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A retired government administrator and a corporate outreach employee are squaring off in a Democratic primary that will determine who continues in the race for the open District 1 Bernalillo County Commission seat.
Barbara Baca, the city of Albuquerque’s former parks and recreation director, and Erin Muffoletto, an external affairs manager for Comcast, are each hoping to succeed Debbie O’Malley in representing a commission district that extends from the North Valley to the county’s western border. O’Malley cannot seek reelection due to term limits.
Whoever wins the primary will meet Michaela Chavez in the general election. She is the only Republican running for the seat.
Baca said her decadeslong government career has readied her for elected office.
“I’m really good at listening and trying to work within the community and within government and come up with collective ideas and solutions to problems,” said Baca, who spent 33 years in Albuquerque’s city government and also worked for a time with the National Park Service.
Muffoletto, meanwhile, said she would come to the job with a different outlook as someone who has worked around government – she currently negotiates Comcast franchise agreements with them – but not spent much time inside of it.
“I think I come in with a fresh perspective,” she said.
Baca, 61, is no stranger to politics. Her father, Pat Baca, was a longtime Albuquerque city councilor who was subsequently elected to the county commission.
She currently serves as an elected member of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District but said she’d like to expand her focus beyond bosque and endangered species preservation to the community’s other challenges, such as public safety and behavioral health.
Baca said the city and county should tackle their shared problems together. As someone with city government experience, she said she has witnessed successful partnerships between the two entities and believes more are possible.
“I think there are really good, strong civil servants – I’ve been in the trenches with them – so I don’t think it’s that hard to (collaborate), but I do think it takes a concerted effort by the leadership to say we all should be in this together,” said Baca.
Baca advocates for a common public safety dispatch to potentially reduce response times and, she said, save lives.
She said she would also push for the county to piggyback onto the new Albuquerque Community Safety effort, which answers certain 911 calls with unarmed responders, like social workers, thus giving police officers more time for other emergencies.
She said her first priorities would include taking stock of how the county has spent the 7-year-old tax meant to support behavioral health programs and begin making any necessary tweaks to ensure it is going to the most effective programs.
“I am ready to hit the ground running. I’m ready to continue that service if I were to be elected,” Baca said.
Muffoletto said she would also look immediately at the county’s behavioral health efforts if she were to win the seat. She said she would seek ways to expedite the county’s long-awaited crisis triage center, which is being built on the University of New Mexico campus. She plans also to focus on the citizen experience, perhaps through a “one stop” shop website that details all the mental health, substance abuse and other related services available from the county and other providers.
She cites her own frustrating experience locating assistance for a family member struggling with drug addiction for fueling her run for office.
“As somebody who feels pretty well-connected, I had a really hard time finding help, so I was like, ‘You know, if it’s tough for me, it’s got to be really tough for others,’ ” she said.
Muffoletto, 38, said she sees the potential for additional collaboration with the city, perhaps improving efficiency and avoiding duplicative efforts. She said she has established positive relationships with city leaders through her professional and community work and also knows the state legislative process.
But she said her biggest asset may be her open ear.
“I’m a good listener. I think one of the biggest things we have not been doing is listening to the community – what exactly does the community need? What do the experts say we need? … It sounds like there’s miscommunication with what is actually happening or not happening versus what we actually need in the community,” she said.