Albuquerque business leaders on Thursday quizzed candidates in the District 5 City Council runoff election about issues ranging from crime, economic development and the city budget.
Cynthia Borrego, 59, emphasized her 28-year experience as a planner for Albuquerque and Bernalillo County and her familiarity with city government, budgets and project management. She retired from the city in 2010.
“I have worked in City Hall,” Borrego told members of the New Mexico Business Coalition at a “job interview” for candidates in the city runoff election. “I know how it operates. I know how the budget operates.”
Robert Aragon, 60, an Albuquerque attorney, told business leaders that he would advocate overhauling the city budget to reflect public safety and take a hands-off approach to business development.
“We don’t have any economic opportunity on the West Side,” Aragon said. “We have had problems with development on the West Side because of redundant and job-killing rules and regulations.”
Increases in gross-receipt taxes have “stifled economic growth,” he said.
The candidates expressed differing views to a question about a proposed sick-leave ordinance, which voters narrowly defeated on Oct. 3. The Healthy Workforce Ordinance would have required employers to allow workers to earn paid sick time off.
Aragon expressed opposition to the proposal and said he favors making the process more rigorous for groups that want to place a proposed ordinance on the city ballot.
“Whatever a private company wants to do is their own business,” Aragon said during the forum at the MCM Elegante Hotel in Albuquerque. “We must make it harder to get public initiatives on the ballots.”
Borrego said she supported the now-defeated ordinance, but she also said that business owners need to be involved in any discussion about sick leave.
“I think everyone needs to come to the table on that issue,” she said. “I don’t think it needs to be passed by a small group, and just a few people who support it. I think businesses need to buy into that.”
Both identified crime as the top issue facing District 5 in far northwest Albuquerque, and both have said the city needs 1,200 police officers.
The West Side has been “inundated with property crime,” calling for a city budget that prioritizes public safety, Aragon said. The city needs to begin with a “zero-based budget,” that requires each department to make a case for its survival, rather than the usual process of starting with the previous year’s budget, which “replicates mistakes” in prior budgets, he said.
“Make every department justify their existence,” Aragon said.
Property crime needs to be added as a criterion in the Public Safety Assessment, or PSA, a risk-assessment tool that judges use to determine whether an inmate should be released from jail pending trial, he said. Currently, the PSA is based largely on violent criminal activity and failures to appear to determine a defendant’s flight risk.
“We know we have frequent fliers who are in and out of jail chiefly for property crimes,” Aragon said.
Borrego identified theft and auto burglary as the top crimes in District 5. She began to list a five-point plan for addressing crime but was cut off by a time limit.
She has proposed a plan that includes new leadership at the Albuquerque Police Department, increasing the force to 1,200 officers, and a greater emphasis on community policing, crime prevention, and behavioral health treatments.
“I think people are living in fear,” she said, “and that is an issue we have to focus on as a community.”
District 5 voters can cast votes from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at any city polling site. Also on the ballot are mayoral runoff candidates Tim Keller and Dan Lewis. The winner of the District 5 runoff will succeed Lewis on the City Council.