By Sterling Fluharty
— The campaign funds are flowing in Albuquerque. That money will be used to send mailers, contact voters by phone, make radio and television commercials, and deploy staff in neighborhoods. The contenders will work to get their messages out on all fronts. Here’s a look at two of the issues proving to be hot topics in this year’s mayoral race:
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in early January that Albuquerque lost more jobs in 2012 than any other city in the United States. When talking about the local economy, mayoral candidate Paul Heh referenced a Forbes article: “If you’re going to start a business or buy a home,” he paraphrased, “don’t do it in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Heh said he wants Albuquerque to go after businesses and become the “comeback kid.”
During a press conference earlier this month, Democratic candidate Pete Dinelli said Mayor Richard Berry has “failed to offer any kind of economic plan to turn our economy around.” Other metropolitan areas are recovering from the recession, but Berry has blamed state and federal policy for Albuquerque’s economic stagnation, Dinelli said. These comments, he added, have “an adverse effect on being able to bring jobs to the Albuquerque area.”
Berry said at a local GOP meeting that the city needs to be more competitive to attract jobs. Berry praised Gov. Susana Martinez for signing HB 641 into law, which reformed the state’s tax code and will lower the corporate tax rate. “For the first time since I’ve been the mayor,” Berry said, he can now tell corporations and entrepreneurs “Albuquerque is a competitive place.”
Margaret Aragon de Chavez agreed that “the job of the mayor is to sell their city” and to “find the businesses that are looking at relocating.” The candidate said Berry is doing the “political sexy thing” by proposing to fill 160 city jobs but added, “That should have been happening throughout his tenure.” She said she also wants to look at the cost of filling city jobs and employing even more people in part-time positions.
The Police Crisis
Since 2010, city police have shot 25 people, killing 18. One such fatal shooting, involving an Iraq war veteran named Kenneth Ellis III, will cost Albuquerque $10.3 million a jury decided in March. The city might appeal the verdict.
Heh, a retired police sergeant, said the Albuquerque Police Department has at times been his second home. “We were rated in the Top 10 by the FBI in the United States,” he recalled. But today’s department is broken, and Berry allowed Police Chief Ray Schultz to drag it down, Heh said. The U.S. Department of Justice announced its investigation into APD in November.
Dinelli, the city’s former public safety director, has also joined the attack on APD leadership: “The public safety departments are in complete meltdown.” Schultz has announced that he will retire, probably sometime in July. Dinelli said it should happen sooner: “I believe Chief Schultz needs to step down immediately so we can commence the healing process.”
Aragon de Chavez also said Schultz needs to go. She said the city should review “qualified people within the rank and file” at APD before commencing a national search for his replacement. Albuquerque’s cops need de-escalation skills, she said. Aragon de Chavez also recommended a “professional sabbatical” for police officers to “help with burnout.”
Berry’s website lauds a decrease in crime. “We’ve brought the FBI crime rate to the lowest level in a decade,” he said. Federal statistics show Albuquerque’s crime rate is lower than when he took office almost four years ago. In his November State of the City address, Berry also talked about implementing the Real Time Crime Center, which provides information about the parties involved, the history of the address and more over dispatch. It “will help officers make better and more informed decisions prior to arriving at the scene.”
Getting the Message Out
Aragon de Chavez expects to roll out her website this week. Berry has a campaign website, which lists his accomplishments and invites people to join his team and make donations, but it does not provide his positions. Heh’s website outlines his agenda for the city and provides contact information and ways to volunteer with the campaign, but the donation button is not yet working. The campaign website for Dinelli includes biographical information, position statements, ways to get involved and links to social media, but it does not say where his office is located.