Susan Wheeler-Deichsel’s run for mayor didn’t start until after she tried recruiting a couple of other candidates.
“They both said, ‘Well, Susan, why not you?’ ” Wheeler-Deichsel recalls. “I thought about it for a while, and then the light came on.”
She’s now one of eight candidates on the ballot to succeed Richard Berry as mayor of Albuquerque.
Wheeler-Deichsel, 65, is a Downtown resident, co-founder of the civic group Urban ABQ and an entrepreneur. She has started and run businesses in insurance, cleaning and food delivery.
And she attracted attention at City Hall a few years ago when she led the effort to spruce up the Lowe’s grocery store at 11th and Lomas on the outskirts of the Downtown core – an experience she says demonstrates her ability to collaborate and get things done.
But her candidacy also faces some challenges – fundraising, among them, she acknowledges.
Wheeler-Deichsel, an independent, says she’s committed to the nonpartisan system of government in Albuquerque, where party affiliation doesn’t appear on the ballot and there’s no primary election to choose nominees. And her refusal to embrace a political party – she’s mostly a centrist, she says – has made it difficult to hire a campaign manager.
Nonetheless, she says, she has a strong group of volunteers and, in a recent interview, she made it clear that she believes she has the skills to serve as mayor of New Mexico’s largest city.
“Can I win?” she said, repeating an interviewer’s question. “Donald Trump is president. I mean, really.”
Albuquerque voters will head to the polls Oct. 3 in what’s likely to be the first of two rounds of voting. If no one gets a majority of votes in October, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election in November.
On the ballot are:
• Independents Wheeler-Deichsel and Michelle Garcia Holmes, a former chief of staff for the state attorney general and a retired Albuquerque police detective.
• 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.
Wheeler-Deichsel grew up in Sacramento, Calif. Her family was poor, she said, and she dropped out of high school twice before going to night school and earning her diploma.
Her youth included peace marches in the 1960s, three Beatles concerts and a stint dating a musician who would later join the Eagles, Timothy B. Schmit.
Wheeler-Deichsel said she eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She has generally been self-employed, she said, operating a variety of small businesses.
She had a Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy in the 1980s but paid off her debts, she said.
Wheeler-Deichsel and her husband, Richard, moved to Albuquerque about 11 years ago and live in the Downtown area, a few blocks from the Lowe’s grocery store that would thrust her into neighborhood politics.
The store had a limited produce section at the time and lacked some fancy touches – such as an olive bar – but it was the closest thing Downtown had to a full grocery store then.
Wheeler-Deichsel got in touch with the owner and succeeded in persuading him to renovate the place into a more modern store that matches the historic, hip neighborhood nearby.
But she faced opposition, too, because the renovation included government approval to sell alcohol.
“I had no background in any of this,” she said. “I had to teach myself from the ground up how to maneuver in a landscape like that, and, in the end, it was a huge triumph.”
She later helped found Urban ABQ, a volunteer group that promotes pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development and projects.
Wheeler-Deichsel said she would bring a nonpartisan approach to City Hall. Her self-employed background, she said, gives her a good grasp on financial matters, and she would hire smart professionals to help her run the city well.
Crime and public safety are the biggest issues facing the city, Wheeler-Deichsel said, and she would replace Police Chief Gorden Eden and focus on meeting or exceeding the terms of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which is requiring Albuquerque to enact a series of police reforms.
Wheeler-Deichsel supports the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project and says it could be a financial boost to struggling families that could take the bus rather than pay to own a car.
Gross receipts taxes should be raised only with voter approval, she said.
Rob Dickson, who redeveloped the old Albuquerque High School, described Wheeler-Deichsel as an effective community organizer. He has worked with Wheeler-Deichsel on efforts to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
“I think she intellectually is the kind of person who looks both within and outside of Albuquerque for best practices and potential solutions to the challenges we face as a community,” Dickson said in an interview. “She’s an intelligent person with a good heart.”
Wheeler-Deichsel hasn’t raised much money for her campaign so far. Her campaign reported a negative balance earlier this month, putting her last among the eight candidates in cash on hand.
But she said she remains capable of winning the race.
“I want to serve the people of this city,” Wheeler-Deichsel said. “I believe I’m perfectly well-qualified.”