Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Reducing crime and restoring the local economy are among the top priorities of the four Republican candidates seeking to replace Republican Lonnie Talbert as the District 4 representative on the Bernalillo County Commission.
Business owner George “Walt” Benson; former County Commissioner E. Tim Cummins; real estate broker Sean Kesani; and Bernalillo County contact center manager Tina Tomlin are seeking the Republican nomination in the June 2 primary. Talbert, the only Republican currently serving on the commission, is term-limited.
The winner will face Democrat Wende Schwingendorf in the general election in November.
The district is in the north-central part of the county.
“My top priorities are job creation and fighting crime, creating a safer community,” the 43-year-old Benson said of his candidacy. He voiced concerns that some regulations “make it hard for businesses to start and remain competitive.”
He also said there should be more of a focus on working with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office on solutions to reduce crime. Benson said the county’s crime rate may hinder the recruitment of new businesses.
Cummins, 63, voiced a similar opinion. He said that while ensuring health and welfare should be the highest priority, “We must be equally focused on rebuilding our economy and creating new jobs.”
He also said crime in the community has “grown unchecked.”
“We must act quickly and decisively to reduce crime – which in turn will make our community stronger and more economically sound,” he said.
Kesani, 35, said reducing crime is his top priority. He pledged to work with his fellow commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office, Albuquerque city councilors and the Albuquerque Police Department to find solutions. Cutting down on panhandling and restoring the economy after the pandemic are also priorities.
“We’ve got to do something about what’s going on on our street corners,” he said about panhandling, which he said is spreading across Albuquerque.
Tomlin, 49, said economic resiliency and public safety have “equal billing.”
“But public safety is crucial to our health and prosperity,” she said.
Benson, Cummins and Kesani said they would not support a tax increase. Tomlin said she would support a tax increase “only to maintain basic infrastructure and security and to protect citizens from criminals,” but only if every other option had been exhausted.
The four are not in favor of Metropolitan Detention Center staff withholding information from immigration authorities under the county’s current immigration policy.
Benson, Cummins, Kesani and Tomlin said they are open to working with the city of Albuquerque on the area’s homeless problem; Benson said the issue should be addressed after the economy recovers from the pandemic.
“In terms of chipping in to pay for it, it shouldn’t be our top priority,” he said. “We’ve got to get our economy going.”
Kesani feels the county can help the city find a location for the center to ensure “that the community feels safe.”
Cummins described homelessness as an epidemic in the community “that has to be addressed.”
“It contributes to our crime issues and hinders economic growth,” he said. “While I believe the city and county should coordinate closely and cooperate on the issue and look for opportunities to partner when appropriate, I believe it is better to provide facilities and services separately.”
Cummins served as commissioner from 2000 to 2008. He also served on the Albuquerque City Council and said he has the experience “to help drive the economic development we need to prosper and thrive.”
But Benson believes the county Board of Commissioners needs new leaders who could bring a “new perspective” to the table. As a business owner, he said, he is used to problem-solving. He also calls for more transparency in the way the county conducts its business.
Kesani said being a Realtor has given him knowledge of the challenges different parts of the county face. He said the county needs to focus on infrastructure.
“We have roads that need to be addressed,” he said.
Tomlin said as the county’s former 911 director, she has insight into public safety issues.