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Editorial: Keller’s leadership, experience needed

Confronted with high crime, stagnant population growth and a Legislature not inclined to support many Duke City issues, Albuquerque needs a mayor who has shown leadership and the ability to unite.

It needs a mayor who can forge partnerships — with its police department, the court system, the District Attorney’s Office, the business community, the U.S. Department of Justice and lawmakers — to attack and subdue the crime that has become an intolerable problem.

Tim Keller, a former state senator and now the state auditor, has earned a reputation for being able to pull divergent interests together for the common good. He has shown he favors transparency in government, and his experience as auditor would prove valuable to keeping the city on positive financial footing. For those reasons, the Journal recommends voters choose Keller as the city’s next mayor.

Keller, a Democrat, won the Oct. 3 nonpartisan election with 39 percent of the vote. Republican Dan Lewis took second with nearly 23 percent. Because no one in the eight-candidate race received 50 percent, the top two vote-getters ended up in a run-off.

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During his six years as a state senator representing the Southeast Heights, including neighborhoods around the fairgrounds and the International District, Keller earned a reputation as supporting business and led the charge for reform following high-profile scandals in state agencies — often with support from both Republicans and Democrats.

While he has a tendency to jump on hot-button issues, Keller drew praise for sponsoring bills that restructured the State Investment Council and the scandal-plagued Public Regulation Commission.

As state auditor, Keller has successfully targeted charter school corruption, unwarranted no-bid state contracts, and nepotism and financial mismanagement at state-supported colleges and universities. The state Superintendent of Insurance is negotiating the repayment of tens of millions of dollars in tax underpayments from New Mexico’s health insurance companies based on an audit ordered by Keller’s office. His office is also finishing up a review of UNM’s Athletics Department, which appears to have operated with little oversight — and unconscionable deficits — for years.

While Mayor Richard Berry has accomplished much during his eight years in office — nationally recognized programs to help homeless people, steady job growth, capital projects that include the Paseo del Norte interchange and strong collaboration with local prosecutors — the issue of crime and a too-small police force have taken center stage.

Roadblocks to Berry’s efforts to address the issue have been a recalcitrant police union and refusal by lawmakers to appove a return to work law that would help beef up the force.

For now, Keller has the support of the police union and has proven he can navigate the Roundhouse vagaries. He has stated he will work with people on both sides of the aisle to improve Albuquerque. Voters should hold him to that pledge, as we will as well.

And while Keller has gained the trust of the police union, he must now move forward with reforms dictated by the U.S. Department of Justice — reforms that are not always popular with the union but are essential given DOJ findings that APD has had a culture of aggression and pattern of excessive force.

And Keller may be forced to recognize that the DOJ may not be amenable to all of his ideas. He has said that to grow the police force he wants to lower the standards for applicants; he may find he needs DOJ’s approval for such a move.

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We do not support his position in favor of Sanctuary cities and his opposition to giving Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents an opportunity to check the immigration status of individuals being booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center. While Keller says this builds animosity between arrestees and police, it is difficult to be tough on crime when you don’t crack down on suspects here illegally.

As for ongoing ethics complaints against his campaign, he may technically be following the law. But his campaign is also an example of why we need to reform public financing if it is to serve any useful purpose. “Measure finance committees” — one headed by his former Senate campaign manager — have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support his candidacy. It’s hard to see how that tracks with Keller’s position that he took public financing under the guise of “keeping big money out of politics.” And his definition of “in-kind” contributions to include cash stretches credulity.

But during a hard-hitting mayoral campaign, he has produced plans to battle crime, focus resources on the Downtown area, provide after school programs and improve job growth. Keller has said he will bring all parties to the table to craft a paid sick-leave compromise that addresses workers’ and business owners’ concerns, and one that is much preferable to the over-reaching ballot initiative voters narrowly defeated in October.

Throughout his public service, Keller has shown an ability to bring people together to solve problems and accomplish shared goals. He’s also shown an affinity for governmental transparency and fairness, essential to ensuring the city is accountable to its taxpayers.

Lewis also has served the city well, but on balance we believe Keller’s leadership qualities make him the better candidate.

The Journal endorses Tim Keller in Tuesday’s mayoral election.


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