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Slugfest: Mayoral candidates go on the attack in TV debate

Sunday evening’s debate was a virtual slugfest, with Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis and State Auditor Tim Keller availing themselves of every opportunity to take a shot at the other on everything from public safety issues to whom the rank and file police officers truly support.

But unlike in previous debates in which Lewis has mostly gone on the offensive and Keller has fought back, Sunday’s televised debate featured a much more aggressive Keller. He hammered away at Lewis, arguing that during the eight years that Lewis has served on the council, crime has skyrocketed and the economy has suffered with “flatlining jobs,” flat wages and young people leaving the city.

“At the end of the day, all of these things happened under your watch,” Keller charged. “The bus is going over a cliff, and you’re asking for a promotion. That’s just not the way it works. You had eight years to deal with all of these issues.”

Lewis threw numerous punches of his own, repeatedly charging that Keller has a record “of putting criminals before law-abiding citizens,” bringing up the ethics complaints Keller is facing over campaign finance practices and even accusing him of doing nothing when he served in the state Senate for six years.

“The fact is, Tim, you represented the International District, the most dangerous place in our city right now,” Lewis said. “You changed it from the War Zone to the International District, and then you moved from there. You moved to the country club, and you don’t represent that district anymore. But when you represented it in Santa Fe, you did nothing.”

Keller, a Democrat, and Lewis, a Republican, are going head to head in a Nov. 14 mayoral runoff. The winner takes office on Dec. 1.

Early voting began last week and continues through Nov. 10.

During the Oct. 3 election, Keller received 39 percent of the vote. Lewis came in second, with nearly 23 percent. A runoff is required because no candidate received 50 percent of the vote.

The one-hour debate was cosponsored by KOAT 7 and the Journal and was moderated by anchor Doug Fernandez. Journal senior editor Kent Walz and KOAT anchor Shelly Ribando asked the questions.

Responding to the criticism that the city had gone in the wrong direction while he served on the council, Lewis said he’s not a career politician. He said he has a full-time job and has created private jobs in Albuquerque. He also noted that he’s just one of nine city councilors and said it’s the mayor who oversees the police department and other city departments.

“Tim, you have a record of putting criminals before law-abiding citizens, and that’s what people are afraid of in this city – afraid of sex offenders that can live anywhere they want to live, and you thought Santa Fe was better at making that decision than people in the city of Albuquerque,” Lewis said, referring to Keller’s 2011 vote on a measure that would have prevented municipalities from imposing restrictions on where sex offenders can live. That measure was not approved, but a similar restriction was enacted into law a few years later as part of a different bill approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Keller said Lewis is wrong when he accuses him of putting criminals before law-abiding citizens, and he said the allegations contained in the campaign finance ethics complaints that have been filed against him are “false.”

“And they’re also coming from one of our former opponents in the mayor’s race,” he said. “They’re deeply politically motivated. They’re also being represented by a Republican Party official. These things are nothing but cheap shots …”

And he defended his record serving the International District.

“When I was there, we had the lowest crime rate in decades,” Keller said. “And I’m very proud of that because we actually had community policing. We had something that we haven’t had since, which is a real trusting relationship between officers that we knew and officers that knew our community.”

At one point in the debate, Keller accused Lewis of voting for the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project before he voted against it. Lewis didn’t directly respond to that during the debate, but he has previously said that that’s a distortion of his record.

Keller also noted that he had been endorsed by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, arguing that the police officers have bought into his plan to fight Albuquerque’s crime problem.

“Tim was endorsed by a handful of union bosses in the APOA, just a handful in a back room. ..,” Lewis said later in the debate. “But the rank and file support me. They know that I’ve had their back. They know that when there were issues in the department in 2010 and 2011, I was the first to stand up and say we’re going to open up the closed doors and shine the light on this department and clear those good officers and get beyond it.”

“That’s a slap in the face to law enforcement,” Keller responded. “The rank and file are the folks who endorsed me, and it’s the same with the firefighters and also retired officers and it’s exactly because of what you just said. They don’t believe (you) because you’ve been saying it and then voted otherwise. In 2009, you voted to literally cut the police department. … That’s why they’re not supporting you.”

Two other live televised debates between the mayoral candidates are planned. The KOB 4 debate will be at 6 p.m. on Nov. 7. The KRQE 13 debate will be at 7 p.m. on Nov. 11.

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