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Four Albuquerque City Council seats are up for grabs, along with its partisan balance

Albuquerque City Council districts. Four of the nine seats are up for election on Nov. 7, 2023, with only one incumbent running for reelection.
Courtesy City of Albuquerque
Albuquerque City Council districts. Four of the nine seats are up for election on Nov. 7, 2023, with only one incumbent running for reelection.

Next month’s election will reshape the Albuquerque City Council, with four of the nine seats up for grabs. How it shakes out could make or break Democratic Mayor Tim Keller’s ability to follow through on his agenda. The last council election saw it inch to the right — a balance that could be bolstered or reversed with two seats held by Democrats and two held by Republicans on the ballot.

Technically, city races are nonpartisan. But councilors, the mayor and candidates often have meaningful party affiliations. Mayor Tim Keller, for instance, is a Democrat. So, when the council became more conservative last year, the mayor’s agenda became harder to accomplish.

Following the 2021 election, Democrats moved from having a two-thirds majority with six seats to a 5/4 majority, with Republican Dan Lewis defeating Democratic incumbent Cynthia Borrego in District 5. Additionally, District 1 on Albuquerque’s Westside became more conservative when Democrat Louis Sanchez ousted the more progressive Lan Sena, who Keller had appointed to the position in 2020.

This council has rehashed some of Keller’s policies, including repealing a ban on plastic bags. It also debated the zero-fares bus pilot program started January 1, 2022, for months, eventually electing to keep the program with stepped-up security. KRQE-TV reports a proposal to make the program permanent is scheduled to be heard next month.

The upcoming election on Nov. 7 will determine if the partisan balance of the council reverses course in Keller’s favor, stays only slightly left leaning, or becomes even more conservative.

Bassan hopes to hold on to District 4

Republican Brook Bassan of District 4 in the Northeast Heights is the only incumbent running for reelection. Democrat Abby Foster is looking to unseat the first-term councilor and reprise the party’s supermajority.

Both candidates told the League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico that their top priority is reducing crime. While both property and most violent crime in the city fell last year, according to Albuquerque Police Department statistics, homicides increased to an all-time high.

Bassan told the league that her tough-on-crime approach includes supporting law enforcement and increasing arrests.

“I will support the end of catch and release, the return of pre-trial detention, strengthening three strikes laws, continuing warrant roundups, and revisiting the details of being an immigrant-friendly city,” she wrote in the League’s candidate questionnaire.

She’s endorsedby the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association.

Foster also expressed support for increasing the number of cops and arrests.

“We know that more officers in the community have a deterrent effect on crime. Reducing gun violence is key—as is making sure criminals face swift and certain punishment,” she wrote.

Studies over the years have not shown that the size or budget of a police force reliably predicts local crime rates. A 2016 review of 62 studies between 1971 and 2013 concluded, “the overall effect size for police force size on crime is negative, small, and not statistically significant.”

However, Foster also spoke to alternative approaches to reducing crime, including growing the city’s crisis response department, Albuquerque Community Safety. She also advocates for addressing upstream issues that impact crime rates, like making drug treatment more accessible.

Increasing housing and reducing gun violence are also top-of-mind for Foster, according to her campaign website.

Districts 2, 6 and 8 are open seats

Democrats Issac Benton of Downtown’s District 2 and Council President Pat Davis of District 6, spanning Nob Hill and the International District, are stepping aside, as is Republican Trudy Jones of District 8, in the Northeast foothills.

Davis told the Albuquerque Journal that he’s not running for a third term because he has “a lot of other things going on.” He runs a cannabis consulting firm and also owns several local newspapers.

District 6 has the most crowded race with four candidates. Though with all Democrats vying to replace Davis, this race won’t impact the council’s partisan balance.

The District 2 seat Benton has held since 2005 could move politically. Though no Republican is running for it, an Independent is in the race. Benton told the Journal that he’s ready to move on from holding public office. "(It's) time to turn it on over to someone else who has the appetite to get it done,” he told the newspaper in March.

Meanwhile, District 8, which has been a conservative voice on the council for Jones’ four terms and several before that, could also change hands politically with a Republican and Democrat vying for the seat. Jones joked to the Journal last year that she’s stepping aside because she’s “old and grumpy.”

District 6

Democrats Kristin Ravin Greene, Jeff Hoehn, Abel Otero and Nichole Rogers will go up against each other in November without a primary to whittle them down, since the election is nonpartisan.

Rogers and Otero both cited poverty as their top priority were they to be elected, according to the League of Women Voters questionnaire, seeing it as an underlying cause of crime and homelessness.

“Too many families don't have what they need to survive, much less thrive,” wrote Rogers. The policy advocate and community organizer proposes a guaranteed income pilot program to boost families out of poverty. On her campaign site, Rogers identifies herself as a Black and Hispanic single mother and survivor of abuse. “I know what it takes to make ends meet, to struggle for a safe home for your family, and to navigate social systems,” she wrote.

Otero, who lists “leading with compassion” as a priority on his campaign website, wrote that poverty leads to criminal activity and poor health because it “increases desperation through lack of opportunity.” The barbershop owner says he’d like to back initiatives to boost employment, particularly in the International District, where a disproportionate number of the district’s residents are living in poverty.

Greene, who goes by Raven Del Rio but will appear on the ballot with her legal name, has economic development in her own neighborhood of the International District at the top of her to-do list, as well. “Systemic neglect over the past five decades has created the dereliction we see today," she said in a campaign video. She proposes economic investment in the district beyond social services, like the mayor’s Gateway Center. “We need amenities, we need groceries, we need walkable streets and green spaces,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hoehn named crime and homelessness as his top concerns. His crime proposals lean heavily on police and policing technology to get that done. “I advocate instituting short-term APD mobile command units in high crime areas,” he wrote. “We must be strategic so that officers can spend their time preventing and addressing crime. Technology such as speed cameras has a role to play also.”

On Hoehn’s campaign site, the executive director of Cuidando Los Niños — a shelter and school for homeless children — advocates for reducing homelessness by expanding the Albuquerque Community Safety Department and scattering shelters. “We should build a series of small site shelters for specific communities that are less disruptive to neighborhoods and account for the fact that some people experiencing homelessness are not comfortable staying in a shelter with hundreds of beds,” he wrote. The approach would differ from the city’s large shelters at the Gateway Center and Westside Emergency Housing Center.

District 2

Democrats Loretta Naranjo Lopez and Joaquin Baca are up against Independent Moises Gonzalez for Benton’s seat that covers Downtown Albuquerque.

All three identified housing and homelessness as their top priority, with Naranjo Lopez and Baca adding crime to their answers to the League of Women Voters.

Both Democrats want to see the city better address behavioral health to free up law enforcement to focus on violent crime.

“I will work closely with law enforcement agencies, advocate for community policing, support mental health and addiction services, and collaborate with local organizations to provide sustainable housing solutions,” Naranjo Lopez, a 15-year veteran of Albuquerque’s City Planning Department, wrote.

Baca, a hydrologist and military veteran, wants to see more mixed-income housing, which he says can be paid for through pursuing public/private partnerships.

Gonzalez also wants to increase housing options in the district, but emphasized permanent housing as most crucial. “The city continues to pursue a continuum of care model that attempts to stitch together services and provides emergency shelter but fails to provide adequate permanent housing,” he wrote in the questionnaire. The documentary filmmaker and former teacher suggests following “housing first” models, where people are stabilized in permanent housing before addressing other critical needs like income or substance use treatment, to get that done.

The only non-Democrat on the District 2 ballot, Gonzalez said on his campaign site that the election is “meant to be nonpartisan,” and encouraged collaboration. ”As the saying goes, there are no Republican or Democratic potholes,” he wrote.

District 8

As longtime council conservative Trudy Jones elects not to run for a fifth term, voters along the northeast foothills will decide between Idalia Lechuga-Tena, a Democrat, and Daniel Champine, a Republican, in a head-to-head match.

Both candidates identified crime as the top priority for the council post, and both see additional police with better support as the way to get there.

Retired APD officer Champine advocates “to end the revolving door that is catch and release,” according to the League of Women Voters. On his campaign site, he said the city has been “taken over” by a “culture of lawlessness,” adding that he believes, “the lack of support for our officers by the current political leadership has created an exodus of officers leaving the Albuquerque Police Department and made recruiting extraordinarily difficult.”

Former state legislator Lechuga-Tena also believes in increasing the city’s police force to fight crime, and advocates for community policing strategies to “build a trust-based relationship between officers and residents,” according to her campaign site. To her, officer support means “advancement opportunities and higher pay.”

She also wants to bring a diversion program to the metro that she described as, “a one-stop shop for addiction, psychiatric services for homeless people with acute mental illnesses who are in the criminal justice system or at risk of entering it.” The mayor’s Gateway Center initiative has similar goals.

What's next

Election day is Nov. 7, 2023. Early voting is already underway at County Clerks’ offices and expands to more locations on Saturday, Oct. 21.

Any candidate who doesn’t receive more than 50% of votes will compete in a runoff in December. With more than two candidates running for seats in Districts 2 and 6, votes have a higher likelihood of getting spread thin in those races.

The other five city council seats are up for election in 2025.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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