Albuquerque’s mayoral election is more than six months away, but you wouldn’t know it by the standing-room-only crowd that showed up at the North Valley Senior Center on Tuesday evening to hear the declared candidates’ views on everything from public safety and the economy to immigration and controversial public works projects.
It was the first mayoral forum of the campaign and the unofficial kickoff to the city election season. And for Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden, it was a warning that his days as the city’s top cop may be numbered.
All of the mayoral candidates identified crime and problems with the police department as a top priority, and eight of the 11 candidates who showed up said they would replace Eden if elected.
The election is on Oct. 3.
“We need to create a safe city,” said candidate Brian Colón, an attorney and former state Democratic Party chairman. He said he had already told the chief that, if he becomes mayor, Eden would be fired.
“Our city is defined as dangerous,” said City Councilor Dan Lewis. “We’re defined by criminals right now, and we can change that. We have to be brutally honest to change that. I want to make Albuquerque No. 1 for the worst place to be a criminal.”
“Crime in Albuquerque is out of control,” said candidate Stella Padilla, a retired Old Town resident.
“I think we need a new chief,” she said. “Crime is the situation we have to get a hold of immediately.”
Other candidates agreeing that Eden needs to go were former County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta; Rachel Golden, who has worked as a security guard; Gus Pedrotty, a University of New Mexico undergraduate; Jacob Morgan Shull; Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, founder of the civic group Urban ABQ; and Lewis.
Wheeler-Deichsel pledged to conduct a nationwide search for a new police chief, someone who can get behind the goals of the settlement Albuquerque entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014.
The agreement was reached after a DOJ investigation found Albuquerque police had a pattern or practice of using excessive force, which included police shootings. The settlement mandates a series of reforms, policy changes and training that officers must complete over several years.
But not everyone agreed that the DOJ settlement is a good thing.
“I think we all agree (that APD) is understaffed and under siege,” said candidate Wayne Johnson, a Bernalillo County Commissioner. “I think (the DOJ settlement) was a mistake.” He said trying to run a law enforcement department with a 106-page consent decree, a court monitor and a federal judge watching makes it nearly impossible for the department to respond to the public safety concerns that come up.
Candidate Elan Colello, meanwhile, criticized the city for wasting money on large capital purchases, saying that money would have been better used for public safety.
“Our community is falling apart,” he said.
While crime and Chief Eden’s future with APD took center stage at the forum, candidates also seized the opportunity to try to set themselves apart.
State Auditor Tim Keller described himself as a maverick.
“I’ve stood up against the status quo every chance I’ve had,” he said.
Archuleta touted her experience as a former two-term county commissioner and as an appointee of the Obama administration.
“What I bring to this that others don’t is experience,” Archuleta said.
Pedrotty said the community needs to attack its problems holistically rather than just reaching for Band-Aids. He said the community needs to figure out a way to solve those problems rather than looking to the federal government for solutions.
“I am the candidate who has offered myself as completely nonpartisan,” Wheeler-Deichsel said.
Shull said he is in favor of making recreational marijuana legal. He noted that Colorado has brought in significant tax revenue by doing that.
The forum was sponsored by the Greater Gardner Neighborhood Association in the North Valley. A representative of the association asked candidates their stance on a controversial solid waste transfer station planned for Edith and Griegos.
“I’m opposed to the waste transfer station,” Colón said, adding that he has even contributed to the community’s legal defense fund. Lewis said he would start the process on the project over.
Colello said he would stop the project.
“I’m not sure the waste transfer station is needed,” he said.
Johnson said he thinks the city failed to involve the public in the process on both the transfer station project and the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project on Central Avenue.
Asked their opinions on immigration and raising the minimum wage, Golden and Johnson said they don’t support sanctuary cities, and both said they are against raising the minimum wage.
Keller said he supports immigrants and refugees, and is in favor of raising the minimum wage.
“I was the commissioner that made sure that (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was taken out of the jail,” Archuleta said. “Second, I want to make sure everyone understands I agree the minimum wage is something we need to increase.”
Candidates must gather at least 3,000 signatures each by April 28 in order to appear on the ballot. If no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote on Oct. 3, the top two vote-getters will go head to head in a runoff election in November.