Public safety and crime dominated a feisty televised debate between the two Albuquerque mayoral candidates who will square off in Tuesday’s runoff election, marking the last of their more than 50 public forums together.
State Auditor Tim Keller and City Councilor Dan Lewis spent much of their final debate sparring over who could best implement police department reforms required under a federal Department of Justice settlement, and fight crime in the city.
The debate was aired live Saturday on KRQE-TV.
Lewis, a Republican, said he would dedicate $15 million to public safety, and criticized the city for subsidizing Albuquerque Public Schools public safety programs. He also said Bernalillo County should be required to pay for transferring inmates to state prisons.
“The state auditor (Keller) has not said where he is going to get the money for public safety,” Lewis said. “We will make sure the budget prioritizes public safety.”
He alleged that Keller would raise taxes to pay for additional police and APD reforms.
Keller, a Democrat, responded that the city has money in the budget to hire 100 police officers “immediately,” and placed blame on Mayor Richard Berry’s administration and the City Council.
Keller also said he would raise taxes only “as a last resort,” and alleged that the city has shorted public safety funding to pay for “pet projects,” such as “softball fields on the West Side.”
“There is plenty of fat we can trim in the city budget,” Keller said. He accused Lewis of proposing to pay for public safety by eliminating school crossing guards.
“You just advocated taking money from our schools, taking money from our kids, and giving it to police,” Keller said.
Lewis fired back that Keller supports the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, which Lewis also called a “pet project” that has caused chaos on Central Avenue.
Keller noted that ART was paid for with federal funding, and that while he supports public transit, the ART project is “flawed” and must be better integrated into a citywide bus system. ART must increase revenue by serving high-demand destinations such as the Albuquerque International Sunport, he said.
Lewis also put much of the onus for crime on “catch-and-release judges” who “dump violent criminals out on the street.”
Keller responded that judges are elected officials, and that casting blame won’t solve the city’s crime problems. “We have to solve our problems ourselves,” Keller said.
Both candidates said they want to resolve the Department of Justice settlement and end the yearslong oversight of police reforms by an independent monitor.
Lewis said the reform effort is lagging because the current administration “stuck their head in the sand” and failed to resolve the issues.
Keller said the DOJ settlement is costing the city millions of dollars in legal fees that can be better used to pay for public safety. But the reason the DOJ intervened is because APD was involved in too many fatal shootings, and the city has failed to implement needed reforms at APD, he said.
“It’s all about use of force,” Keller said. “I am going to fix a police department that is broken.”
The two also bickered about who has the support of police officers. Keller noted that he has the endorsement of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
Lewis called APOA “a small group of union leaders” and called the endorsement that of “12 people in the back room.” Lewis said he is proud of his support from “rank-and-file” officers.
Keller fired back that hundreds of APD officers belong to APOA, and he called Lewis’ attack “insulting to hard-working police officers.”