DEBATE: candidates fight over best plan to solve crime
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – Albuquerque’s fight against violent crime and escalating homelessness took center stage on Monday as the three mayoral candidates in New Mexico’s largest city stand are faced off at a forum sponsored by the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative.
Crime has been a top issue for voters as the city faces record-breaking homicides this year. Incumbent Tim Keller, a Democrat, has faced the heat for not being able to contain the problem during his tenure.
Keller tried to defend his record at the forum, saying his administration is tackling the root causes – drug addiction and poverty – through community policing efforts, a new public safety bureau and other initiatives. He said the Albuquerque Police Force is adequately funded and more money needs to be spent on social workers and support programs.
He also hit on Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, claiming crime was his problem as well.
Gonzales, a Democrat, accused Keller of politicizing law enforcement and failing to support city officers. He described the city as “a crossroads of total anarchy” where people no longer feel safe and families choose to relocate.
Republican candidate Eddy Aragon, owner of a radio station and talk show host, said the city was in crisis.
“We need to do what we can to move forward and transform this city,” he said, highlighting growing economic insecurity, drug addiction and mental health issues.
Keller said the challenges are great, but only meaningful solutions will advance the fight against crime and homelessness. He acknowledged that homelessness has worsened in recent years, with the number of people living on the streets more than doubling. He blamed the economic fallout from the pandemic.
Questions for candidates were gathered from the public and advocacy groups which included New Mexico Common Cause, Indivisible Albuquerque, and the Albuquerque Black Economic Security and Solidarity Fund. They touched on everything from the racial and gender makeup of the police department to the city’s housing shortage and policies related to immigrants and refugees.
Keller said the city was ready to accept 300 refugees. Aragon questioned this, saying Albuquerque cannot even accommodate its existing homeless population.
Legal wrangling over public funding during the mayoral race has gained attention in recent weeks, with Gonzales ultimately losing his public funding offer. While questions have also been raised about some of the signatures and $ 5 donations raised by Keller’s campaign, the incumbent has a lot more money in his coffers than his challengers thanks to the public money jackpot, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Aragon, who entered the race in August, is leading a privately funded campaign. He stressed the need to attract more residents and businesses and said he would not support any mandate related to the pandemic.
A union-backed political action committee and a separate PAC powered by the New Mexico United football team are funneling money into Keller’s campaign. Keller is pushing for the city to build a multi-million dollar stadium that would be used by the team.
A question specifically for Keller asked if the city’s $ 50 million share would be better spent on education, tackling crime, or tackling homelessness. He called the proposed stage a long-term investment for families and said the four potential locations for the site had been chosen because “they are just empty spaces.”
Some neighborhoods have expressed concerns about the displacement of residents, gentrification, traffic and noise. Keller said the city would not decide on a final location without a community benefits agreement in place.
Applicants are scheduled to appear Tuesday night at another forum sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. You can watch the debate here: https://addmi.com/e/2021-albuquerque-mayoral-debate-Mk30eOls0f78YutJPHg
This story only fixes the mayor’s reference to possible locations for the stadium as “empty space”, not as open space.