Work and life experience become key issues in the ABQ City Council runoff
The runoff for Albuquerque City Council District 6 kicks off Tuesday, Nov. 21, with early voting ahead of the Dec. 12 election. The four-way race for the seat has become a head-to-head contest between November’s top two finishers, Nichole Rogers and Jeff Hoehn. The candidates are making their cases for why their experience sets them apart.
Rogers came out on top in the Regular Local Election with 40% to Hoehn’s 32% of the vote in the city council district that includes the International District and Nob Hill. Because neither secured more than half of ballots cast, District 6 voters are being asked to head back to the polls to choose between the two Democratic candidates.
As the candidates have narrowed their focus on each other, they’re comparing their experience, each touting their own as the most valuable for city council but, in some cases, even the most valid. That includes their work histories, but also their life experiences and identities.
Rogers is a Black and Hispanic woman who lives on East Central, in the lower-income and more racially and ethnically diverse area of the district. Hoehn is a white man who leads the neighborhood association of Nob Hill, the more affluent area.
At the International District Library, which has served as a campaign headquarters of sorts, Rogers responded to Hoehn urging voters on his website to, “Make sure to check the background and experience of both candidates before casting your vote,” seemingly touting himself as the more qualified candidate.
“I would say he’s the more privileged candidate, clearly,” she said. “I think that my experience is one that is true lived experience of having to navigate tough systems as a woman of color and single mom. There’s a clear line here between the two candidates.”
Rogers said she is better positioned to serve her neighbors in the International District, who are the residents most in need of resources and advocacy.
“You are a better representative when you have the same lived experience of the people you are trying to represent,” she said.
She said improving the lives of the most vulnerable residents would benefit everyone.
Hoehn said he has a working class background and has used his privilege to show up for unhoused people, communities of color, and those in need of support services — and will bring that experience to the council.
“I worked in kitchens and came up alongside those from other countries along the way,” he said. “Look at what I did when I had the opportunity to change my life. I went and I worked alongside and on behalf of those who have struggled in our community everyday.”
He’s now the executive director of Cuidando Los Niños, a nonprofit serving children and families experiencing homelessness. Before that, he led the Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation. He argues that professional experience, along with his master’s degree in public administration, is the more valuable background for a city council candidate to have.
“I think, unfortunately, in this campaign ‘lived experience' has somehow supplanted the idea of actual, real experience,” he said.
He defined “real” experience as education, achievements and “getting results.” He said someone with “real” experience could point to what they’ve “actually done” on behalf of the community.
Rogers, who works as a business and financial consultant, would argue she’s done a lot. She has held positions in the Office of Equity and Inclusion at the City of Albuquerque, staff development at University of New Mexico Hospital, and in the School of Health, Wellness and Public Safety at Central New Mexico Community College.
“All of that experience is exactly the areas we need to have a thriving community,” she said. “We need great health care, we need great education and we need a city government that is aligning its priorities with community priorities.”
She said her work as the City of Albuquerque African American Community and Business Liaison would also give her a head start over Hoehn on the council.
“I’m the candidate who can hit the ground running day one,” she said. “I’m not going to have to take a year to figure out how the city works, build relationships to get results.”
Hoehn has raised concerns over one of Rogers’ professional pursuits — a nonprofit she founded in 2019 to promote health equity for people of color in New Mexico. The Welstand Foundation neglected to file registration forms with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, according to records. It also failed to file the necessary financial disclosure forms with the IRS, resulting in the agency revoking its tax-exempt status.
“In the nonprofit world, we are held to a high level of transparency and honesty — and I hold that as a sacred trust,” said Hoehn. “And I can tell you where every penny goes. I believe my opponent should tell the voters where every penny from her nonprofit went.”
Rogers said she relied on an expert to file the right paperwork for her, and they did not. She said she was glad the errors were brought to her attention during the campaign so she can fix them. She added that she is in the process of getting the correct 990 forms filed with the IRS and is “excited” for voters to see them.
“Because I have nothing to hide,” she said. “But I also am not going to respond to negative campaign attacks. As a woman of color, I take it very personal. To automatically go to that tells me what he feels about my people. And that’s not acceptable.”
She said she never took a salary from the money the foundation brought in. It is not clear if her team will make the forms available to voters before the runoff election ends.