City Council elections don’t usually draw the same massive crowds as statewide or national elections do, but they’re arguably just as important. These are the folks who offer a check to the mayor’s powers and make decisions in matters such as short-term rentals, whether we all should have to pay for the bus or, you know, whether we should build a shiny, new soccer stadium.
This year’s election is far from breaking any records for being the most contentious in local history, but there was enough dirt digging and mudslinging to keep us all either enraged, entertained or both.
But now the fun is over. The dust has settled and districts have a clear winner and one is set for yet another election.
With one conservative-leaning incumbent keeping her seat and a tough-on-crime newcomer who campaigned on less regulation for businesses and eliminating taxes, the council will likely see a shift in political alliances, which could also mean a tough road for Mayor Tim Keller’s administration and its goals moving forward.
Early and absentee voters seemed to be nearly equally divided between incumbent City Councilor Brook Bassan and her opponent Abby Foster. Initial early voting results showed barely a percentage point between the two, but Election Day votes put Bassan ahead of Foster by about 150 votes. Foster, in a questionnaire from The Paper., says the most pressing issue for District 4 is “no question” crime and that she would like to see more investments in public safety and more readily-available addiction treatment.
“We must invest in neighborhood policing, reduce drug addiction, fund and make treatment more readily available, and fully fund our police, fire and Albuquerque Community Safety (ACS) departments,” she says. “We know that more officers in the community have a deterrent effect on crime.”
Bassan did not respond to the questionnaire, but she has historically pushed back against the Keller administration’s proposals and she regularly finds herself in alliances with other politically conservative councilors, which often create roadblocks to Keller’s pet projects.
District 4 was a close second for having the most drama. With only one challenger, all of the negative attention was slung in Bassan’s direction. First, Bassan’s flub on what kind of degree she received came to light—she has an associate degree in criminal justice, not a bachelor’s degree. Then one of her constituents filed an ethics complaint against Bassan after it was discovered that her policy analyst had registered to vote at Bassan’s address but kept a mailing address outside District 4. The analyst later said she had moved in with Bassan as a result of a personal matter and had no intention of voting in District 4.
Former cop and current small business owner Dan Champine will take the District 8 reins from Councilor Trudy Jones, who did not run for reelection. Champine won by almost 10 percentage points over his opponent Idalia Lechuga-Tena. Champine ran on opposing tax increases and “wasteful pork projects,” a crack-down on “homeless tent encampments” and reducing regulatory barriers for businesses.
Although Jones often sided with business interests and had a conservative view on many issues, her votes often transcended politics, making her an occasional trusty ally to both progressive councilors and the Keller administration.
In September, for example, Jones ultimately broke with conservative councilors to uphold a Keller veto aimed at allowing safe outdoor spaces. Jones earlier this year also sponsored legislation that aligned with Keller-backed housing initiatives.
Candidates Nicole Rogers and Jeff Hoehn will face off in a runoff election next month, thanks to a city election provision that requires winners to get at least 50 percent of the votes. Rogers finished with about 40 percent of the votes and Hoehn had about 32 percent.
Rogers, who until recently worked at the City of Albuquerque’s Equity Inclusion office, racked up endorsements from progressive groups such as the local Working Families Party and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. She made housing access, public safety reform and combating poverty major planks of her campaign. Hoehn, a nonprofit executive director, ran on improving economic development in the International District, improving public safety and expanding homeless outreach. He snagged endorsements from the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association and the Albuquerque Journal’s editorial board.
The race for District 6 was hands down, the wildest of the bunch. What was already a crowded race to replace outgoing City Council President Pat Davis* and was all but guaranteed to result in a special run-off election, turned into quite the show.
Local businesses owner Abel Otero quickly snagged Davis’ endorsement, and Otero’s backstory probably would have given him an advantage in the mostly left-leaning district that includes the city’s International District. Otero proudly shared his story of addiction and incarceration until an Albuquerque Journal story highlighted that there is no record of Otero ever serving time. Otero’s explanation: Because of abuse as a child, he convinced himself he had been to prison. The story came out after early voting ballots were printed with Otero’s name, so Otero couldn’t exactly drop out of the race. Davis pulled his endorsement but held off backing anyone else until the expected run-off election. Otero said he planned to vote for himself and urged any voters who couldn’t stomach voting for him to cast a ballot for Rogers. Even with Otero essentially bowing out, he received about 10 percent of the votes
Kristin “Raven” Greene, an independent contractor and a longtime resident of the International District, ran on similar issues as her opponents, but also stressed the importance of elevating visibility of the “forgotten” parts of District 6. Greene garnered nearly 20 percent of the votes.
*Davis is part owner of The Paper., but has no editorial control.
Joaquin Baca will take over as councilor for District 2 after he handily won the election by more than 25 percentage points over both of his opponents. Baca boasted a long list of endorsements by progressive organizations, unions and high-profile politicians like outgoing Councilor Isaac Benton, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury. Baca is a military veteran, former teacher and currently a hydrologist who ran on reducing crime through community policing, combatting homelessness and addiction through funding the city’s Gateway Center and increasing affordable housing by creating a housing authority.
“To build more housing, we need more public/private partnerships that leverage federal, local and private dollars for homes, parking and transit,” Baca says in a questionnaire from The Paper.
After nearly two decades serving Downtown and parts of the North Valley, Benton opted to not run again for his District 2 seat. Benton has largely made public safety, affordable housing and economic development his priorities while in office. He also had a hand in revamping the Albuquerque Rail Yards and restoring the historic El Vado Motel and surrounding property—which now includes an outdoor food court.
Loretta Naranjo-Lopez, who got about 24 percent of voters’ approval, didn’t respond to questions from The Paper. but told the Albuquerque Journal that her biggest priorities would have been public safety—which she said could be improved with more police—and increased funding for affordable housing and homeless shelters. Naranjo-Lopez’s name also hit headlines earlier this year thanks to a public dust-up over allegations that she tried to misuse money as a member of a public employee retirement board—which probably didn’t help when folks looked up her name online.
Documentary filmmaker and former teacher Moises Gonzales nearly tied with Naranjo-Lopez. He ran heavily on public safety reform, increasing public transportation and affordable housing initiatives and made ¡No podemos esperar! His campaign slogan. In a questionnaire from The Paper., Gonzales named homelessness as the biggest issue that needs to be addressed in District 2 and “mixed-income housing” as the way to fix it.