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16 apply to replace Sanchez on City Council

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Applicants for Ken Sanchez’s Albuquerque City Council seat include two people who have run for the office before, several who espouse a personal connection to Sanchez and even a man who said he recently left Albuquerque due to crime.

Sanchez, who represented the West Side, was in the middle of his fourth term when he died Jan. 1, creating a vacancy that 16 people have applied to fill.

Their application materials, released to the Journal through a public records request, reflect a diverse pool of candidates seeking an opportunity to serve on the City Council without having to win an election.

Mayor Tim Keller will fill the District 1 seat – which represents most of the area west of the Rio Grande between Central and Montaño – via appointment, a responsibility outlined in the City Charter. But it is a relatively rare occasion. Albuquerque’s mayor has not placed anyone on the city’s legislative body since 2013. That’s when then-Mayor Richard Berry chose Janice Arnold-Jones to fill Michael Cook’s seat after Cook’s resignation following a DWI charge. Council staff say they only know of one other instance before then.

As part of the selection process, Keller announced in January that he would take applications, and the 16 hopefuls answered. A mayor-appointed committee vetted the applicants, and Keller is interviewing candidates, according to his office. He is expected to announce an appointment “in the coming weeks,” spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn said Tuesday.

The opening attracted people familiar with the political sphere.

Applicants Victor Segura, a small-business owner, and Dan Serrano, founder of the ABQWest Chamber of Commerce, for example, have each run for District 1 before. In 2001, they finished in second and fourth place, respectively, in a council race with six candidates.

Serrano also has attempted to win election to the Bernalillo County Commission, Central New Mexico Community College Board and New Mexico House of Representatives. He is now an appointed member of the city’s Environmental Planning Commission.

Other applicants for the council seat have their own campaign history: Damian Lara is a lawyer who made a 2018 bid for the Albuquerque area’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Michael Gallegos, meanwhile, served for 12 years on the Las Vegas, N.M., City Council.

Applicant Barbara Baca is an elected member of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District board. She is also a city retiree who was once parks and recreation director.

Others, however, say they are political outsiders.

“Ultimately, I have little to no experience in politics, but we all start somewhere,” wrote Daniel Green, a grocery store supervisor. “I am interested in this position to advance the city’s current agenda for crime prevention.”

Another applicant acknowledges he’s a literal outsider. Kristopher Finfrock-Martinez – who identifies himself as a “Democrat by blood” and “proud supporter” of Republican President Donald Trump – lives in Tijeras.

But, he wrote to Keller, “Albuquerque’s District 1 was the last place my family and I lived prior to leaving Albuquerque due to crime. It would be my pleasure to serve as the District 1 City Counselor as my family and I planning to return to district 1 in the near future.”

Living in the district is a requirement for the job, a city spokeswoman said.

Many who applied linked themselves to Sanchez, who won four straight terms to represent District 1. They described Sanchez as a friend, colleague or even a mentor.

“Ken was truly a treasure of the city of Albuquerque and because of this, we owe the citizens of Albuquerque and constituents of District 1,” wrote applicant Michael Gary Garcia, a pharmacist who said he graduated with Sanchez from West Mesa High School. “Whoever is appointed to this position must work to continue Ken’s plan and expand upon this plan through innovative leadership in bringing District 1 and our city into the next decade.”

One council hopeful has family ties: Jaclyn Sanchez, Sanchez’s daughter and a local salon owner, has submitted her name for consideration. She has a letter of recommendation from Clara Padilla Andrews, president of the New Mexico Federation of Democratic Women, who told Keller in a letter that Jaclyn was her father’s “closest confidant” and understands the district.

Other applicants include:

• Angelo Lujan, who interned in the Mayor’s Office under both Berry and Keller and now works for a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities.

• Melonie Mathews, program director for the Gathering of Nations Ltd.

• Andres Rivera, a University of New Mexico School of Law student.

• Thanh-Lan T Sena, who said she wants to be the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve on the Albuquerque City Council.

• Jeff Turcotte, a coach and activities director for St. Pius X, who wrote in his letter of interest that he has “literally run every square mile of District 1” in his years as a track and cross-country coach.

• Dr. Joe Valles, a dentist and former president of the West Side Coalition.

• Pete Zollinger, a New Mexico State Fair ticket seller and Tingley Coliseum usher.

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