Conservative radio show host takes on Dems - Albuquerque Journal

Conservative radio show host takes on Dems

Conservative radio show host Eddy Aragon, 46, is running for Albuquerque mayor. The Albuquerque native, who once worked to get Democrats elected, says he is proud he has never held elective office. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles on Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates the Journal will publish this week. Future stories will cover such topics as crime and homelessness.

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Eddy Aragon is a born salesman.

The Albuquerque native spent about 13 years in the commercial real estate industry, starting on the IT side but later discovering – with the aid of a personality test – that he had the soul to sell, eventually brokering deals in the 2000s boom market of Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s been more than a decade since the recession pummeled the industry, eventually setting Aragon on a different path. Back in Albuquerque, he bought a radio station and hosts a daily conservative talk show.

But now the man behind “The Rock of Talk” is in sales mode again, working to convince a city with 75% more registered Democrats than Republicans that he – the lone Republican on the 2021 mayoral ballot – is the best man to guide it.

Aragon has never held elected office before, a badge he wears proudly and said gives him something in common with former President Donald Trump, a man he said he admires.

“I don’t need a job,” Aragon told a news conference in August. “I’m not going to be running to become a professional politician. I’m running to serve the people, the city and the state.”

Aragon, 46, arrived in the mayor’s race like a bolt of lightning during a summer monsoon.

The campaign was shaping up as a two-man race between incumbent Tim Keller and Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, both Democrats, when Aragon decided to mount a ballot-qualifying effort just weeks before the deadline.

Within 14 days, the Republican made himself the race’s third contender by amassing enough signatures and then some to put his name on the ballot – a feat he attributed partly to his reach as a radio host.

The campaign encountered some early turbulence when a critic sought to disqualify him from the ballot, challenging his stated residency at the Southeast Albuquerque office building where he broadcasts. Aragon said he lives there – showing a Journal reporter the small kitchen and even the futon where he sleeps in a room off his radio studio – and that his residency is an allowable use of the property. He called the legal challenge a “political hit job” by those trying to thwart his campaign. A state judge dismissed the petition, upholding Aragon’s place on the ballot.

His name will appear on the ballot without party affiliation because city elections are officially nonpartisan. But Aragon has vociferously promoted himself as the only Republican on the list.

That may seem counterintuitive in a county where Joe Biden thumped Donald Trump in 2020 – 61% versus 37% – but Aragon believes there is an appetite to recalibrate a local political landscape he argues leans too far to the left.

“I will do my best to continue to fight our fight so we can keep some level of balance,” he said in a recent Journal interview. “Anything that’s great in this country has always been achieved through argument and conflict and confrontation, but also a certain level of compromise that comes out organically by people presenting their arguments or choices.”

Aragon actually joined the Republican Party after a deep affiliation with the other side.

A University of New Mexico graduate with degrees in political science and economics, Aragon was once a college intern in former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s Washington office and said he spent years of his young adulthood working to elect other Democrats. He said he worked on campaigns for Tom Udall and former state Rep. Raymond Sanchez. He still refers to Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, a Democrat who now serves as the state’s natural resources trustee, as “the most intelligent politician in our state, bar none.”

But Aragon said his fracture with the Democratic Party happened during the 2004 presidential election cycle while he worked on Wesley Clark’s bid for the Democratic nomination. High-profile Democrats treated Clark, a retired Army general, with open disdain, Aragon said.

“At that point, I was done” with the party, he said.

He essentially walked away from politics, diving deeper into his commercial real estate career. He worked for periods in Phoenix and Las Vegas, Nevada, riding the wave before the Great Recession decimated the Sin City economy.

He returned to Albuquerque and became involved with KIVA radio (1600 AM), first as an operator. With the help of his father, a construction subcontractor who specializes in steel placing, Aragon acquired the station in 2014.

Aragon said he began listening to more talk radio, and the tea party movement in particular resonated with him, driving his shift to the right.

“I felt myself more ideologically aligned with some of the things that we were talking about there – certainly personal choice, freedom, liberty … and seeing government as less and less as part of the solution,” he said.

In his quest for the Albuquerque Mayor’s Office, Aragon has made COVID-19 one of the five prongs of his platform – namely challenging the state government-issued public health orders meant to curb the spread of a virus now linked to 4,764 deaths in New Mexico. He has protested the vaccine requirement for State Fair entry and dubbed Backstreet Grill “valiant” for the now-closed Old Town restaurant’s refusal to comply with mask mandates. He has said he is not vaccinated.

While the courts have repeatedly upheld the authority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration in such matters, Aragon said he would as mayor question them any way he could, saying that the state’s largest city should have some control. He opposes vaccine and mask mandates and said he would not require city workers to get shots. It should be a choice, he said.

Aragon said he’d like to hire a city-level epidemiologist, but as someone who has objected loudly to pandemic-related business closures, what would he as mayor do if the in-house epidemiologist recommended closing some due to virus risk?

“We would listen to the epidemiologists based upon the science, but I am not of the opinion of them making the final ultimate decision on behalf of the city,” he said.

Aragon contends the government response to the pandemic has robbed Albuquerque of its quality of life.

“We’ve all got a certain level of crazy that has come along with COVID, and I’m asking that that be subdued,” he said.

Although Aragon has never actually appeared on a ballot for elected office, he has flirted with politics before. He registered as a 2017 Albuquerque mayoral candidate but subsequently bowed out, and he pursued the Republican Party’s nomination for this year’s 1st Congressional District special election, although the party’s state central membership picked Mark Moores.

A father of two young sons, Aragon said he does not want the title of “mayor” and would call himself “city manager” instead.

“This isn’t about you or your political career; this is about getting a job done for the city of Albuquerque,” he said.

Aragon said he would enter office seeking deep-dive analyses of existing functions – he talks about “forensic audits” to evaluate the efficiency of spending patterns in areas like public safety, homeless services and even public transportation.

He would, for example, work to remove the $133 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project from Central Avenue if it is economically feasible, although he is not sure what the feasible number is just yet.

He also sees potential to improve morale within the Albuquerque Police Department, advocating for changes such as a no-settlement policy in lawsuits and an overtime system that spreads the workload – and the extra pay – more evenly throughout the department.

He wants the city to think differently about employee hours, promoting varied work schedules – something he said meets modern worker needs and has the added benefit of mitigating traffic. “We try to talk about a smart city, but I think it’s pretty unintelligent how we’ve addressed some of the issues,” he said. “I think we can improve upon it if we assess what it is professionally.”

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