Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of profiles on Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates the Journal has been publishing in recent weeks. The eighth and final profile will be published later this week.
Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
He’s a Republican city councilor hoping to succeed a Republican mayor, and while that might ordinarily be a recipe for accord, it hasn’t worked out that way.
City Councilor Dan Lewis and Mayor Richard Berry have clashed on key issues over the years.
Lewis doesn’t mince words when talking about the Berry administration, accusing it of having a “bunker mentality and defensive nature … on everything that’s mattered, including public safety, the challenges facing APD, certainly the ART (project).”
Lewis, an ordained Baptist minister, was the first city councilor to ask for the U.S. Department of Justice to examine the Albuquerque Police Department, and he broke ranks with his Republican colleagues on the council to pass a resolution to that effect. Berry vetoed the resolution, and in the end, the council passed a watered-down version that pledged cooperation if the DOJ were to come in.
While serving as council president, Lewis publicly called for then-Police Chief Ray Schultz to resign.
And he was one of two city councilors to vote against Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, which will transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations.
“I think that the reason why people don’t trust elected officials is because they get elected and then they begin to think they’re a little more important than they really are and they forget that serving in public office is about listening to the people that elected you,” says Lewis, one of eight candidates on the mayoral ballot.
Also running are:
• Republicans Wayne Johnson, a county commissioner; and Ricardo Chaves, founder of Parking Company of America.
• Democrats Tim Keller, the state auditor and a former state senator; Gus Pedrotty, a recent University of New Mexico graduate; and Brian Colón, an attorney and former state Democratic Party chairman.
• 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.
Election Day is Oct. 3. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two will advance to a runoff election in November.
The new mayor takes office Dec. 1.
Among Lewis’ most prominent supporters is local developer Paul Silverman of Geltmore LLC.
“Dan is a very hard worker, he is honest, he is a good listener, he is well-organized, and he has not sold his soul to any special interest groups,” Silverman said in an email.
He said Lewis’ experience on the council gives him in-depth knowledge of the city operations and its budget.
“There is no learning curve when he is elected, and he can immediately attack the issues that need to be addressed in this community,” Silverman said. “While I do not agree with all of his ideas or positions, I believe that his ability to understand various aspects of any issue will allow him to make good decisions that will best benefit the future of the city.”
But Lewis has faced criticism at mayoral forums, with some making the case that Lewis already had a chance to fix APD but failed. And during at least one forum, Lewis was accused of voting for ART before he voted against it.
On ART funding, Lewis says, “It’s absolutely false that I’ve ever supported or voted for ART.” As for APD, Lewis says he’s not the mayor or the administrator of the department.
“The City Council created a new police oversight board, revamped that whole thing,” he says. “Council has put together budgets that have funded 1,000 officers.”
Lewis says APD should have 1,200 officers; it currently has about 850. He says that if he is elected, he will immediately push for a $15 million increase in APD’s budget and institute aggressive pay raises for police.
And Lewis says his administration would develop a scorecard by which voters can “judge the judges” on their decisions to release or keep “dangerous and repeat criminals” in jail.
Lewis, 47, didn’t always aspire to a life in politics.
A native of San Jose, Calif., he’s the youngest of four sons born to Paul and Ann Lewis. His father was a pastor, and they moved around a lot, living in Carson City, Nev.; Phoenix; and Cheyenne, Wyo., among other places.
Lewis pursued his undergraduate degree at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix because it’s where his brothers were and he had the opportunity to play baseball at the school. It’s also where he met his wife, Tracy.
He left the baseball team after his freshman year, opting to devote more of his time to youth ministry.
After graduating, Lewis enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I wanted to pursue full-time ministry,” he says.
He was ordained while serving at South Hills Baptist Church in Fort Worth and then moved to Albuquerque with his wife and daughter, Madison, in 1996 to work with First Baptist Church. About a year later, with the help of First Baptist, Lewis and his wife started a church on the West Side.
“Tracy and I started Soul Rio Church in our living room with about seven people,” he says, adding, “I wasn’t really interested in going and being a pastor of a big church that had already been around for a long time. I wanted to start something from new.”
He served as Soul Rio pastor from 1997 until 2013, when he stepped down to focus on a business opportunity.
Founded 2 firms
While Lewis felt a calling to minister to people, he also “had an entrepreneurial spirit” and started two companies while serving as pastor of Soul Rio Church.
Founded in 2005, Rio Grande Rustics specialized in Southwestern, rustic-style furniture. Lewis says that when he sold his interest in the company to his business partner, the company had two employees.
“The company indirectly probably employed another dozen people at any given time,” he says.
Lewis and a business partner launched Rio Grande Foam in 2006, selling customized pieces of polyurethane foam, along with other upholstery products.
Lewis sold his interest in that company to his business partner in 2012. At the time, he says, the company had three employees.
Lewis says being a business owner was a great experience.
“I learned a lot. You learn about being an entrepreneur. You learn about how to start something from nothing and build it. It’s a lot of solving problems,” he says.
Lewis currently works for Desert Fuels, a wholesale fuel supplier. Lewis went to work for the company in 2012 and served as interim president from 2015 to 2016. He currently serves as vice president of the company and president of Desert Fuels Transport LLC., a division he started.
Amid pastoring a church, operating businesses and raising two children, Lewis decided to take on another challenge in 2009: running for City Council.
“I was involved in the neighborhood association,” he says. “I was coaching Little League. I saw we didn’t have very good facilities for Little League. On the West Side, I saw the roads that were needed. I saw the growth of residential housing, but the services weren’t there, the commercial services. … I had never considered running for public office until I began to see some of the needs and began to see that I could make a difference.”
Lewis says he knocked on 6,000 doors in the five months leading up to the election, introducing himself and listening to what residents had to say. He defeated the incumbent with 56 percent of the vote.
He says his biggest triumphs as a councilor have been the Unser extension and the Paseo del Norte-Interstate 25 interchange.
Up until 2011, Lewis said, there was a 2.5-mile stretch of Unser that hadn’t been built yet, roughly from Montaño to Paradise.
“On my first council meeting – so I didn’t even know where I sat; I didn’t know how to work the microphone – but I had a bill sponsored that was a $5 million bill to fund the Unser extension, and we passed it that night,” he says.
Lewis says that while he was campaigning, one concern he frequently heard was that something had to be done to fix the Paseo and I-25 interchange. He said he made that a priority during his first two years in office, lobbying for it and reaching out to other elected officials.
“We found a way to get it done,” he says.
Lewis launched a bid for Congress in 2012 but withdrew after coming in a distant second in the pre-primary convention. He subsequently won re-election to a second City Council term.
Lewis says he’s the best candidate for mayor because he has created private jobs in the city and because he’s the “only serious candidate” who’s never held an elected partisan position.
“I’m driven to help our city succeed,” he says. “And for our city to succeed, our neighborhoods must succeed and our businesses and job creators need to succeed.”