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Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
What a difference a term makes.
As he was gearing up to run for re-election five years ago, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry was riding high with a job approval rating approaching 70 percent.
Today, as he prepares to leave office, Berry’s approval rating has plummeted to half of what it had been.
The outgoing mayor is taking the low rating in stride.
“I would like to thank the people of Albuquerque for giving me the opportunity to serve you and your families,” he said in a statement. “Over the past eight years, I have put my heart and soul into improving our city. Being mayor of Albuquerque has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.”
A new Journal Poll shows that 34 percent of likely voters in Albuquerque approve of Berry’s job performance, with 54 percent disapproving. The remaining 12 percent were undecided or didn’t know.
His approval rating is lower than President Donald Trump’s, which, according to a recent national Gallup Poll, was 39 percent.
It’s a particularly stinging blow for Berry, a Republican, given that he had managed to weather controversy and maintain his popularity throughout his first seven years in office.
“It’s a hard job, and it’s hard to maintain popularity for two terms,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., the firm that conducted the scientific survey. “He managed to do it for seven of the eight years.”
A spike in crime and the public’s frustration over the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project have hurt Berry’s rating, Sanderoff said.
The mayoral election has also affected Berry’s numbers.
“We have eight candidates running for election, and all of them are … directly or indirectly criticizing the administration,” Sanderoff said.
Berry has been hammered particularly hard on crime and ART.
Ironically, when Berry first ran for mayor in 2009, he accused then Mayor Martin Chávez of supporting a $300 million trolley in Albuquerque, an allegation that Chávez disputed. Berry’s campaign even digitally superimposed Chávez’s photo onto a trolley for one of his mailers. And during that same election, Berry argued that crime was out of control here.
Though not a trolley, ART will transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations. It is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.
Berry has said he believes the project will help inject new life into Central Avenue. But construction has caused headaches for motorists, and many business owners along the route have complained that the project has hurt their businesses.
Crime, meanwhile, has dominated this election, with 99 percent of those surveyed saying it is a very serious or somewhat serious problem.
In seven years, armed robberies more than doubled in Albuquerque, from 940 in 2010 to more than 1,957 in 2016, the largest number since 1996. Albuquerque also ranked No. 1 among U.S. metro areas in vehicle thefts per capita in 2016, with more than 10,000 vehicle thefts reported. And homicides are up.
As all this has played out, the Albuquerque Police Department has been understaffed. Although the department is budgeted for 1,000 officers, it has only about 850. Mayoral candidates have criticized Berry for not doing more to fully staff the department.
Some of them have said Berry should have pushed for more money for police salaries to make wages more competitive, and a number of the candidates have said Berry focused too much on trying to get the Legislature to change the law so that retired officers could return to work while receiving their pensions.
“The bottom line is the mayor is paying a price despite the fact that there are many agencies involved in (fighting) crime,” Sanderoff said.
For the poll, 516 likely voters were asked: Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Richard Berry is handling his job as mayor of Albuquerque? Age and party affiliation were factors in how voters perceived the job Berry has done.
“As age increases, approval of the mayor increases,” Sanderoff said. For example, only 19 percent of likely voters ages 18 to 34 approved of his job performance, while 39 percent of voters 65 and older approved.
“But the big player is party affiliation, as one might expect,” Sanderoff said. “Republicans are evenly divided on their approval of the mayor, whereas, by a more than 2-to-1 margin, Democrats disapprove. And once again, we see independents somewhere in between.”
He said Berry’s approval rating will rebound.
“Time has a way of healing,” Sanderoff said. “It’s not unusual for people in the closing year of their term, if they’ve suffered some setback or if their approval ratings have dipped, that a couple of years later their approval numbers start rising again.”
He said that over time, people become more forgiving, and he expects that to happen with Berry because he was popular for his first seven years in office.
“His approval rating only dipped in the final year,” Sanderoff said. “It was during a relatively short proportion of his administration that his approval ratings were low. So people over time will remember the longer period of time, the seven-eighths rather than the one-eighth, based on my experience.”
The Journal Poll is based on a citywide sample of voters who said they planned to vote this year and voted in the 2013 regular municipal election, the late-term abortion measure special election, or the 2015 regular municipal election.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone. Both cellphone numbers (44 percent) and landlines (56 percent) of proven municipal election voters were used.