Mayor Richard Berry trounced his opponents at the polls on Tuesday to claim a second term and avoid the need for a runoff election.
He grabbed about 68 percent of the vote – the highest percentage any mayoral candidate has received in the first round of voting since Albuquerque’s current form of government began in 1974, according to unofficial returns.
Berry, a former member of the state House and general contractor, needed at least 50 percent to win office outright and prevent a runoff election next month with his closest competitor.
“Tonight, we’re a city united, and I’m humbled and I’m grateful,” Berry said as he addressed supporters gathered at the Sheraton Uptown. “I want to thank each and every one of you.”
Berry in 2009 became Albuquerque’s first Republican mayor in 24 years when he defeated incumbent Martin Chávez.
His closest competitor on Tuesday was Pete Dinelli, a Democrat and former deputy city attorney, who had 29 percent of the vote. Paul Heh, a Republican and retired police sergeant, had 3 percent, according to unofficial results.
Even with the mayor’s big win, Tuesday’s elections results could shake up City Hall, as Democrats still have hope of re-claiming a majority of the City Council.
In the mayor’s race, however, it was an early night. Berry delivered his victory speech about 9:15 p.m., joined on stage by his wife, Maria, and their son, Jacob, among other family members.
He was introduced by Gov. Susana Martinez, also a Republican.
“Mayor Berry has shown how a real leader can bring people together to solve problems,” she said.
Dinelli delivered a concession speech at his campaign headquarters on San Mateo NE about 8:30 p.m.
“This one-year journey has now come to an end,” he said. “It’s not the end that we wanted.”
Positive vs. negative
Berry’s win followed an aggressive campaign in which he pitched himself as a steady, responsible leader while describing Dinelli as “too risky” to trust as mayor. Berry repeatedly painted an optimistic picture of Albuquerque as a city turning the corner after a national recession.
Dinelli and Heh, in turn, hit Berry hard over the state of the Albuquerque Police Department, which is facing a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into officers’ use of force. They’ve described APD as a department in “meltdown.”
Dinelli and Heh also attacked Berry on the economy and said the city hadn’t shared in the recovery enjoyed elsewhere.
Berry had a substantial financial advantage over his opponents. He raised about $875,000 in financial contributions and received in-kind donations valued at $5,500.
Dinelli opted into the city’s public financing system for campaigns. That meant he had about $362,000 to spend. He also received in-kind donations totalling about $29,000.
Heh had less than $8,000 in financial and in-kind contributions.
Berry appeared to be in good position to win re-election from the start. He brought a low-key style to the office and focused on basics, such as budget matters and rebuilding the Interstate 25 interchange at Paseo del Norte.
A Journal survey last year – conducted by Research & Polling Inc. – put Berry’s approval rating at 68 percent. A Journal Poll last month showed Berry had support from 63 percent of likely voters. He was even more popular among Democrats than Dinelli was at that point.
Brian Sanderoff of Research & Polling Inc. said Tuesday that Berry’s support across party lines was a key to his “impressive” victory.
“The secret to his success demographically was that he enjoyed a significant share of support among Democrats and independents,” Sanderoff said, in addition to “nearly universal support among his own party, Republicans.”
He said that Berry is “a likeable guy who I just don’t think a lot of people felt there was a reason to change course. … His more optimistic message that we’ve turned the corner seemed to resonate.”
Leaving rivals in dust
The magnitude of Berry’s win was unusual.
No mayoral candidate under the current system of government has ever won more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting.
The closest anyone has come is Chávez, who won re-election with 47 percent in 2005. In 1977, David Rusk won the Mayor’s Office with 46 percent. And Berry himself had 44 percent in 2009.
Candidates had to clear only 40 percent of the vote in those years to avoid a runoff.
A petition drive by union activists and others critical of Berry led to voter approval of the 50 percent requirement earlier this year.
City ballots are nonpartisan, and there are no primary elections to narrow the field of candidates.
Sanderoff said turnout appeared to be light, perhaps hitting only 20 percent to 21 percent.
About 26 percent of registered voters turned out in the 2009 mayoral race.
Berry may find the new City Council a little less to his liking. Isaac Benton, a Democrat, defeated Roxanna Meyers, a Republican, who had been appointed by Berry to fill a vacancy.
Meanwhile, another Republican incumbent, Janice Arnold-Jones, appeared to be headed into a runoff election with Democrat Diane Gibson.
Coming into Tuesday’s election, Republicans held a 6-3 super-majority on the council. Benton’s win would trim it to 5-4.
Democrats would hold a majority if Gibson defeats Arnold-Jones.
Voters on Tuesday also approved about $115 million in general-obligation bonds to pay for street repairs, libraries and other capital projects.
In his victory speech, Berry looked back on his first four years and said the city had moved forward. He said that “Albuquerque’s best years are ahead of us.”
Berry called for continued cooperation with the Legislature to keep the city’s tax code competitive and to diversify the city’s economy.
“We’re going to roll up our sleeves and continue to get things done,” he said.
Berry called for teamwork with the University of New Mexico and the Central New Mexico Community College to develop an educated workforce, and he said he’d continue to work with Albuquerque Public Schools to find ways of raising the graduation rate.
“And we’re going to make sure that women in our city have the opportunity to make the same wage as men for doing the same job,” he said, eliciting the loudest applause.
Outside the Sheraton late Tuesday, a man working for a television news station accidentally shot himself in the leg while loading camera equipment. He’s expected to be OK, police said.
Journal staff writers Patrick Lohmann and Aurelio Sanchez contributed to this report.