Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque voters lifted native son Tim Keller to victory Tuesday, electing him mayor in what turned out to be a landslide.
Keller, a Democrat and New Mexico’s state auditor, beat outgoing City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, by 24 percentage points in the mayoral runoff, according to unofficial election returns released by the city clerk. Keller claimed 62 percent of the vote, with Lewis taking 38 percent.
“It is time to come together and move our city forward,” Keller told his exuberant supporters at Hotel Andaluz in Downtown Albuquerque. His wife, Liz Kistin Keller, was on stage with him, and his two children, Maya, 4, and Jack, 2, made an appearance at the victory celebration earlier in the night.
Throngs of supporters filled the ballroom and spilled out of every door, their cheers drowning out Keller’s words. He thanked the voters, his campaign workers and family for their support.
“Thank you for a clear mandate,” he said.
Turnout for the runoff was about 28.7 percent, close to what it was for the Oct. 3 election.
Keller, 39, was elected to a four-year term that begins Dec. 1. He will be replacing Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican who has served for eight years but chose not to seek a third term.
Keller still has about 13 months remaining in his term as state auditor. Gov. Susana Martinez will appoint his replacement.
On his road to victory, Keller overcame an election eve ruling by the city’s Board of Ethics & Campaign Practices that he violated campaign finance rules through his handling of what he had called in-kind donations. While the ethics board ruled against him, it also determined that he acted in good faith and didn’t intend to violate the rules. But two other campaign finance complaints against Keller are pending.
Keller was the only publicly financed candidate in the race, and he started off his campaign telling voters that how someone gets to City Hall matters, noting that he wouldn’t be beholden to big donors. But he quickly ran into criticism when a political action committee run by a former campaign manager began raising large sums from unions and other Keller supporters.
Tuesday night’s election capped a brutal campaign season in which Keller was hit with attack ads accusing him of protecting sex offenders over children and of being a con man.
But those ads backfired with some voters.
“I was a little bit on the fence about who to vote for, and then I started seeing all those negative ads run by Lewis. It seemed petty to me,” advertising agency owner Miguel Martinez told the Journal after voting for Keller.
Lewis – a two-term city councilor and executive vice president of Desert Fuels – faced an uphill battle since the Oct. 3 election, in which he was one of eight candidates on the ballot. A runoff was required because no candidate received 50 percent of the vote.
While Lewis came in second, he was still 16 percentage points behind Keller.
Lewis fought hard to close the gap in the runoff, going on the offensive in televised debates. But a Journal Poll conducted last week showed that Lewis had actually fallen further behind.
Lewis called Keller on Tuesday night to congratulate him once the outcome became clear.
He shook hands and personally thanked his campaign workers after his concession at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
“I’m thankful for all their work,” he said.
Lewis will wrap up his tenure on the City Council at the end of the month.
City races are nonpartisan, meaning that party affiliation doesn’t appear on the ballot. But Democrats favored Keller by big margins, and Lewis had support from a majority of Republicans
On the campaign trail – and again during his acceptance speech – Keller made it clear that he will embrace fixes that the city can implement on its own, not solutions that require state lawmakers or others to act.
Crime was the dominant issue in this year’s mayoral election, and Keller was able to secure the coveted endorsement of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. He was also endorsed by the Albuquerque firefighters’ union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18.
Keller has said he will hire 400 additional officers, make Albuquerque Police Department wages competitive and launch an aggressive recruiting effort.
The former state senator also said he will retool incentives aimed at out-of-state corporations so that local businesses can qualify and restructure the city’s Parks and Recreation Department so that it provides arts, science and sports programs for kids after school and over the summer.
Keller won’t have much of a transition period. He takes over as mayor in a little more than two weeks. A transition office has been set up in the city/county government building.
Representatives for Keller and Lewis had also been taking part in daily transition briefings.
“This city hasn’t seen a real positive transition for decades, and this is a chance to do that,” Berry said, vowing to do his part.
This was the first mayoral runoff in nearly a quarter of a century. The last one was in 1993, when Martin Chávez narrowly defeated David Cargo.
This is Albuquerque’s sixth mayoral runoff under its current form of government, which was adopted in 1974.
Keller, the son of a public school teacher and a banker, is the youngest of three sons. He grew up in a house behind Del Norte High School, although he attended Catholic schools in Albuquerque, graduating from St. Pius.
He obtained his undergraduate degree in finance and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Journal staff writers Olivier Uyttebrouck and Rick Nathanson contributed to this report.