ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ken Sanchez, one of the longest serving Albuquerque city councilors and an advocate for the West Side, died Wednesday.
He was 63.
In a room full of over 40 loved ones, Mayor Tim Keller, city councilors and Sanchez’s family announced his death Wednesday night.
They didn’t give details on the cause of death.
“Today, we lost one of our most beloved public servants,” Keller said. “It’s with a heavy heart that I have to inform the city of Albuquerque of the passing of Councilor Ken Sanchez.”
Sanchez suffered a “medical emergency” in late November and had not returned to City Hall. In a statement issued at the time, City Council staff said Sanchez was expected to make a full recovery but noted that “his family asks that you keep him in your thoughts and prayers.”
Keller said on Wednesday that family and others had been “essentially watching vigil either by his side or through our prayers for quite some time.”
Natalie Zamora, Sanchez’s granddaughter, said the past couple of weeks have been very hard for the family, but thanked the community for the outpouring of love and support.
City Council President Klarissa Peña called Sanchez a pillar of the community, generous, a supporter of many and a mentor.
“He believed in his community and in our government’s ability to make Albuquerque a better place,” she said.
State Auditor Brian Colón echoed this sentiment, also calling Sanchez a model public servant.
Under the city charter, Keller is required to appoint a replacement for Sanchez.
“If a vacancy occurs in the office of Councilor, the Mayor shall appoint a registered qualified elector of the District to fill the vacancy,” the city charter states. “Anyone appointed to fill a vacancy shall serve until the next regular election … ”
Sanchez, a Democrat, was first elected to the City Council in 2005. The decades-long West Side resident had won another four-year term in 2017. He served three terms as council president.
During his tenure on the council, he helped steer a number of infrastructure projects, including the Patrick J. Baca Library, Fire Station No. 7 and the West Mesa Aquatic Center.
Sanchez operated the Gilbert Sanchez Tax Accounting Firm and was the president of Ken Sanchez & Associates Realty.
Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber worked closely with Sanchez for many years.
“Ken was a wonderful man who cared deeply about the city and state. He understood the issues facing business, and worked hard to find compromise and solutions. His steady hand will be sorely missed,” she wrote in a comment to the Journal.
Keller said Sanchez’s death was “very unprecedented,” adding he couldn’t remember a time when a sitting city councilor passed away.
The mayor asked that flags be at half-staff on Thursday in Sanchez’s honor.
Sanchez also previously served as a Bernalillo County Commissioner from 1995 to 2002.
During his 2017 reelection campaign, he told the Journal that serving on the City Council and Bernalillo County Commission were his major professional accomplishments, saying that he was able to bring “people together to deal with the challenges and injustice that we have faced on Albuquerque’s West Side.”
For school, he attended Holy Rosary, West Mesa High School, the College of Santa Fe and the University of New Mexico.
Asked by the Journal in 2017 to cite his major personal accomplishments, Sanchez pointed to working with his family to continue operating the accounting firm his father had established on the West Side more than 50 years earlier.
“Raising my two children and watching my grandchildren grow has been my greatest reward,” he added.
Keller said that more information on a memorial and services would be released in the future.