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Veteran incumbent faces newcomer in District 2 runoff

Isaac Benton

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with more information about Quintero’s time in the district.


It’s take two for District 2.

After a crowded – and sometimes ugly – race to represent Albuquerque’s most historic neighborhoods on the City Council failed to yield a winner in the Nov. 5 election, Isaac Benton and Zack Quintero are competing in a Dec. 10 runoff.

While Benton and Quintero are both progressive Democrats who espouse many of the same values, they are each keen to pitch this as a battle between a council veteran and a young newcomer.

Zack Quintero

Benton, the 68-year-old incumbent, is banking on his experience. The retired architect has spent 14 years on the council and highlights his legislative efforts to fund affordable housing, promote walkability and ensure preservation of historic properties such as the Rail Yards.

He says he understands the area he represents.

“I’ve lived in our district for 43 years,” said Benton, who grew up in Puerto Rico but came to New Mexico in his 20s with the AmeriCorps VISTA program. “(Quintero’s) lived here for three years.”

Quintero, meanwhile, is campaigning on the promise of change. A 29-year-old legal analyst who moved to the district in 2015, Quintero has touted his plans to link more local graduates to jobs, better use of data to combat crime and homelessness and work to improve outcomes for minority communities.

“I wouldn’t be running if we were on the right path for homelessness, environmental health and keeping graduates here, but we’re not,” said Quintero, who grew up in Mesilla and recently graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

(Quintero had previously posted on Facebook that he moved to Albuquerque in 2016 but says he had actually already been living in District 2 for a year at that point.)

Attack ads

The head-to-head matchup continues a bruising campaign season for the district, which includes Downtown, Old Town and parts of the North Valley.

Six candidates ran for the job – and four demonstrated enough community support to get public financing.

But winning the seat requires at least 50% of the vote, something no candidate achieved on Nov. 5.

That triggered a runoff between the top two finishers: Benton, who got 42% of the vote; and Quintero, who received 21%.

Despite the size of the initial field, Benton and Quintero have long attracted the most attention in the race, with political action committees flooding the mailboxes with negative campaign advertisements targeting the two.

The Progressive ABQ committee sent a series of mailers questioning Quintero’s resumé. That includes one that Quintero condemned as racist because it photoshopped his face on the body of a heavily tattooed chef. Committee Chairwoman Stephanie Maez has denied the ad was racially motivated.

“Never have I seen an attack ad like that leveled against Councilor Benton,” Quintero said of the ad.

But Benton was also pilloried. The ABQ United for District 2 committee blasted the incumbent for his support of Albuquerque Rapid Transit, attempting to link its approval to increasing crime the city had a few years ago.

Both candidates are publicly financed and say they were not involved in the committee spending in the race. Benton said he dislikes political action committees but attributed their activism to interest in the city’s center.

“I think it’s … the critical nature of District 2; there’s no district like this in the city,” Benton said. “I think a lot of people care about it, and they want to weigh in more than with just their vote.”

On the issues

Benton and Quintero have many ideological similarities.

Both support mandatory paid leave for workers in the city and say they like the Bernalillo County ordinance as it was originally passed.

When it comes to homelessness, the candidates say the city should consider creating several smaller shelters instead of the centralized 300-bed shelter envisioned by Mayor Tim Keller’s administration but opposed by some District 2 residents worried it will be built in their neighborhood.

On the issue of gun violence, Benton recently co-sponsored legislation that would ban firearms in city-owned facilities. Quintero said he supports the idea.

Although the candidates share many values, they have different approaches.

For example, Benton has identified the ongoing Rail Yards redevelopment as one of the city’s greatest economic opportunities, both for large-scale projects – such as Central New Mexico Community College’s proposed film center – but also on a micro level, pointing to the local businesses that have grown out of the existing Rail Yards Market as promising.

Quintero is promoting the idea of a local jobs pipeline, saying simple coordination among the city, New Mexico universities, the chambers of commerce and the business community could help put new graduates into area jobs.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit has become a central issue in the campaign, with Quintero questioning how city leaders allowed it to advance, saying the city failed to “do some basic things” like ensure the quality of the buses originally purchased (and eventually replaced) and get adequate public feedback.

“Truly, we missed the mark on a major public works project,” he said.

But Benton argues that the council had limited authority for the project spearheaded by former Mayor Richard Berry.

“Did we have the power as a council … to somehow stop the mayor’s progress on the project? I don’t think we did,” said Benton, who voted with the majority of the council in 2016 to accept federal funding for the project after he successfully proposed an amendment to adjust the design between the Rio Grande and Downtown for landscaping and wider sidewalks.

“What I proceeded to do was try to affect the design within my district, but I wasn’t in any position to do it citywide,” he said.

Isaac Benton

POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic

AGE: 68

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (1973) and bachelor’s in architecture (1974) from the Rhode Island School of Design; studied liberal arts and sciences at Emory University (1969-1971)

OCCUPATION: full-time Albuquerque City Councilor; previously architect (retired)

FAMILY: Wife Elaine, two children

POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: City Councilor since 2005; City Council president, (2017 and 2009); Committee of the Whole Chair (2016); Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee (2005-present, current chair); Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority Board (2006-2008, Vice-chair 2008 and 2006); Metropolitan Transportation Board (2006-present, chair 2016-17); Rio Metro Regional Transit District Board (2006-present, chair 2009-11); Mid-Region Council of Governments Board (2006-present); Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Commission (2009-present, chair 2012); Alvarado Transportation Center Task Force; Railyards Advisory Board; Visit ABQ Executive Board.

MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: My colleagues inducted me into to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in recognition of my career in social architecture, leadership within the Institute and service to the community.

MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Serving the great people and neighborhoods of our very unique and historic district.

Q: What specific steps do you think the city should take to address the homelessness crisis?

A: Strengthen collaborative behavioral health and addiction prevention. Construct “triage” centers with emergency on-site shelter and services. Increase partnerships for scattered-site supportive housing. Improve the coordinated systems approach, starting with collecting better data on Albuquerque’s homeless.

Q: Besides hiring more officers, what do you think the council could do to improve public safety?

A: Embrace community policing and bike patrols. Reduce gun violence, banning firearms in city facilities. Increase a Police Service Aide “pipeline” for the Police Academy. Encourage citizen neighborhood watches, crime reporting, participation in Community Policing Councils.

Q: Do you think the city should pass a paid sick leave mandate? If so, would you support the paid leave ordinance passed by the Bernalillo County Commission or what changes would you propose?

A: Yes. As a former small business employer, I know that flexible schedules and a humane understanding of employees’ family needs, like paid sick leave, are absolutely necessary to large and small business success.

Q: What is your top idea for boosting the city’s economy?

A: Having spearheaded the original purchase of the Railyards, I’m excited about city partnership therewith CNM’s film institute. A redeveloping Railyards will spur tourism, jobs, new housing and small businesses for our center city and district.

Q: What can the city do to keep — and attract — more young people?

A: Build walkable urbanism, quality public spaces and streets, affordable housing, transit, the creative arts economy and our great “sense of place.” Our Downtown, central historic neighborhoods, and the commercial corridors that serve them are key.

Q: What, if any, changes would you like to see to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance?

A: Annual updates to the IDO are mandated, with localized public planning processes built into the framework. I’m facilitating that process, with an emphasis on protecting historic neighborhoods left behind during Albuquerque’s rapid growth and industrialization.

Q: What is the greatest infrastructure need the city faces and how would you fund its resolution?

A: District 2 has our oldest infrastructure. The needs are complex and challenging. Through bonding and federal grants, we need modern streets, modern storm infrastructure, restored tree canopy, transit and walkability that serve neighborhoods and businesses.

Q: Under what circumstances, if any, would you support a tax increase?

I would support a “sunsetting” tax increase for a serious known public need such as safety, or for economic investment where high return on investment and public benefits can be demonstrated.

Q: Would you support a tax increase to build a soccer stadium in Albuquerque?

A: No. The city extravagantly funded supposed “sports tourism” like softball fields on the far Westside with limited tourist appeal/payback. I support the Mayor’s proposal to fund a soccer stadium through existing funds and partnerships.

Q: What has been Mayor Tim Keller’s best move so far and what do you think has been his administration’s biggest misstep?

A: Under the Mayor’s leadership in partnership with Council, we’re rebuilding APD including critical investments in community policing. An early misstep was reversing Downtown walkability improvements, a misunderstanding of an existing city policy that was corrected.

Q: What one issue would you like to focus on as a councilor the next four years?

A: Preparing for climate change to make our city resilient and liveable for future generations. This includes stronger building energy codes, focused energy conservation, reforestation, renewable energy, alternative transportation options, storm drainage, water and local agriculture.

Q: Have you or your business, if you are a business owner, ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens?

A: No.

Q: Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?

A: No.

Q: Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state?

A: No.

Zackary Quintero

POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic

AGE: 28

EDUCATION: Juris Doctorate of Law, University of New Mexico School of Law (2019), Bachelor’s degree in economics and bachelor’s degree in government, New Mexico State University (2014).

OCCUPATION: Legal analyst with Roybal Mack and Cordova Law since 2019, Law clerk with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (2017-2018); City economist/economic development specialist with the city of Santa Fe (2014-2016).

FAMILY: None.

POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Former president of the statewide Young Democrats of New Mexico, former city economist, former Foreign Service Fellow.

MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: I built and managed a statewide portal to connect graduates to jobs in New Mexico in order to keep our talent here. I also drafted and managed workforce contracts and investments between the city and the creative arts sector.

MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: I served on the law review of UNM and wrote about how we need to prepare for climate change shifts that will affect our environment.

Q: What specific steps do you think the city should take to address the homelessness crisis?

A: We need to pass the bond for a homeless center and provide wrap-around services that connect people to mental health and addiction resources. This has not been a priority for council in over five years.

Q: Besides hiring more officers, what do you think the council could do to improve public safety?

A: We need to establish a residential burglary unit team within APD and invest in shot detection systems that help our officers triangulate gun related crimes.

Q: Do you think the city should pass a paid sick leave mandate? If so, would you support the paid leave ordinance passed by the Bernalillo County Commission or what changes would you propose?

A: I support paid sick leave and would want to see what businesses and workers within the city limits can provide and afford in order to make a fair and thoughtful decision.

Q: What is your top idea for boosting the city’s economy?

A: Connect 5,000 graduates to jobs in health care, tech, education, government, and the creative arts through a coordinated jobs plan. Promote a stronger local spend rule within city contracts and LEDA (Local Economic Development Act ) funds.

Q: What can the city do to keep — and attract — more young people?

A: The median age of our city is 38. This is not reflected in any office within our city. Having an intergenerational Council shows opportunity is possible and that we are inclusive and geared towards the future.

Q: What, if any, changes would you like to see to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance?

A: Many neighborhoods lost protections they once had. The IDO calls for the city to review 12 community planning areas over five years, we need to invest in planning personal to cut that to two years.

Q: What is the greatest infrastructure need the city faces and how would you fund its resolution?

A: Although the city doesn’t govern APS schools, the city can and should work with the water utility authority to remove lead and update water lines that service our schools.

Q: Under what circumstances, if any, would you support a tax increase?

A: We’re anticipating an increase in revenue once we start taxing online purchases in two years and we just passed a tax increase. If critical services are not being met, I would support a tax increase.

Q: Would you support a tax increase to build a soccer stadium in Albuquerque?

There are other ways we should be utilizing taxpayer dollars right now, and there are other sources of revenue that we can look at for paying for a soccer stadium.

Q: What has been Mayor Tim Keller’s best move so far and what do you think has been his administration’s biggest misstep?

A: Best move has been prioritizing public safety after the previous administration and council cut public safety. His misstep is not moving fast on his promise to help business grow by an increment of 1.

Q: What one issue would you like to focus on as a councilor the next four years?

A: I would focus on core parts of public health and public safety. That would involve fully funding community policing and health care options that help us alleviate homelessness, behavioral health, and addiction.

Q: Have you or your business, if you are a business owner, ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens?

A: No.

Q: Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?

A: No.

Q: Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state?

A: I was charged with trespassing on NMSU property in the desert when I was 16. I was building an Indiana Jones-themed zip line. Government didn’t agree with my use of land. Charges were dropped.

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