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Keller announces 2021 reelection bid

Mayor Tim Keller formally announces his 2021 reelection bid Monday in Downtown Albuquerque. He was joined by his wife, Liz Kistin Keller, and children, Jack and Maya. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Monday formally announced his reelection bid, saying he thinks he has moved his hometown forward and wants to stay in the driver’s seat.

During a news conference with his wife and children, Keller said he had filed his candidate paperwork and is prepared to start campaigning in earnest next month when the qualifying period for public financing begins.

“Now I believe our city is finally going in the right direction, and we must keep the course,” Keller said while standing near City Hall in Downtown Albuquerque. “It’s time we hit the accelerator and we do not go backwards.”

Keller, 43, beat a large field to become mayor in 2017 and will face at least some opposition as he seeks a second term. Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III has submitted a candidate registration form for the race but has declined to confirm he is running, saying earlier this month he filed the paperwork to “better explore” a potential run. Nicholas Bevins, a 25-year-old activist, has confirmed he is running for mayor, and Patrick Ben Sais also has filed registration as a mayoral candidate.

Mayor Tim Keller formally announces his 2021 reelection bid Monday in Downtown Albuquerque. He was joined by his wife, Liz Kistin Keller, and children, Jack and Maya. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Nearly 3½ years into his first term, Keller said Monday the signature accomplishment of his administration has been the city’s performance during COVID-19. He has regularly touted the municipal government’s ability to avoid employee layoffs and continue delivering — and, in some cases, expanding — services despite the pandemic. While the $150 million in federal relief money the city received last spring was a major factor, Keller contends that Albuquerque fared better than other comparable cities during the crisis. He said his administration is ready to carry the momentum forward.

“Shepherding our city, leading our city, making those tough decisions was a trial like no other. I think it’s shown we are tested by a crisis our city has not seen in decades, or in modern history,” he said. “That puts us in a great position going forward.”

The economy is often a central theme in local elections, and Keller expressed confidence in the city’s current position. While numbers from the city’s newly released progress report show Albuquerque ranks last among six peer cities in job growth, Keller said there are “thousands” of good-paying jobs in the pipeline. In addition to Netflix’s expansion at Mesa del Sol, he has touted Group Orion’s proposed development on city land near the Albuquerque International Sunport. Representatives for the aerospace company in November told the Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commission they want to build a massive campus by 2023 that could have 1,000 jobs at opening and potentially expand to 2,500.

As for the city’s own finances, Keller will soon release his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The city was expected to enter the year with a $35.9 million surplus, thanks largely to 2020’s federal COVID-19 relief. That was before the latest round of federal stimulus, which will bring another $114 million.

Keller said he does not anticipate raising taxes, something the city did a few months after he took office. Though he had said during his 2017 campaign he would not increase taxes without voter approval — and the 2018 tax hike never went before voters — Keller defended that move Monday, saying the extra revenue helped the city weather the pandemic.

In seeking a second term, Keller is likely to face criticism over Albuquerque’s crime. Though overall crime has fallen — led by a 10% decline in property crime from 2019 to 2020 — violent crime has remained a scourge. Albuquerque has had more homicides the past two years than any years in recent memory, with 80 in 2019 and 76 in 2020.

Meanwhile, the court-appointed monitor evaluating the Albuquerque Police Department’s progress toward U.S. Department of Justice-mandated reforms blasted the city last fall for an inability to police its own officers and warning in a report that the department was “on the brink of a catastrophic failure.”

Part of Keller’s new strategy is to add a second APD leader. In addition to Police Chief Harold Medina, the mayor recently announced a new executive-level position to oversee reforms, officer discipline and police academy operations.

Dividing responsibilities should allow greater focus on both crime fighting and reform, Keller has said.

The mayor also hopes to remove some work from the police sphere through the new Community Safety Department. Keller announced it last summer as a third option — beyond police and firefighters — for answering 911 calls related to homelessness, behavioral health and more.

The city intends to hire the department’s leadership by this summer, he said, and should have about 10 social workers staffing it this year.

“We’re going to start it this year, but the scaling of it — when people are really going to feel it when they call 911 — that’s all lined up for 2022,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important, I believe, that I get reelected.”

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