Albuquerque mayoral hopefuls Eddy Aragon and Manuel Gonzales made their respective cases Tuesday night for why voters should pick them to unseat Tim Keller, arguing the incumbent has little to show for his first four years in office other than growing homelessness and violent crime.
Keller, meanwhile, defended his track record and experience, saying Albuquerque needs a leader who understands the complexity of the challenges and who comes ready with practical solutions.
The debate hosted by KKOB and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce was a sometimes feisty affair, with Gonzales arguing Albuquerque has been moving backward due to partisan politics, and needed to be given “back to the people” and generally cleaned up.
“Our city looks like a pig sty,” said Gonzales, the second-term Bernalillo County Sheriff who contends that his tough-on-crime approach will improve public safety, the economy and overall city operations.
“I’ve never seen the city in a worse state … than it is now under this administration,” said Gonzales, who at one point apologized to the public for having supported Keller, a fellow Democrat, four years ago.
Aragon, the only Republican on the ballot, said Keller has failed on several fronts, including economic development. He challenged the mayor’s claim that Albuquerque had weathered the pandemic well and was emerging in good shape, saying that the city was propped up by millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money.
“Mayor Tim Keller has an amazing ability to spin things around that are very negative,” said Aragon, whose suggestions for bolstering the economy include streamlining city development approvals, granting property tax incentives to lure new health care workers and opening a shared, city-owned “cloud kitchen” where local restaurateurs could operate with limited overhead.
But before a small in-person audience at Albuquerque’s Embassy Suites, Keller hammered home the message that he is best suited to move the city forward. He noted that the city had landed Netflix and NBCUniversal studio operations on his watch, had pushed through major public construction projects and had a multi-faceted approach to improve public safety, including added technology and a new community safety department that should reduce the burden on police.
“I … know that it’s easy to say that you want to make the city safer, that you want to feel safer when you go shopping. The hard part is how,” said Keller, who noted that violent crime is rising nationally, not just in Albuquerque. “That’s what this is about. That’s what leadership takes.”
He and Aragon both cast doubt on Gonzales’ argument that the unincorporated areas of the county where sheriff’s deputies patrol are not having the same crime problems as the city of Albuquerque — an argument the sheriff said is based on first-hand stories he hears from residents.
“That’s who I listen to; that’s who I serve,” the sheriff said.
But Keller cited Journal reporting that shows crime rose in the unincorporated areas in 2020.
“I think it’s reckless,” Keller said. “You can’t just get information from your neighbor.”
Aragon, a radio show host who has never held elected office, said it’s time for the city to try someone new to tackle crime.
“I’m the right person to take care of this, (who will) come with fresh eyes,” he said.