Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller wants to more than double the number of housing vouchers the city distributes, expanding the rental assistance to another 1,000 individuals who may have no other place to sleep at night.
That will cost about $13 million, and the leader of New Mexico’s largest city says it will require more than government support. In fact, the city will ask citizens to contribute to the housing program, one of a thousand opportunities Keller said his administration plans to offer residents who want to directly help fix some of the city’s biggest problems.
Flanked by screens with the city’s “One Albuquerque” slogan, Keller on Saturday delivered his first State of the City address since taking office Dec. 1, 2017. The 39-minute speech – to a crowd that included Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Congresswoman Deb Haaland, fellow Democrats – consistently circled back to a message of teamwork and community-driven problem-solving in a city with about 560,000 residents.
“Albuquerque, we’re going to ask a lot of you. I know you should ask a lot of us,” he said. “But I believe if we do this together, we are going to be One Albuquerque.”
Keller’s speech covered the city’s latest economic victories and new efforts to expand after-school and summer offerings for kids. He said the city saw summer program participation spike 30 percent in 2018, thanks in part to additional funding approved by the City Council, and that the ultimate goal is to have at least one opportunity available to every child who wants one.
He also touted a new $2 million grant Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded Albuquerque to help with carbon reduction efforts and other sustainability measures underway.
As he has on many recent occasions, Keller also spoke about public safety in a city that had in recent years ranked worst in the nation in auto theft and had a violent crime rate more than twice the national average.
“I believe we found ourselves afraid, not feeling safe anymore in our homes and our own streets,” he said of the trends he saw before taking office.
To address the issue, the city has aggressively recruited to bolster its police force, which Keller said had dropped to 840 officers by late 2017 compared with 1,130 two decades ago. He said the Albuquerque Police Department is on pace to meet its goal of 100 new officers this fiscal year and noted that overall crime in the city decreased in 2018 for the first time in several years.
“Albuquerque used to be a meme, essentially, for high rates of auto theft, and we still have a long way to go,” he said. “But I will tell you there is nothing but positive news when we know that auto theft is down by 30 percent in the city.”
That drew applause from the few hundred people watching him live inside an auditorium at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
But Keller sparked the most rousing response when he noted that the Albuquerque International Sunport is once again “international” with the newly introduced flight to Guadalajara, Mexico.
“In Albuquerque, we build bridges, we don’t build walls,” he said, bringing many in the audience to their feet and prompting some “whoops” from the crowd.
Keller gave his address during what the city dubbed a “community celebration” at the Cultural Center. There was a cash bar and live music in the lobby, and jugglers, pet adoptions and a “One Albuquerque” merchandise table outside.
Before the formal presentation began, an announcer implored the crowd to “Make some noise!”
The program included a blessing by Native American Community Academy students, two Albuquerque highlight videos, and remarks from Cultural Services Deputy Director Hakim Bellamy and first lady Elizabeth Kistin Keller.
“So, yeah, this is not like your normal state of the city address, eh?” Bellamy said.
Keller – who has embraced the nickname “the metal mayor” – walked on stage to Metallica and left as Pantera piped into the room.
It was a bigger production than addresses by many of Keller’s predecessors; in addition to the live events at the Hispanic Cultural Center, watch parties were held at four locations throughout the city.
While the rows of chairs set up for viewers at Civic Plaza remained largely unoccupied, around a dozen Keller supporters gathered at the Tractor Brewing on Fourth Street to watch a livestream of the program.
“I like the fact it’s an event, that it’s engaging people in the community,” said Albuquerque native Tim Keegan, owner of Nob Hill’s Maple Street Dance Space. “I’m shocked at how many people are here and how many people are (at the Hispanic Cultural Center). If this many people are interested in our city, maybe something will change.”
For many, including Keegan, it was their first time hearing a State of the City address.
“That was really positive,” said Lisa Padilla, a master’s student at New Mexico Highlands University. “I think that he has so much vision. It’s amazing all the things he’s taken on. I’m really impressed.”
Padilla was especially taken with Keller’s speaking on the environment and immigration.
“I thought that was really important that he mentioned that we build bridges, not walls,” Padilla’s friend Santiago Vaquera said.
Journal staff writer Maddy Hayden contributed to this report.