Tim Keller is getting another four years to carry out his agenda in Albuquerque.
The 43-year-old Albuquerque native won a second term as mayor of the state’s largest city on Tuesday, according to unofficial results, fending off a pair of challengers who spent months arguing the city was in worse shape than it was when he initially took office.
Keller won in decisive fashion, earning 56% of the vote. Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales had 26%, while radio station owner/conservative talk show host Eddy Aragon had 18%. It is enough to avoid a runoff, which the city charter would have required if no candidate earned at least 50% of the vote.
A former state senator and onetime New Mexico State Auditor, Keller ran for reelection on what he said was a solid foundation built during his first term as mayor and the city government’s strong performance during the pandemic.
The city is still facing some incredible challenges — it has broken its annual homicide record for the second time in three years, has a growing homelessness epidemic and a metro unemployment rate higher than the national average. But the city has some positive momentum too; property crime is falling and it has experienced strong recent growth in its gross receipts tax.
Though Gonzales, Aragon and other critics argued that violent crime and homelessness had only worsened on his watch, Keller cast himself as an experienced leader who understood the city’s challenges and had developed practical plans to address them. That includes the long-awaited Gateway Center homeless shelter and services center at the old Lovelace hospital, which should begin some operations this winter, and a new public safety department, Albuquerque Community Safety, which Keller said will reduce the burden on police by sending social workers and other trained professionals to 911 calls that do not require a law enforcement response.
During his victory speech in front of city officials and other supporters at Hotel Albuquerque Tuesday night, Keller said there are no easy fixes to the city’s problems but he believes he has put the city on the right track.
“The voters showed that they are with us in that vision — that we are going to do this together, that we have the strength and the courage to face our toughest challenges. That is what tonight is truly a referendum on,” he said.
Keller in his speech also recognized his challengers, saying he and Aragon — the race’s lone Republican — may disagree on almost everything but that he had run “a respectable race,” and that he hoped Gonzales, a fellow Democrat, would lend his support to the city’s police and public safety efforts during the last year of his term as sheriff.
Gonzales, meanwhile, held a watch party inside the conference room of a liquor distribution warehouse in the South Valley.
As TV stations and the Journal called the race for Keller, Gonzales took the stage to rally his supporters, saying “let’s stay optimistic.”
Shortly after, the blaring music was cut to watch Keller give his acceptance speech, with many booing as he asked Gonzales, as sheriff, to support the Albuquerque Police Department and boasted about the shape Albuquerque is in despite the pandemic.
“What city are you living in?” one man yelled. Then the music was back on again as people gave Gonzales a standing ovation and chanted “Manny” over and over.
But as the crowd filed out and his wife and others cleared tables and popped balloons, Gonzales expressed gratitude for those involved in his race.
“For me, my loyalty is always going to be the people. It’s an honor to have been able to run a race like that,” he said. “I’m still the sheriff and I’m looking forward to continuing to serve the people of Bernalillo County.”
Aragon, who spent the evening broadcasting on his radio station, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Despite the city’s challenges, campaign-related drama may ultimately define the 2021 mayoral race.
That includes Gonzales’ bid for public campaign financing, which evolved into a monthslong fight over $600,000-plus in taxpayer money with multiple court, administrative and ethics hearings. City Clerk Ethan Watson denied the sheriff the money in July based on evidence presented in two ethics complaints against Gonzales, including one alleging that he submitted forged documentation in an attempt to qualify for the funds. Gonzales’ campaign subsequently acknowledged some forged paperwork, but denied the sheriff knew about the bad signatures. A state judge ultimately upheld Watson’s decision, prompting Gonzales to switch financing strategies by taking private donations less than two months before the election.
Aragon, meanwhile, transformed the race in August by completing a last-minute signature-gathering effort to earn a place on the ballot. His candidacy sparked a quick legal challenge because he uses his radio station headquarters inside an Albuquerque office building as his home, but a state judge dismissed the petition and ruled Aragon could stay on the ballot.
Aragon and Keller each also have faced ethics complaints in the race — Keller for allegedly using city resources for campaign purposes, and Aragon for allegedly violating city and federal rules by campaigning on his radio station. The city’s ethics board has not yet adjudicated either complaint, but both candidates have denied they violated regulations.
The Albuquerque mayor’s race also briefly made international news in June when the “Dongcopter” — a sex toy dangling from a drone — disrupted one of Gonzales’ campaign events.
More recently, Gonzales shocked observers by leveling multiple personal allegations against Keller without evidence during a live TV debate.
Keller, the only candidate who ran on public financing, outspent his challengers on his reelection bid.
Campaign finance reports show he had spent $620,878 through Friday, while Gonzales had spent $492,671 and Aragon had spent $135,881.
But more than a half-million dollars also flowed into the mayor’s race through political action committees.
The Gonzales-backing Save Our City PAC has spent $267,185 to date, according to the city’s campaign finance website. Build Back ‘Burque, which promoted Keller, has spent $254,124.
Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.