Albuquerque’s Downtown area city councilor is on his way out.
Isaac Benton — now in his 18th year on the legislative body — says he will not run for reelection this fall.
He is the third sitting councilor stepping aside at the end of the year. Pat Davis (Nob Hill/International District) and Trudy Jones (Northeast Heights) already have made the same decision.
Benton said he’d been mulling his future for a while but decided to announce his intentions with the start of the 2023 campaign season looming.
Now 71, he said he is ready to retire from public office.
“I’ve got some life left to live and looking forward to doing that,” he said. “(It’s) time to turn it on over to someone else who has the appetite to get it done.”
First elected in 2005 to represent the old District 3, Benton is presently the councilor for what is now District 2. It includes Downtown, Old Town and part of the North Valley. As of last year’s redistricting, it also encompasses some neighborhoods just west of the Rio Grande between Central and Interstate 40.
It is one of four council districts with an election this fall. The remaining five seats are not up until 2025.
Benton has been among the more progressive Democratic voices on the council, focusing on issues like sustainability and affordable housing since his early days in office. He successfully proposed tripling the city’s commitment to energy conservation and renewable energy projects by designating 3% of the city’s biennial infrastructure bond programs for such uses. He also co-sponsored legislation that created the city’s Workforce Housing Trust Fund, which has helped fund about 1,000 affordable housing units since 2007, according to the most recent report.
“It’s dear to my heart, and I think we’ve done some really great projects using those funds,” he said.
An architect by trade, Benton said he’s also proud of various redevelopment projects in his district, including the city’s purchase of the historic Rail Yards and the reimagining of the El Vado Motel on Central Avenue.
As a councilor, Benton has had a particular interest in zoning issues and said he tried through the years — often unsuccessfully — to combat what he calls “suburban sprawl.”
He is currently co-sponsoring a slate of significant zoning changes that Mayor Tim Keller’s administration is proposing as a way to boost Albuquerque’s housing stock, mostly via infill. The legislation would make it easier to turn commercial properties into residential units, for example, and would allow more density in single-family home neighborhoods via duplexes and secondary dwelling units, or “casitas.”
Benton said he’s hoping to see that through during his final months in office.
Having resided in the Downtown area for most of his 48 years in Albuquerque, Benton said the area has seen better days and that the pandemic has taken a toll. He said it’s not unusual for Downtown to experience ups and downs and that the city is making moves to improve the situation, such as creating a public safety district.
“I love (Downtown) and something like seeing the movie theater close is heartbreaking,” Benton said of the 2021 closure of the Century theater at First and Central. “But there are a lot of folks working on it, too, and that gives me a lot of hope.”