Runoff will decide two seats and ABQ City Council's political balance - Albuquerque Journal

Runoff will decide two seats and ABQ City Council’s political balance

Fewer than a quarter of Albuquerque voters are eligible to cast ballots in the city’s runoff election, but it’s still drawing interest from outside city limits.

That’s because the Dec. 7 election will settle who occupies two of the Albuquerque City Council’s nine seats and, by extension, the overall political balance of the legislative body in New Mexico’s largest city.

It’s worth noting that City Council races are technically nonpartisan — there are no primaries, nor do ballots distinguish candidates by political party — and that it has been rare in the last few years for council votes to fall along strict party lines.

But that does not stop people from carefully charting the council’s composition.

Democrats have occupied most of the nine seats since late 2013 and had a 6-3 majority going into the Nov. 2 election.

That could change.

Republican Dan Lewis has defeated Democratic incumbent Cynthia Borrego to represent the West Side-based District 5. When he takes office Jan. 1, he will join the Republican councilors from the Northeast Heights: Brook Bassan and Trudy Jones.

Conservative Democrat Louie Sanchez unseated District 1’s more progressive Democratic incumbent, Lan Sena. With Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Klarissa Peña, there will be at least four Democrats on the council.

The two other seats remain undecided.

District 7, centered in the Uptown area, and District 9, which straddles East Central, will require runoffs, because no candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot earned enough of the vote (50%) to win the job.

Democrat Diane Gibson currently represents District 7 and opted not to seek reelection. Real estate agent Lori Robertson, a Republican, and environmental economist Tammy Fiebelkorn, a Democrat, emerged with the most votes during the crowded Nov. 2 election and are bound for the Dec. 7 runoff.

Don Harris, a Republican, is District 9’s longtime representative but did not pursue a fifth term. Republican Renee Grout, who owns an auto shop, and Democrat Rob Grilley, a nonprofit board member, are competing to succeed Harris in the runoff.

The Republican Party of New Mexico and Republican Party of Bernalillo County — which have not always had a harmonious relationship — issued a news release last week to announce they “are joining forces and sharing resources to win two key runoff elections,” saying they are mobilizing an “army of volunteers” to get out the vote for the two Republican candidates.

“We have an opportunity to take control of the Albuquerque Council, and this could mean great things for the future of the city,” RPBC Chairman John Rockwell said in a statement. “We have to do everything we can to grow our base and to get more Republicans involved.”

The Democratic Party of New Mexico said it too is collaborating with its Bernalillo County peers and will support the runoff’s Democratic candidates via a political action committee and with volunteer manpower on the ground. DPNM Executive Director Sean Ward said the organization is partnering with others “across New Mexico to effectively promote” Fiebelkorn and Grilley.

“It’s essential that we elect leaders to the Albuquerque City Council who will make the best choices for our schools, our families, and our neighborhoods,” he said in a statement.

ELECTION BREAKDOWN: City elections are now administered by the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office and on Nov. 2 shared a ballot with many other local — but non-city — races.

But the Clerk’s Office provided a breakdown showing specific turnout by city residents. Some takeaways from those unofficial numbers provided to the Journal:

  •  120,847 of the city’s 371,449 registered voters cast ballots on Nov. 2, a turnout rate of 32.5%.
  •  While registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in Albuquerque (175,830-99,988), Republicans voted at a higher rate citywide: 38.75% turned out, compared with 36.72% of Democrats.
  •  Voter turnout was highest in the Northeast Heights-based District 8 (39%) and District 4 (35.3%) even though neither had a City Council race on this year’s ballot.
  •  District 3, which covers Southwest Albuquerque, had the lowest turnout, with only 17.8% of registered voters participating. Councilor Klarissa Peña won reelection in that district but was unopposed.

Jessica Dyer:

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