Like pretty much all of these so-called forums, this one was boring, with the eight candidates for mayor saying almost nothing.
The exciting news in Albuquerque is that there was a mayoral candidate forum Tuesday night. The boring news is that there was a mayoral candidate forum.
And if you were one of the more than 559,000 people in the city who didn’t attend, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much.
Like pretty much all of these so-called forums, this one was boring, with the eight candidates for mayor saying almost nothing. Several issued the obligatory, say-nothing opening statement about how long they have lived here, how many hundreds of years their families have been here and how they cared deeply about the city. Some even professed love for the city.
Most of the candidates reverted to their robotic, memorized speeches and actually told an audience of around 150 that they were running for mayor. They could have saved a few seconds of their time because everyone knew they were mayoral candidates.
There’s nothing like telling people obvious information they already know that shouts a lack of leadership and respect.
And like a forum a month ago, none of the candidates appeared to be the bomb thrower this city needs right now.
Think about it. We’re in the midst of a crime epidemic, our economy has been in the tank for 10 years – I repeat, 10 years – young people are leaving for other, more vibrant and safe cities, and there seems to be no sense of urgency among candidates. Yeah, they talk about firing police chief Gorden Eden and getting APD up to 1,200 cops, but they haven’t said how they’re going to pay for those extra cops or what they’ll do with them.
And think of this: the metro area has yet to reach its pre-recession jobs level. That’s right, we have fewer jobs here than we did 10 years ago. And not one of these candidates has anything resembling a coherent and informed plan for economic development.
Why is that? Probably because none of them knows anything about economic development.
The house is burning down and these people are showing up with squirt guns, not high-pressure fire hoses. It’s disconcerting to watch the candidates say nothing about things. You’d think they’d at least get agitated, or pretend to be, about crime and the economy and maybe pound a fist on a table top. But that’s not what we’ve got in this crowd.
To be fair to the candidates, these forums are a very lame format for any kind of thoughtful and thorough political discussion, especially when there are multiple candidates.
Last night, the candidates had two minutes for opening statements and then a minute to 90 seconds to respond to six questions from audience members. The forum lasted 90 minutes.
Here are some takeaways and observations from last night’s candidate forum:
— Something was wrong with Ricardo Chaves, the 81-year-old businessman who is self-financing his candidacy. He stammered through his opening statement, as well as through his answers to questions and definitely was at a loss for words.
It could have been stage fright.
But three hours after the forum ended, Chaves’ campaign issued a news release saying that his lousy performance was the result of stress because of recent threats on his life.
To Chaves’ credit, he actually answered most of the questions directly, unlike the other candidates who often reverted to canned talking points.
For instance, when asked whether they would keep the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project as it is, junk it or change it, Chavez said he had already urged the mayor and the city council to call an immediate halt to the project.
And, Chaves got the most laughs of any candidate.
— Immigration and whether Albuquerque should be a sanctuary city was the most divisive issue. Candidates Michelle Garcia Holmes, Dan Lewis, Wayne Johnson and Chaves were against making Albuquerque a sanctuary city.
Brian Colón, Tim Keller, Gus Pedrotty and Susan Wheeler-Deichsel said they thought Albuquerque should remain an immigrant-friendly city. Pretty much every candidate said that it wasn’t APD’s job to enforce federal immigration laws.
Garcia Holmes seemed to link immigrants to crime, saying, “if someone is going to commit crime here they don’t belong here.”
Johnson echoed those views, saying that immigrants should be “expected to obey our laws.”
Colón fired back saying it was wrong and stereotypical to equate immigrants to crime. “It’s fear-mongering not based on fact,” Colon said.
— Colón got the night’s award for candidate double-speak. Like many of the candidates, he didn’t directly answer a question about whether the city and county police and fire departments should merge. Most of the candidates expressed doubt about the concept and said it should be studied. But Colón had this classic politician’s response:
“I’m slow to say no and slow to move forward.”
There’s a definitive answer.
— Keller made the biggest factual error when he mentioned the city’s auto theft epidemic. While saying that Albuquerque is now the auto theft capital of the nation, Keller said that designation wasn’t based just on a per capital auto theft rate. He said it was also based on pure numbers and in Albuquerque there are more cars stolen than in Los Angeles.
He got it wrong. It is based on a per capital theft rate. Be assured that there are tens of thousands more cars stolen every year in LA than there are here.
— Wheeler-Deichsel apparently wants to tax city residents to the max. In her opening statement, Wheeler-Deischsel complained that city government wasn’t taxing residents enough. She said the city has imposed only 48 percent of the gross receipts, and 41 percent of the property tax rates that it can legally levy.
“We’re leaving $182 million on the table with the GRT,” she said, adding that government wasn’t taking more of our money because it’s “not politically expedient.”
— Very few so-called “real people” showed up. A conservative estimate, based on the tags that people had plastered on their shirts, was that half of the 150 people were part of a campaign. Again, that’s a conservative estimate.
And, it was a geezer’s convention. If it wasn’t for a smattering of younger people who are attached to various campaigns, the average in the room probably would have been 70 years.
The bottom line is that none of these candidates, at least in my opinion, can generate the passion, excitement and detailed, knowledgeable plans and ideas to get the city out of the mess its in. It’s a weak field.
– ART. The candidates were asked whether they would continue the $126 million ART project or change it.
Chaves said he has already demanded that the project be halted in its tracks.
Pedrotty said the city’s transit department has to find a way to improve bus service in other areas of the city and connect north-south routes with ART along Central Avenue. He said the ART platforms in the middle of Central need to be redesigned to reflect the character of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Keller, who provided the most detailed answer, said the city needs to revisit the elimination of hundreds of left-hand turn lanes, think about junking ART’s dedicated bus lanes and possibly running ART’s buses to the airport.
Wheeler-Deichsel said she supported ART and that it would be a “game changer” for the city.
Garcia Holmes said she’d start a “Free after 5 p.m.” program for ART, apparently to allow people to ride the nine-mile route for free.
Johnson accused Lewis of voting three times for ART as a city councilor.
Lewis called ART a “boondoggle,” but didn’t answer the question.
Colón complained that the bus stations along the ART route don’t reflect the character of the surrounding neighborhoods and said, “We can’t rip it out. We have to find a way [to make it work]. Nothing about the project tells our story.”
– When asked where they thought crime begins, none of the candidates blamed crime on criminals.
Colón, Pedrotty, Keller, Wheeler-Deichsel and Garcia Holmes said that crime results from poverty and addiction and that the city needs more programs to address those problems.
Chaves said “crime is out of control” and that the city needs more cops.
Lewis said, “The reason for crime in our city is because we don’t put people in jail.” He said, as he always does, that the criminal justice system is broken and that carjackers are now classified as “low-level, nonviolent offenders.”
Johnson suggested that the city bring in the FBI and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to help APD fight crime.
– When it came to the city’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and what they thought about the reform effort at APD, the candidates basically agreed that the job needed to be finished.
Except Johnson. He said the settlement agreement “made it harder for cops” and that as mayor he would “narrow the scope” of the agreement.
Well, Johnson wouldn’t be able to snap his fingers and do that. The DOJ and the federal court judge overseeing the reform effort would have to agree. And it’s doubtful they would.
And Colón basically accused the independent monitor in the case, James Ginger, of milking the situation for money by saying “there is somebody who has an incentive to not complete the Court Approved Settlement Agreement.”
Then he ripped Ginger, whose five reports to the judge have been highly critical of APD and whose reports have accused APD of sabotaging the reform process.
“In his reports he is very pointed,” Colón said of Ginger. “But in public he’s Mr. Nice Guy.”
Colón apparently doesn’t realize the decision as to when APD is in compliance with the settlement agreement – meaning a contract – that the city signed with the DOJ is up to the judge in the case, not Ginger.
– There was no “winner” of the forum, because it wasn’t a debate. But, 22-year-old Gus Pedrotty basically shamed the other candidates with his energy and passion. He talked fast, which you should do when you’ve only got a minute to answer questions, and was articulate. No “umms” or “ahhs” from him, just passion and a steady stream of words and ideas.
You would think that with trouble this town is in, the other candidates would have had just half the energy that Pedrotty did.
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