The asset manager behind the massive Santolina development has acknowledged that it helped fund the political action committee that has launched discredited attack ads accusing state Auditor Tim Keller of choosing to protect sex offenders over children.
Keller, a Democrat, is one of eight candidates on the mayoral ballot.
The bill that Keller was blasted for voting in favor of in 2011 was supported by the state Attorney General’s Office at the time, and the provisions contained in that bill were subsequently included in a 2013 sex offender registration law approved by a near unanimous vote in the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
In a statement submitted to the Journal, Jeff Garrett, president of Garrett Development Corp., acknowledged that Western Albuquerque Land Holdings had contributed to the committee that launched the attack ads against Keller.
Western owns Santolina, and Garrett said it has invested more than $250 million in the Albuquerque economy and has a vested interest in competent, ethical elected officials focused on creating jobs and opportunities.
“The motivation for these attacks is clear,” the Keller campaign said in an emailed statement. “Arizona developer Garrett has millions of dollars on the line and will lose big if they don’t have friends in City Hall; that’s why he is using offensive images and accusations regarding children and criminals to scare our community into making him money.”
A campaign finance report filed Friday by the political action committee that launched the campaign against Keller shows that Western Albuquerque Land Holdings contributed $30,000 and a Hobbs company affiliated with Mark Veteto, a big donor to Republican candidates and causes, contributed another $30,000 to oppose Keller.
“When we learned that Tim Keller had voted yes for Senate Bill 184 (SB184) which would eliminate the city’s ability to restrict the locations in which sex offenders and child molesters could live — we were shocked,” Garrett wrote. “Tim Keller’s inexcusable support for pro-sex offender legislation and failure to stand up for protecting families, for any reason, directly conflicts with what is best for Albuquerque.”
A political action committee called Make Albuquerque Safe launched a website, television ads, radio spots and billboards blasting Keller for his 2011 vote. The television ad featured images of silhouetted attackers and terrified children.
“Not only was he against keeping child molesters from living close to schools and parks, but Tim Keller wanted to make Albuquerque a safe haven to attract child molesters from around the country,” the voice-over in the ad states.
The bill referred to would have prohibited local governments from adopting rules or laws restricting where sex offenders could live. But it would have allowed distance restrictions for a registered sex offender’s residence as a condition of probation or parole. The bill was voted down.
At the time, the state Attorney General’s Office said that failing to pass it could result in local governments adopting exclusionary zones and other restrictions that could open them up to legal challenges. The Sex Offender Management Board — responsible for making recommendations to the state Sentencing Commission for managing and treating sex offenders — also supported the bill.
After the ads began running, advocates for sexual assault victims rallied behind Keller, saying that he has been a champion for sexual assault survivors and calling the recent attack ad against him “unconscionable.”
The restrictions on cities and counties were later included in sex offender registration legislation approved by lawmakers and signed into law in 2013.
In his statement, Garrett doubled down on the attack on Keller, saying that his “soft-on-crime legislation” makes economic development recruitment harder and that “it is impossible to explain away how Mr. Keller supported the most hideous criminal offenders in society.”
He also accused Keller’s “spin doctors” of misrepresenting the truth.
Garrett said his group met with the four leading mayoral candidates and found County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, attorney Brian Colón and City Councilor Dan Lewis to be “honest, ethical, tough on crime and pro jobs.”
“Unfortunately, we found Tim Keller lacking,” he said. “Tim acted as if he had already won the mayoral election. His arrogance as a political opportunist was disturbing. He appeared only interested in his political career. While a smooth and polished talker, he is not someone that will seriously address the major issues facing Albuquerque; except as it benefits him.”
At a mayoral forum Thursday night, Keller was asked whether the allegations in the ads are true.
“We wanted consistent, uniform regulations for parole and monitoring … This is about folks who are worried that our message and my agenda is resonating across a broad swath of folks, and they do not want someone who is not their well-connected friend, their buddy, in City Hall,” he said. “That’s why they’re attacking me on this.”
In the statement, Garrett said his group’s only interest is supporting great public servants, whether Democrat or Republican, that have New Mexican’s best interests in mind.
“With only 2 percent of WALH’s holdings located in the city, we are not worried about having a ‘buddy’ as mayor,” he wrote. “We are worried about having someone in political office that misleads the public and is solely focused on their political future.”
While only 2 percent of WALH’s holdings are in the city, the mayor has a seat on the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority board. WALH must have a fully executed development agreement with the water authority before it can move forward with the planned 21-square-mile development southwest of Interstate 40 and 118th Street. The Santolina development could some day be home to 90,000 people, which is about the size of Rio Rancho.
This isn’t the first time that individuals connected to Santolina have contributed to a political action committee. In 2016, Garrett and several others contributed to a committee supporting then Bernalillo County Commission candidate Steven Michael Quezada, who ultimately prevailed. Since joining the commission, Quezada has cast several votes in favor of the Santolina development.