting.
If no one gets a majority of votes Oct. 3, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election in November.
On the ballot are:
- Independents Michelle Garcia Holmes, a retired police detective, and Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, co-founder of the civic group Urban ABQ.
- Democrats Brian Colón, an attorney and former state Democratic Party chairman; Tim Keller, the state auditor and a former state senator; and Gus Pedrotty, a recent University of New Mexico graduate.
- Republicans Ricardo Chaves, founder of Parking Co. of America; County Commissioner Wayne Johnson; and City Councilor Dan Lewis.