Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Democrats will maintain their majority on the Albuquerque City Council, but their edge will be slimmer come 2022.
Democrat Tammy Fiebelkorn and Republican Renee Grout – both political newcomers – each won in a Tuesday runoff election that settled the last two positions on the city’s nine-member legislative body, according to unofficial results.
They will join four previously elected Democrats and three Republicans.
Fiebelkorn, who defeated Lori Robertson by a wide margin to represent District 7, will succeed fellow Democrat Diane Gibson. Gibson decided not to seek reelection this year after serving two terms representing the city’s mid-Heights.
Grout, meanwhile, earned a narrow victory over Democrat Rob Grilley to ensure that District 9 – in the city’s Southeastern reaches – stays under Republican control. She will take over from Don Harris, a Republican who is stepping aside after four terms in office.
While neither council position changed parties in Tuesday’s runoff, the Democrats’ current 6-3 advantage will slip to 5-4 when the new council is seated in January because Republican Dan Lewis recently defeated Democratic incumbent Cynthia Borrego to flip the West Side-based District 5 seat.
Albuquerque’s elected offices are technically nonpartisan, and it is not uncommon for Democrats and Republicans to come together in support of specific policies.
While party-line votes have been generally rare in recent years, they still happen. Just this Monday, the council passed legislation to require project labor agreements with unions for all major city construction projects. All Democrats voted in support of the bill, while all Republicans opposed it.
Grout, who owns a local automotive repair shop, said she looks forward to boosting the Republican perspective on City Council.
“I think that we’re going to be able to bring more checks and balances to city government,” Grout, 60, said after her win Tuesday night. “Right now, there’s a little bit of unchecked power and I think there needs to be balance in government.”
Grout said she has no specific legislation ready for when she takes office Jan. 1, but she has said on the campaign trail that crime is her top concern and that she’d like to see the Albuquerque Police Department’s budget increased. APD currently represents about 31% of all the city’s general fund spending. She has also advocated for ending the city’s immigrant-friendly policy.
Born and raised in Albuquerque, Grout said she will use her early days in office to understand how city government works, but that she believes she was elected because people are tired of the status quo.
“We think people are very frustrated with the crime that’s plaguing us, and they want change,” she said. “They want to feel safer in our neighborhoods and our community.”
Grout squeaked past Grilley – who serves as board president of a nonprofit organization – in the runoff, garnering 51.75% of the vote to his 48.25%. The difference amounted to 272 votes, according to unofficial results.
Fiebelkorn, however, cruised to runoff victory.
She earned nearly 62% of the vote, while Republican Robertson, a local real estate agent, had about 38%.
An environmental economist who owns her own consulting firm, Fiebelkorn said her win shows that District 7 residents “care about their fellow neighbors and they want to see us take care of everyone.”
Fiebelkorn said she’d like a greater police presence in her district to combat violent crime, but that tackling Albuquerque’s other public safety and homelessness challenges requires more than law enforcement. She supports more mental health and addiction treatment services, job training and career development programs.
Prior to taking office next month, she said she’ll have discussions with other city councilors and community leaders so she can “hit the ground running” in January with a focus on “legislation to deal with climate change, legislation to support businesses through COVID, and legislation to really focus on homelessness and violent crime.”
Tuesday’s election caps a 2021 Albuquerque election season that featured a mayoral race – won by Democratic incumbent Tim Keller – and five city council races.
Three of the five council races were decided during the regular election on Nov. 2. In that election, Lewis defeated Borrego, conservative Democrat Louie Sanchez ousted progressive Democrat incumbent Lan Sena in District 1, and Democrat Klarissa Peña ran unopposed in District 3.
The District 7 and 9 races proceeded to a runoff because no candidate for those positions earned at least 50% of the vote during the regular election, which the City Charter requires to win a council position.