Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Outgoing Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry stood before the new fountain at Civic Plaza Wednesday evening admiring the lighted water as it shot up from the ground, its colors changing.
“I think it’s spectacular,” he said of the new water feature, joking that he might just come back in cargo pants this summer and run through it.
The visit to the plaza was one of the last public events that Berry will take part in as mayor as the clock on his term runs out at midnight today.
In an interview with the Journal earlier in the week he reflected on the eight years he has served as mayor, on what he plans to do next and on how he hopes his time as mayor is remembered. What follows are excerpts from that interview.
Journal: How do you hope you and your administration will be remembered?
Berry: As a citizen that cared enough to want to serve his community and worked really hard at it and did his best to leave things better than he found them.
And I hope we’re remembered, too, as a uniquely collaborative administration. We’ve been able to do some big things, both from a public works project standpoint but also from a policy standpoint and persistent difficult social issues, homelessness and other initiatives and the only way we’ve been able to do those is to collaborate and invite everyone to the table, and I hope we’re remembered for that and also as an administration that was willing to take the long approach, not just do the easy things but do the difficult things that will pay off for a long time: rewriting zoning codes, critical infrastructure, unprecedented police reforms. These are not easy things. These aren’t politically expedient things. …
I hope we’re remembered as a workhorse administration.
Journal: How was the job different than what you had expected?
Berry: I’d been in the Legislature, so I had some basic understanding of politics. … When I ran I said, “Listen, I want to run City Hall more like a business and less like a political machine.” And I feel like we definitively did that. And I had people tell me, “It’s nothing like a business.” I would say, after eight years, it’s very much like a business. I was surprised at how much we were able to bring a businesslike approach.
Journal: What’s next for citizen Berry?
Berry: We don’t really know. We see ourselves, Maria (Berry’s wife) and I both, we have a chapter philosophy to life. … We’ve now spent 12 years, that’s been a big chapter in our lives, as public servants as a family. So now (I) don’t have any plans on a political office. …
Our construction company’s kind of been shuttered for eight years. It’s almost a time capsule. … We have that.
I’m going to do a little work with Harvard to work with new mayors around the country, myself and a few other mayors that are coming out of office have been asked and are honored to do that. I’ll do a little work with Yale. … They have a leadership institute there. Those aren’t money-making things. That’s not what we’ll do for a living. …
We’ve given some thought to doing some work in the nonprofit sector if there are opportunities there. But really, I haven’t had a lot of bandwidth to really think too much about it because this is a full-time job, and it will be until midnight on the 30th. … The future has got a way of working itself out and doors open and close all the time in our lives. We’re just confident that a door will open on something that we can get passionate about as a family. But, at the end of the day try to stay somebody that tries to leave the place better than they found it, just like we’ve done in business and tried to do in public service.
Journal: You enjoyed high approval ratings until the end of your tenure. How difficult was it for you when you learned that they had gone down to 34 percent?
Berry: It’s understandable. It’s the nature of public service.
One of the things that surprised me. I thought, well gosh, if I term-limit, I won’t be the candidate. It will free up everybody to run on their vision and their outlook and their plan for the future. I was surprised that I was as much a part of the campaign when I wasn’t even a candidate.
I guess that speaks to one of the easiest things to run against is the status quo. So at the time that that poll was taken, we were the brunt of (several) candidates out there telling everybody that everything was broken. That’s the nature of campaigns.
I just always tried to do this for the right reasons and I know how hard our administration has worked and how we’ve gone about our business.
Journal: Are you happy with how you’re leaving Albuquerque?
Berry: I think it’s not me, it’s 6,000 employees and my key staff and our 20-plus directors. Crime is up, we understand that. But we also understand that we’re on a job growth trajectory that we haven’t been on for a long time in Albuquerque, with 25,000 jobs added, 48 months of job growth. We’re growing faster now in the last report than the United States and most of our peer cities, all but one I think.
We just had a report come out today. Incomes are going up. We’re one of the top 25 cities in America now for income growth. So, definitely, the elevator is hitting up on that.
And the crime thing, I believe, is a challenge that we can meet as a community. … I can say that your 6,000 city employees and the directors that work for you that I just happen to be working next to are leaving things better than we found them in many, many, many areas and they’ve done a good job. It’s never a me thing. … The entrepreneur ecosystem is really cranking now so there are a lot of things. Income is up, poverty is down, all of those indicators are better, sure, but the next mayor will come in just like I came in with challenges.
Journal: Is there anything else you want to say?
Berry: Just thank you.
Maria and I and our family, it’s hard to explain how grateful we are that this community would give us a chance to serve. We’ll never forget it. We’ve given it every ounce of energy we have. We’ve tried to stay on the high ground. We’ve tried to cut the petty politics out of it and I hope people can see that we’ve really kind of run a different kind of an organization for the last eight years, not just a political shop, and that we did that because you gave us a chance and we just appreciate the heck out of it.