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One thing is for certain, Manny Gonzales knows how to run and win elections. In 2018 Republican Lou Golson challenged that Gonzales wasn’t doing enough to fight crime. But plenty of people disagreed. Bernalillo County had just 46 percent Democratic registration in 2018, but Gonzales won with 55 percent of the vote. That was six points better than Gonzales had done against the Republican in the 2014 election.

In other words, when it comes to crime, a lot of voters seem to think Manny Gonzales is doing just fine–and that is exactly the issue Gonzales is likely to run on if he challenges Tim Keller for mayor.

Four years ago Keller laid the responsibility to address crime on the next mayor. In a line we are sure to hear on infinite loop in campaign commercials against him, Keller told voters at the time, “It’s unfortunate, but crime is absolutely out of control. It’s the mayor’s job to actually address crime in Albuquerque, and that’s what I want to do as the next mayor.”

Add to that the “catastrophic failure” of APD reform efforts under Keller. “We are on the brink of a catastrophic failure at APD,” Dr. James Ginger, the DOJ police reform monitor told the federal court late last year. “[The department] has failed miserably in its ability to police itself. If this were simply a question of leadership, I would be less concerned. But it’s not. It’s a question of leadership. It’s a question of command. It’s a question of supervision.”

But the fact is Albuquerque’s crime picture hasn’t changed all that much under Keller and, according to one local pollster, that’s a big factor in how people perceive the mayor.

“Crime is still lurking as the biggest issue facing the city, and whether people ultimately will continue to approve of the mayor’s performance will ultimately be determined by how he’s perceived as handling crime,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., to the Albuquerque Journal last year.

Whether he runs or not, Gonzales is working hard to position himself as a Democrat who will put crime-fighting above politics. It’s a strategy that just might work if Gonzales can consolidate Republicans and moderate Democrats.

In 2019 Gonzales began deploying deputies to Albuquerque city neighborhoods normally patrolled by APD. Though the sheriff is technically elected by all county voters, his predecessor had focussed mostly on unincorporated areas and left the city to APD. Gonzales had a different approach. He began attending neighborhood association meetings deep in the International District and began holding press conferences promoting arrests his deputies were making on APD beats.

“At the repeated requests and pleas of parents, business owners and community members, BCSO has been conducting ongoing operations in high-crime areas like Southeast Albuquerque,” Gonzales wrote to the Albuquerque Journal. “I will not give up on our movement to re-stabilize the city,” he added.

It was a direct assault on APD and Keller’s leadership on crime, and those types of actions are earning Gonzales fans. “Thanks Manny for being the leader Albuquerque needs in this time,” one Facebook fan wrote in reply to the sheriff’s posting of that letter online.

By January 2020 Gonzales was getting serious. During an appearance with TJ Trout on KKOB radio, the sheriff said this: “My intentions are to do it, to officially announce sometime this coming year, and when I do, I told you, you would be one of the first to hear.”

A short time later, a Facebook group popped up titled, “Recruit Manny Gonzales III for Mayor of Albuquerque.” To date it only has a few posts, and the most popular one only got three likes. But it’s the telltale sign of political operatives testing the waters and messaging, just in case.

In July, he appeared at the White House with President Trump to promote a program sending federal agents to target unnamed criminals. A month later Trump named Gonzales in a tweet, an honor highly coveted but rarely granted, even to Trump’s most ardent Republican supporters. The backlash from Democrats was swift, but Gonzales reveled in the attention.

Will he or won’t he? Only Manny knows for now, but voters like Patrick Perea are watching closely. “Great job sheriff! I’m not sure I’ll vote for you for mayor, but like the idea of you being sheriff forever!,” Perea replied on Facebook in response to a post about a potential Mayor Manny.

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