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Candidates focus on strengths in televised debate

Mayoral candidates Tim Keller and Dan Lewis

Mayoral candidates Tim Keller, left, and Dan Lewis

With just one week to go on the campaign trail, Albuquerque’s two mayoral candidates squared off Tuesday night in a live televised debate, each one working hard to convince voters that he is the best person to lead New Mexico’s largest city.

State Auditor Tim Keller, a Democrat, and City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, are going head-to-head in next Tuesday’s mayoral runoff. The winner takes office on Dec. 1.

As with other recent debates, they went on the offensive at several points during Tuesday night’s match up. But this time around, Keller and Lewis seemed to focus more on showcasing their own strengths. The one-hour debate was hosted by KOB 4.

“Our city has been divided, and it’s broken under the leadership of Mayor (Richard) Berry and of Dan Lewis,” Keller said during his closing remarks. “We’ve got to come together as a city, and that is what our campaign is all about. … As state auditor, I have stood up to the powerful and well connected, and cracked down on waste, fraud and abuse around our state and in our community.”

Keller later added, “I will listen, and I will learn and I will take action where we need to take action in this city because I’m tired of waiting. I’m not going to blame anyone else for our problems. … It’s time we step up together.”

Lewis also struck an optimistic tone in his closing statement.

“I want to be able to lead this city to be the safe city that we know that it can be. To be the thriving city economically that we know that it can be and to put our children as our highest special interest group,” he said.

“This campaign has been about those plans and those ideas that are going to move us forward,” Lewis added. “The differences between Tim and I are great. It’s the difference between a record of putting criminals before law-abiding citizens, whether it be sanctuary cities or whether it be distance requirements (for) sex offenders, coddling criminals in our city, not holding the judges accountable … . ”

Not surprisingly, Albuquerque’s rising crime rates and police officer shortage took center stage. The Albuquerque Police Department currently has about 850 officers, although it has enough money in the budget to hire 1,000. Both Lewis and Keller have said APD needs at least 1,200 officers.

“We do absolutely have to invest in law enforcement,” Keller said. “But the reality is we’ve cut law enforcement. I mean, over the past eight years, City Council, the mayor, my opponent as (council) president, we cut hundreds of police officers out of the department, and now we’ve got to bring those back in.”

“To say that we cut police officers is just absolutely not true,” Lewis responded later in the debate. “I’ve always funded for enough police officers or more police officers than we have, and I’ve … sponsored about every funding bill for our officers, including raising their base pay to $28 … . ”

One of the topics raised during the debate was the endorsement Lewis received from Legacy Church pastor Steve Smothermon in September. In the endorsement, Smothermon said Lewis “could never in any way support the homosexual agenda.”

Lewis was asked whether he supports gay civil rights. And he was asked to discuss what conversations he had with Smothermon that would lead him to issue that endorsement.

Lewis said that during his eight years on the council, he has never said or done anything that is in any way discriminatory of anybody. And he said he has never had a conversation with Smothermon about what he meant specifically by his statement.

“I support the civil rights of everybody in our city,” Lewis said.

Keller said he “would never let a statement like that stand” from someone who endorsed him. “I would say, I’m against that, and that’s what I hope my opponent will do moving forward,” he added.

Lewis fired back, saying that Keller has an “extreme radical terrorist” supporting him and donating to the political action committee backing his mayoral run.

Keller said he’s proud to stand with the people who support him, adding that people can make mistakes and change. He said his campaign is about the future and not an individual donor’s background.

Keller, meanwhile, was asked to address the ethics complaints filed against him by former mayoral candidate Wayne Johnson, accusing his campaign of cheating by accepting monetary contributions and labeling them as in-kind contributions, among other allegations. Keller is a publicly financed candidate, and as such, he is not allowed to accept cash contributions.

Keller said he has followed city campaign finance rules and he said the litany of ethics complaints he’s facing are coming from a “partisan operative.”

“You’ve had ethics complaints that have followed you, not just in the last few months. In your time as a state senator,” Lewis said. “It just seems to follow you everywhere you go. There’s a pattern here … I think it’s important that we have an honest mayor.”

“You’re just making things up,” Keller responded. “… These are partisan cheap shots designed so people don’t want to be excited about voting. That’s what this is about. I stand on my record and I think folks know it’s a very solid one.”

Early voting for the runoff is underway and wraps up on Friday.

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.

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