They sparred over whether the Albuquerque Public Schools system should be split up, vacillated on whether the next mayor should lobby lawmakers to stiffen penalties for anyone using a gun to commit a crime, and mostly skirted the question of whether they would allow federal agents to be present at the city’s prisoner transport center.
Those were among the highlights of Monday night’s mayoral debate, which was broadcast live over KASA Fox 2. Seven of the eight candidates took part. Mayoral candidate Ricardo Chaves did not attend.
Candidates were asked how they would work to help improve APS.
Of the seven participating candidates, City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, was the only one to advocate for splitting up APS, once again calling for smaller, more accountable and more efficient school systems.
“I disagree with every one of my opponents,” he said. “We have a massive failing school system at APS.”
Attorney Brian Colón, a Democrat, argued that he didn’t think that was the solution, pledging to create a chief education officer. Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, an independent and co-founder of the civic group Urban ABQ, said the teachers she’s talked to have told her that splitting up APS is a bad idea. State Auditor Tim Keller and recent UNM graduate Gus Pedrotty, both Democrats, advocated for creating more after-school and summer programs for students, while Michelle Garcia Holmes, an independent, talked about having GED programs at community centers for young people who leave APS.
Wayne Johnson, a Republican county commissioner, meanwhile, seized the opportunity to throw a few punches at opponents.
“I’m not for gimmicks,” he said. “Splitting up APS is a gimmick. Creating a CEO at the city is another gimmick.” He advocated for programs like the ABC Community Schools partnerships.
Asked whether they would ask the Legislature to toughen penalties for using a gun when committing a crime, Johnson, Keller, Pedrotty, Garcia Holmes and Lewis all said they would.
“The one thing that we can all agree on is that we have a revolving-door crime problem,” Keller said. “And the one thing that’s in common with just about everyone who goes into that revolving door is they are carrying an unregistered firearm, and they’re already a felon. That is where I would stand up and go fight with the Legislature. That is the one issue that the NRA and the folks that are on the other side agree we need real teeth.”
Lewis said lawmakers should tack on a 10-year sentence for felons caught using a firearm.
Colón and Wheeler-Deichsel said they were willing to have a conversation about it.
“I am very, very protective of the Second Amendment rights for people here in the state of New Mexico,” Colón said. “But I can tell you that people are also fed up with people who are using firearms in the commission of crimes. I think it’s a commonsense conversation.”
On the topic of whether candidates would continue the city’s current policy that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to be present at the prisoner transport center where they can screen people who are arrested, Keller said he would not.
“I believe we need to stand up for everyone in the city, regardless of their status,” he said.
Lewis said he voted for the current policy.
None of the other candidates answered the question directly, although Johnson said the city and county are currently in violation of federal law because of their “immigration-friendly status” and will lose funding because of it. Garcia Holmes argued that the city needs to be in compliance with federal law because the city needs every penny of federal funding to help it fight crime.
The forum, held at the University of New Mexico’s Continuing Education Center, was presented by Albuquerque area Realtors in cooperation with the Journal and KRQE News 13, and was moderated by KRQE’s Dean Staley and Kent Walz, the Journal’s senior editor.
Election Day is Oct. 3.