Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of profiles the Journal will publish over the next few weeks on Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates.
Gus Pedrotty knows he’s bad at short answers.
At 22, Pedrotty is the youngest candidate in Albuquerque’s mayoral race, and he isn’t a politician who’s spent years crafting the perfect sound bites.
But the recent graduate of the University of New Mexico – with degrees in chemistry and psychology – is clearly excited about the ideas he would bring to City Hall.
They range from supporting biotechnology and solar power to legalizing marijuana and harnessing the new tax revenue.
“I wish I was more concise, but they’re big ideas,” Pedrotty said in a recent interview over coffee.
He began seriously considering a run for mayor about 2½ years ago, he said, after going to some public protests in the wake of the James Boyd shooting that rocked the city.
Albuquerque police shot and killed Boyd, a homeless camper, in 2014. Two officers faced a murder trial, which ended in a hung jury.
The shooting ignited protests all over the city, including at UNM where Pedrotty was a freshman. The “militarized police” response with armored vehicles and officers in riot gear, he said, made him think hard about the city he grew up in and how to address its problems.
“I was asking consistently, ‘What is a city’s responsibility to its citizenry?’ and ‘What is a citizenry’s responsibility to its city?’ ” Pedrotty said.
Pedrotty is one of eight mayoral candidates on the ballot. Incumbent Richard Berry, a Republican, is stepping down after eight years in office.
Voters will head to the polls Oct. 3 for the first round of voting. If no one gets a majority of votes in October, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election in November.
The new mayor takes office Dec. 1.
On the ballot are:
• Democrats Pedrotty; Brian Colón, an attorney and former state Democratic Party chairman; and Tim Keller, the state auditor and a former state senator.
• Republicans Ricardo Chaves, founder of Parking Co. of America; County Commissioner Wayne Johnson; and City Councilor Dan Lewis.
• Independents Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, co-founder of the civic group Urban ABQ; and Michelle Garcia Holmes, a former chief of staff for the state attorney general and a retired Albuquerque police detective.
Age may be a hurdle
Pedrotty lives in the UNM area. He graduated in May and has not yet launched his career, though he says he’s interested in continuing his undergraduate research on music and the brain.
He managed a residence hall at UNM and worked as a resident adviser, he said. He also started a UNM program that gathers and recycles solid waste, with the revenue generated going into a scholarship program.
Pedrotty also served as an intern for Project ECHO at UNM – an effort that uses telemedicine to help make specialized health care treatment available to people in rural areas.
Pedrotty says he knows he faces skepticism because of his age but that he hopes people will consider his practical skills and experience.
“There’s nothing I can say that’s going to pull the switch in people’s minds and say this 22-year-old is going to be the clear choice for this office,” he said.
Still, Pedrotty said, he’s the right candidate for mayor – a job that would put him in charge of Albuquerque’s roughly 6,000 municipal employees.
“This isn’t a position where you want the expert on one single topic,” he said. “It’s an office where you want somebody who understands a community, has a vision for it and is willing to steer vehemently for that outcome. There’s no magic wand.”
A nonpartisan approach
Pedrotty is registered as a Democrat but says he would bring a nonpartisan approach to the job. He describes his political philosophy as “utilitarian and pragmatic.”
Pedrotty says he likes that local government is a place where things can move fast and there isn’t much need for “party politics.”
He said he shares the goals repeated by many candidates in the race – that Albuquerque needs a new police chief and that it must grow the size of its police force. He said the department must also fulfill its reform obligations outlined in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and move toward de-escalation and community policing strategies.
Pedrotty said he also wants the city to do a better job of helping people before they’re in crisis, perhaps with a network of clinics that provide treatment for people struggling with addiction or other behavioral health problems.
That’s far more cost effective than treating them in jails or hospital emergency rooms, he said.
On economic development, Pedrotty said Albuquerque has tremendous potential for growth in biotechnology. He cites two new vaccines that have developed out of research at UNM.
And the city, he said, should take advantage of the EB-5 visa program that encourages foreign investment, making it easier for local companies to get the capital they need to grow.
He also favors legalizing and taxing marijuana in Albuquerque, a move he says would draw tourists and generate revenue that could be used to build solar-power infrastructure that would benefit the community for years to come.
By mid-August, Pedrotty’s campaign had about $3,100 in cash on hand, according to finance reports filed with the city. He ranked seventh out of eight candidates in cash on hand.
But Pedrotty says he’s a viable candidate who can win the race.
“It’s a local election,” he said. “All people have to do is choose the future they’re most interested in.”