Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates are split down the middle on the proposed Healthy Workforce Ordinance initiative that voters will decide on Oct. 3, and three of them took the opportunity to blast the sick leave measure during a forum Monday.
“It won’t make our workforce healthier. It will make them more unemployed,” quipped County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, a Republican, who argued that the measure would harm businesses.
And of the four candidates who have expressed support for the initiative, three of them voiced concerns about it.
“I go back and forth on this ordinance,” said Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, an entrepreneur and founder of the civic group Urban ABQ, who said she supports the spirit of the proposed law. “… I think there are deadbeat employers out there, though, who probably do need to be forced, but I don’t think that this ordinance is the one that we need.”
Candidates also offered their views on tax increases, what could be done to improve public schools and several other issues. Seven of the eight candidates on the ballot took part in the Business/Real Estate/Construction ABQ Mayoral Candidate Forum, which was attended by more than 500 people and moderated by Journal Senior Editor Kent Walz.
Candidate Ricardo Chaves, a Republican, had initially accepted an invitation for the forum, but his campaign notified organizers that he would not be attending due to laryngitis.
If approved by voters, the Healthy Workforce Ordinance would require employers to offer employees paid sick time off. It would apply to full-time, part-time and temporary workers at any business with a physical presence in Albuquerque.
Besides Johnson, also opposing the ordinance are Republicans Dan Lewis, a city councilor, and Chaves, a businessman, as well as independent Michelle Garcia Holmes, a retired detective and former chief of staff of the state Attorney General’s Office.
Democrats Brian Colón, a lawyer, Tim Keller, the state auditor, and Gus Pedrotty, a recent University of New Mexico graduate, as well as independent Wheeler-Deichsel have voiced support for it.
“This will actually be a devastating thing to our city,” Garcia Holmes said. “I want you to know I am 100 percent against this ordinance. It will be a business killer.”
“If you like Obamacare, you will love the sick leave act,” Lewis said, drawing laughter from the audience. “If you want the nine-member City Council to be your (Human Resources) department and you’ll pay for them and your own HR department you will love the sick leave act.”
Among those backing the ballot initiative, Pedrotty, who coaches water polo, was the only one who did not hedge his support.
“Sick leave brings up everybody,” he said. “Sick leave is important. Sick leave helps all of us. I don’t want to be throwing up in a pool and coaching your kids how to play water polo. I don’t think you want that either.”
Colón and Keller said they planned to vote for the measure, but both acknowledged that there are issues with it. And they both criticized city leaders for not putting forth a more workable sick leave ordinance.
Ideas on education
Candidates were also asked what they would do to help improve public schools in the area.
“We have one massive failing school district in Albuquerque called Albuquerque Public Schools,” Lewis said. “I believe we lose millions of dollars every day because of the reputation of our public school system in Albuquerque. I believe in no more liaisons, no more partnerships. The district needs to be broken up into smaller districts.”
Johnson argued that breaking up APS would cause more problems than we have today and argued that the ABC Community Schools Partnerships, which he is currently involved with, would be one way to improve things. Keller said the lawmakers have been considering legislation to break up APS for 10 years.
“I’m not going to wait any longer for the state or APS to deal with this,” Keller said. “I think we should step up for our kids right away.” He said the city should retool its parks and recreation department so that it’s providing arts, science and sports programs for kids after school and over the summer.
“To do that, we don’t have to wait for anyone,” he said.
Colón argued that with 84,000 kids in Albuquerque, the mayor has a moral obligation to try to improve schools here.
“We’re going to appoint a CEO of the city – a chief education officer – that will be the direct conduit between APS, (Central New Mexico Community College), and the University of New Mexico and all the entities that touch education in Albuquerque,” he said.
Asked whether they would raise taxes without voter approval, all seven participating candidates said they would not, although Pedrotty said the exception for him would be a public safety tax if additional resources are needed to bring Albuquerque’s crime problem under control.