The city elections in Albuquerque this October might seem to some like a tedious distraction from the gripping horror show playing out on the stage of national politics this year. But the sink hole of Radical Trumpism is widening and threatens to swallow the country up. That threat gives local political culture in America a chance to take itself seriously again.
Grim Reaper Republican assaults on our social safety net and on the fundamental necessities of environmental health, combined with Big Donald temper tantrums causing intellectual and moral chaos in the White House and Congress, and the absurd framing and spin doctoring of big brother propaganda may require local governments to make decisions and pass legislation of national importance many times throughout the end of this decade. With intelligent leadership, cities like Albuquerque may see the advantage of joining with other cities in fighting climate change, becoming sanctuaries for hounded immigrants, pooling strategies for crime prevention, bonding with public education visionaries in other localities, and playing a larger role in helping the medically indigent and homeless.
But when voters go to the polls in Albuquerque this October 3, chances are many of us won’t really have much of a clue about what the mayoral and council candidates stand for and what they proposed to do with their time in office. If we’ve given a candidate money (and we will be bombarded by request after request), we probably did not contribute because of their “platforms” — few have them — but on the basis of their slogans and what they say about their ideology. And, we might know their party affiliation, even though this is a so-called “non-partisan” election, which is a sham and insult to public intelligence given the extreme partisanship of American politics today.
This election’s illusion of insignificance, plus a vacuum in information, will surely lead to another low voter turn out in October, despite the convenience of early voting from September 9th through the 29th. If no mayoral candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote, a run-off between the two highest finishers will be held November 7. Low turn out has been one of the troubling and enduring truths about democracy in Albuquerque. The major TV stations seem only to cover crime, gore, and endless weather — not candidates. The radio stations, except for KUNM, are useless. We can be thankful for New Mexico PBS from time to time and for the online presence of Joe Monahan, NM Political Report, New Mexico In Depth and ABQ Free Press. But these online sources cater to people who can afford computers. And the major daily, which could have a broader audience, persists in giving us almost nothing to chew on about the candidates.
The election is slightly more than ten weeks away. There’s a big pile of issues that need to be discussed. And the eight-candidate field is still largely invisible, through no fault of their own.
I’ve been covering city elections in Albuquerque since 1971, and this seems to be a generally high-class field. It’s composed of Ricardo Chavez, Brian Colón, Michelle Garcia Holmes, Wayne Johnson, Tim Keller, Dan Lewis, Augustus “Gus” Pedrotty, and Susan Wheeler-Deichsel. The best way to learn something about them is to go to their websites or through social media. In fact, so far, it’s almost the only way you’re going to learn anything about them. And the internet reveals about candidates probably more they intended. Most of the candidate sites are slim on ideas, big on fund raising, slap dash and poorly designed, and obsessed with one issue, in this case crime.
Colón, Chavez, Lewis, and Johnson are almost single issue candidates if you read what they’ve said about themselves. All of them paint a picture of Albuquerque as something of hell hole of crime and mayhem. They try to water it down by promoting “jobs,” but there’s more scare in their messages than fully developed agendas of policies for the future. Susan Wheeler Deichsel is running a campaign that’s based mostly on her acumen and success as a business person. All five seem to have a diminished perspective of what’s possible for a mayor to accomplish. But go to their sites and see for yourself. And if you return in a few weeks maybe they will have added new perspectives to their agendas.
It’s a big mistake, I think, for candidates to assume voters are only interested in cops and crime prevention. We all have a lot more on our minds than that. As a police reporter in l960s, it seems to me the bad old days were every bit as violent as the bad new days. It’s just that the city was much smaller and hope was much higher then.
The candidates that interest me the most so far are Keller, Garcia Holmes, and Pedrotty, all three Albuquerque natives. Their interests cover a good range of reality in our city. And they have a sense of the future challenges and conditions that threaten New Mexico and the Southwest.
Keller’s website, while a little disorganized, is chock full of critical issues and ideas that run the gamut from Albuquerque Rapid Transit, APD, crime (of course), community policing, solar energy and the arts, to behavioral health, job creation, LGBTQ issues, public schools, gun violence, and the environment. He has a point of view on around 50 issues, displaying a thoughtfulness and serious concern that few people running for mayor have mustered over the years. In the background of his campaign is his extremely active first two years in office as State Auditor. He’s initiated dozens of actions from auditing a water deal in the city of Jal, audits of the Department of Higher Education and the UNM Athletic Department, and an audit of Bernalillo Public Schools to an audit of Northern New Mexico College, the city of Moriarty, and a special audit of UNM’s hospital’s indigent care program.
Michelle Garcia Holmes site is also a bit hard to follow though well written. As a former APD detective and chief of staff in the Attorney General’s office, she has serious credentials. She links violent crime and property crime with job suppression and says they are “literally killing Albuquerque’s chances for economic growth.” Her concerns go from stopping child predators and human trafficking, and starting an anti-methamphetamine education campaign to organizing a prescription drug summit, building a multipurpose arena in downtown, and partnering with the national laboratories to help technology entrepreneurs. Hers is a serious perspective as well, but one that’s missing key ingredients like water conservation, atmospheric heating and the environment, and cultural issues.
Gus Pedrotty is in his 20s. This is first run for office. And he’s giving it a serious and very intelligent effort. A scientist and musician, he recently graduated from UNM.
His views and issues cover the waterfront including supporting teachers, putting public education first, galvanizing Albuquerque arts organizations and creating a medium sized arts-plex, creating neighborhood empowerment, bringing biotech and solar industries to Albuquerque, taxing polystyrene products, protecting the environment of the South Valley, marijuana decriminalization, getting a new police chief and restructuring emergency services, creating boards to oversee the protection of our surface and underground water supply, and helping to end veteran homelessness among many others. Pedrotty is running a compassionate and thoughtful campaign. We should not allow ageism to discount him.
While I’m impressed with some campaigns I would like these next 10 weeks to see debates about the new Comprehensive Plan and new zoning code, the proposed Santolina development and the scourge of zombie developments in the city, clean up of the gigantic Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill and the Sandia Labs mixed waste landfill, which is very toxic and radioactive, how to make A.R.T. work, getting serious about aquifer protection and clean up in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, remediating the city’s portion of the atrocious pollution of air, soil and water in the South Valley, strengthening the city’s excellent museum and underfunded library systems, beefing up the recharging of our aquifer, emphasizing the role of public art in our cityscape, bringing some sanity to public transit and the maddening demolition of Central Avenue and adjacent streets, increasing homeless shelters and food supplies from the chronically impoverished.
I’d like to see a candidate commit to joining the over 300 other cities in the country in working to reduce greenhouse gases based on the Paris Climate Accords. It would be excellent to see Albuquerque formally join Tucson in opposing Trump’s boarder wall. The time is ripe for an initiative to support the growth local agriculture. Albuquerque could take a leadership role in creating a consortium of major southwestern cities to brainstorm water conservation and the “creation” of recycled drinking water in the ever overheating and drying American desert heartland.
There’s still time to turn this election into an event that enlivens, inspires, and activates our citizenry. If our country isn’t going to fall apart, it’s likely to be up to local politicians, bureaucrats, and voters to start the small-scale, collective, placed-based actions that add up to big changes across the country.
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*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it