Thursday, November 07, 2019

"You Heard It Here First." Keller Preps Re-Elect Bid, Plus: Council Run-Off Election; "Fights Of the Past" Or Accountability? 

Keller Voting
"You can say you heard it hear first." So declared ABQ Mayor Tim Keller on our KANW-FM Election Night broadcast as he announced he will seek a second four year term in 2021. Already? Well, that's how it works these days. Keller is now only two years into the first term that he was elected to in 2017 but wants to send an early signal to potential foes that he is all in for another.

The youthful mayor, who turns 42 this month, is coming off an election win in which voters approved his proposed $14 million homeless shelter.

Unlike past mayors he waded deeply into the city council elections this year, endorsing Councilor Pat Davis who won big, Councilor Ike Benton who will go to a run-off with Zack Quintero and Ane Romero who has a December 10 run-off with Republican Brook Bassan.

Early in his term Keller won council approval of a tax hike to improve public safety, although he had told voters he would ask for their approval but didn't. His problem is the continuing high crime rate. BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales shook up the city political scene when he would not rule out a 2021 run for mayor. There could be others who seize on the issue, if crime remains troublesome. But it won't be easy ousting Keller who won with 62 percent of the vote in '17. No first term ABQ mayor has lost a re-election bid since Jim Baca in 2001.


Councilor Davis says his victory for a second four years on the council shows that the electorate "isn't focused on divisive fights of the past."

He is referring to the controversial ART project on Central Ave. that was one of the biggest public works disasters in the history of the city and which he supported. While Davis dodged the ART bullet, it is still out there.

As we mentioned, Davis' fellow progressive, Councilor Benton, faces a run-off election with opponent Zack Quintero who is sure to continue to hammer at Benton's support of ART as well as the high crime rate that has ABQ ranked at or near the top.

While Davis argues voters want to put the "fights" over these pressing concerns behind them, others argue that it is not about fighting but about accountability. The current council pushed through ART and has presided over historic rates of murder and property crime.

Benton will now be called on to defend his record. Judging by the results of the first round he has a pretty good chance of prevailing. Still, the campaign won't be about putting the "fights of the past" in the rearview mirror but about the duty of the voters to judge the performance and capability of their elected officials. If they don't do that, there's not much sense in having an election.


Benton can't let Quintero consolidate the Hispanic vote in a two way run-off and he's off to a good start in preventing that. The day after the election unsuccessful District 2 hopeful Joesph Griego endorsed Benton:

Councilor Benton has built the relationships that we need to grow, he has committed to me to work on the issues I care about. . . I am proud to join Mayor Keller, Congresswoman Haaland, and Senator Heinrich in supporting Isaac Benton for City Council.

That's the good news for Benton. The bad news? Griego finished last in the six person race Tuesday, garnering just 5.76 percent of the vote.


Our ABQ election coverage took up several weeks of blog space and some readers in other parts of our enchanted land feel left out. Reader Clara Lopez writes from Las Cruces:

Joe, I've almost stopped reading your blog because of how heavy the coverage of Abq City Council has been. The Las Cruces local elections were really exciting, ranked choice voting debuted, turn out was big, and there were more candidates for mayor than in the last 30 years. Yet not a word about it except a passing mention a month ago. Meanwhile, I know any time someone sneezes in the ABQ city council race. If the 2nd biggest city in the state gets no coverage, no wonder rural new Mexicans get sick of the power concentration up north. Hope that's some food for thought. .

Well, Clara we also covered the Las Cruces election on our Election Day blog. The reason we did not  do more is because the Mayor's race there never was that competitive. Popular Mayor Ken Miyagishima easily won a fourth four year term.

However, we understand your angst and will now get back to covering a broader swath of La Politica. But we have to get up to speed. Is MLG still Governor? And where the heck is Howie Morales, anyway?

Thanks for stopping by this week.

Reporting from Albuquerque I'm Joe Monahan.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Election '19: Turnout Is The Surprise Of The Night, Two Council Run-Offs In Store, All Bonds Pass But Voters Send Message On Some And APS Gets A Reprieve 

2019 BernCo Voters Line Up

There's always a surprise or two on any Election Night and last night was no different in Election '19, except the surprise came with a twist.

The surprise wasn't what happened on the ballot, it was who cast the ballots. Turnout soared in the off-year election to just over 97,000, 24 percent of the 419,000 registered BernCo voters.

BernCo Clerk Linda Stover said the legislature's decision to consolidate city elections with smaller elections--like the APS bonds that once were previously held separately--proved a winner. Then there was the clerk's heavy election advertising and the four contested ABQ city council races that encouraged voting. It was a solid and welcome start to the new system.

As for the election results. . . away we go!

In District 2 Dem ABQ City Councilor Ike Benton easily held off five challengers but because he fell short of 50 percent--coming in at 42--there will be a December 10 run-off for the Valley seat between him and second place finisher Zack Quintero.

That's the good news for Quintero. The bad news is that he lagged Benton by 21 points, finishing with just 21 percent of the vote. While the run-off offers Quintero a second chance it's not a bet you would take running to Santa Ana Casino. Still, if Quintero can lasso the support of the other lagging candidates, including onetime Republican turned independent Connie Vigil who scored 11 percent, he has a shot. If outside groups think there's some Benton blood in the water they could join the fray.

Benton was endorsed by Mayor Keller, Senator Heinrich and Congresswoman Haaland. They will now be called on to help Benton pull out the run-off win.

There was some last hours second-guessing of Benton. In the early voting Benton scored 46 percent but faded to 42 percent when the Election Day vote was tallied. Quintero's messaging over a controversial mailer from a progressive PAC backing Benton may have made a a difference as well as his last minute barrage of mail attacks over Benton's support of ART and his record on crime fighting.


In District 4 in the NE Heights Democrat Ane Romero survived to fight another day, but only barely. Republican Brook Bassan scored 48.97 percent, just shy of the needed 50 percent to avoid a Dec. 10 run-off with Romero who received 42 percent. A third Dem candidate scored 9 percent and Romero will work to get those voters in her column for the run-off.

Some Dems said Romero's campaign missed an opportunity by not hammering Bassan harder over the six party switches Romero said Bassan had made over the years. Romero now has a second shot.

Bassan will be narrowly favored in the rematch because of the Republican lean of the district. GOP voters are seen as more motivated as they work to keep the seat in GOP hands. It has long been held by retiring GOP Councilor Brad Winter.

All in all, it will be a run-off race to watch along with those hot holiday shopping sales.


In District 6 in the SE Heights Dem Councilor Pat Davis had an easy win over challenger Gina Naomi Dennis. Davis won a second four year term 57 to 43. The win was not unexpected as Davis has championed progressive causes favored in the district and Mayor Keller, popular in the district, endorsed Davis. Also, Davis' support of the controversial ART project and his crime fighting record in a city suffering a crime epidemic did not undergo harsh scrutiny by his foe.


In District 8 in the far NE Heights it was a mild surprise when Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones, who had been hammered by the progressive Working Families Party, trounced Dem Maurreen Skowran. It was Jones 57 to 43. Jones will now begin a fourth four year term.

The Bassan and Jones showings were good news for the beleaguered GOP. By finally cutting their losses after their devastating 2018 defeats in big BernCo the party saw a glimmer of hope of holding on to what's left of their fort in 2020.

Dem Councilor Ken Sanchez, who analyzed the races on our KANW 89.1 FM Election night coverage and who supported Jones, attributed her win in part to her ability to work across party lines. Others opined that the progressive groups backing Skowran erred when they introduced Trump into the race. They said that hardened GOP support for Jones rather than helping Skowran. Where were Skowran's attacks on Jones over ART and runaway crime? They asked.


Democracy dollars was a dud with the ABQ electorate, falling to defeat 51 to 49 percent. Sure, it was close but not really. Carla Sonntag, president of the NM Business Coalition, told our KANW audience her group tallied at least a stunning $500,0000 in outside progressive support for the initiative in in kind and cash donations. In that context, it wasn't close.

The proposal would have given each eligible citizen a $25 voucher to contribute to the publicly financed candidate mayoral or council candidates of their choice. It was a gambit to level the playing field with privately financed candidates. But political consultant Sisto Abeyta said on our air that the message was hard to communicate and understand.

Progressives, mainly financed with out of state money, also managed to get a voter initiative for a sick leave ordinance on the city ballot in 2017. It too was narrowly defeated.

On the other hand the proposition to update the city's public financing system by awarding more money to publicly financed council and mayor candidates did pass muster with the voters, winning 58 to 42.


All the city bond issues totaling some $128 million handily passed, but there was a bit of reticence over the $21 million bond package that included $14 million for a homeless shelter. It drew 69.63 percent support, stopping short of the over 70 percent margins many other bonds scored.

Citizens were heard complaining that they feared the 300 person capacity shelter would be in their backyards. But Mayor Keller told the KANW-FM audience last night that realistically there are only five possible locations and that all of them need to be near downtown where many homeless services are already located. Keller and the council will now get to work finalizing a location.


We overlooked this one in our hour long special election report, but there was some payback for the hyper-controversial ART project. The public transportation transit bond won, but only received 58 percent support, far short of what the other bonds received. Voters have been up in arms over the rapid transit plan down Central Ave. and many showed it at the voting booths.

The proposal to renew a quarter cent tax for transportation did not encounter rough waters, The tax, first approved in 1999 won renewal with 65 percent of the vote. However, it won't be up for renewal again. There was no sunset provision on this year's renewal.


And that's not all. Voters sent a message to Mayor Keller and other supporters of renovating the historic ABQ Rail Yards. The Metropolitan Redevelopment Bonds, which included $5 million to clean up the Rail Yards, received just 58.09 percent support, the lowest of all the bond issues.

The city bought the Rail Yards in 2007 but planned development has mostly stalled. The ongoing expense of maintaining and renovating the Yards in hopes of private sector interest, appears to be wearing on voters.


ABQ Public Schools was celebrating Election Night, after suffering a blistering defeat earlier in the year. The second trip to the table with a much leaner bond package--$100 million--than the one that was defeated in February was a winner. Voters also approved the mill levy for APS. The bonds passed with 68 percent support and the mill levy won with 63 percent.

CNM won a vote of community support. The bond for the community college garnered 70 percent support.

Thanks for joining us here today and on the radio last night. The voters say we're not done with Election '19. We have two council run-off elections on tap for December 10. We'll keep you posted.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Election Day '19 Is Here; Campaigns Across State Close Out Today; Early BernCo Turnout Tops 50,000; Join Us for Live Coverage Tonight at 7 P.M. On KANW-FM 

You're invited to join us for ABQ Election Night coverage beginning at 7 p.m. on KANW 89.1 FM ABQ/Santa Fe and at KANW.COM

It's not just ABQ having an election today. Ballots are being cast across the state.

In Las Cruces the excitement has been building over their most crowded mayoral race since 1991--ten candidates are vying for the city's top job, including Mayor Ken Miyagishima who is seeking a fourth, four year term.

He was first elected back in 2007. Have voters tired of him? Former Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace thinks so. He appears to be the top challenger to the mayor but Miyagishima has proven popular. In 2015 he took 51 percent of the vote in a three way race with his closet challenger getting just 33 percent.

There's new twist in the Cruces election. It's the first year that they have ranked choice voting. Voters have the option of choosing multiple candidates and ranking them first, second, third etc. Santa Fe used that method in its most recent mayoral election. It dramatically reduced negative campaigning as everyone wanted to be one of the top choices. Maybe too much. But ranked choice does produce winners and losers. No run-off elections later.

Here in ABQ there is still the run-off system. Tonight there's a chance that two city council contests could be decided in a December 10 run-off election between the two top votegetters in each district.

In District 2, mainly in the ABQ Valley, it's a six way race so a candidate getting to 50 percent and avoiding a run-off is a steep climb. In District 4 in the NE Heights it's a three candidate race. That one could also go to a run-off. Council Districts 6 and 8 each feature only two candidates and will be decided today.

After tonight the political junkies will be clamoring for 2020 election action and they are going to want more nourishing news than this:

Dem NM Senators Udall and Heinrich announced Monday that they have endorsed Dem US Rep. Bern Ray Lujan for the US Senate. A real shocker, that one. You can just see Republican Mick Rich weeping in the corner.

Heinrich's endorsement record hasn't been so hot. He went for Hillary in '16 and in '18 he went for land commission candidate Garrett VeneKlasen who lost in the Dem primary. Today he has three chances to reverse that trend. He has endorsed Councilors Benton and Davis and Dem council candidate Maurreen Skowran. If all three lose, Heinrich's endorsements might replace the newspaper's for being known as the "Kiss of Death." (Too late to take it back, Ben Ray.)


It appears the new state law consolidating a lot of elections previously held separately will boost voter turnout. Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover reports 51,752 votes had been cast early as of late Monday with some more absentees expected today.

There's been a noticeable spike in turnout for the four contested city council races over 2015. We mean noticeable.

In District 2 in the ABQ Valley where Councilor Ike Benton is seeking re-election 5,872 early votes have been cast. In 2015 Benton was unopposed so the total vote then was just 2,631. This is a six way race that could be headed to a run-off.

In District 4 there have been 6,367 early votes cast. In '15 in that NE Heights district all votes cast totaled 4,982. That is a whopping increase in the district being vacated by GOP Councilor Winter. This is a three way race, with Dem And Romero trying to turn the district blue against R Brook Bassan. A third candidate Dem Athena Ann Christodoulou is in as well.

In District 6 in the SE Heights Clerk Stover reports 3,790 early votes. In '15 the total early and Election Day vote was 4,295. Councilor Pat Davis is seeking re-election in the district. He is opposed by attorney Gina Naomi Dennis.

In District 8 in the far NE Heights 8,188 early votes have been cast. In 2015, Republican Councilor Trudy Jones was unopposed and the total vote was only 3,112. She is opposed this year by Dem Maurreen Skowran and that mammoth increase in turnout could bode well for her. The Working Families Party and other progressive groups have targeted the increasingly blue district. We'll see tonight if the R's can keep pace.

There are 418, 867 registered voters in BernCo. If we get about 32,000 votes today that would make for 84,000 and a turnout of 20 percent. That's at the upper end of expectations.

Turnout here has been trending higher in the Trump years. We'll know soon if that holds true for this election.


The campaign closes out today with Election Day voting and the vote count commencing at 7 p.m. We'll do our part as we broadcast ABQ results beginning at 7 p.m. on KANW 89.1 FM ABQ/Santa Fe and KANW.COM. We anticipate having the early BernCo vote--which is expected to make up a majority of the votes cast--sometime in that 7 o'clock hour. The outcome of most if not all the races and ballot issues should be known from those early results so we're preparing for a short evening.

We look forward to having you with us as we welcome to the public radio microphones for insightful analysis City Councilor Ken Sanchez, Carla Sonntag, president of the NM Business Coalition and Valencia County's own veteran Dem political consultant Sisto Abeyta.


We dropped the ball when we said there were only two Hispanic ABQ city councilors on the nine member council in our first blog draft Monday. There are three---Ken Sanchez, Klarissa Pena and the one we forgot--westside Councilor Cynthia Borrego. Come on, Joe, you gotta do better than that tonight. (We will).

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Monday, November 04, 2019

Mailer Mishap: Quintero Labels It Racist As Benton Denounces; Race Changer Or Minor Dust Up? Plus: How You Know When It's Election Time 

Ike Benton's campaign is racing on a a muddy track in the final hours of Election '19 as the ugly charge of racism rings across his ABQ city council district.

The veteran councilor, long favored to take the top spot in the six person field, is still favored but there could be a new element of uncertainty, if he does not garner 50 percent of the vote and is forced into a December 10 run-off with the second place finisher.

The sudden change in track conditions is caused by a PAC's mailer mishap. Suddenly Zack Quintero, Benton's chief rival for the District 2 seat that Benton has held since 2005, is off his oxygen tank and breathing fresh air.

The mailer misfire came from The Progressive PAC, not the Benton campaign. The Progressive PAC is headed by Stephanie Maez who is also the former executive director of ProgressNow NM. She defended the mailer in a KOB-TV interview linked to below.

Quintero immediately pounced and labeled the mailer clearly racist. Others said it was ambiguous and perhaps juvenile but not racist. Nevertheless, the racism charge rang out in the Downtown/Barelas/North Valley District and also across the city. Two of the TV news stations covered the controversy. KOB-TV's report is here. (Well, that link was live Sunday night, but is now gone.) The KOAT report is here.

It could not have come at a worse time for Benton. The news broke Friday, hours before the last day of early voting, traditionally one of the heaviest. And, of course, Election Day is Tuesday when about 40 to 45 percent of the total vote is expected to be cast. Benton quickly distanced himself from the PAC mailer on Facebook but the progressive over reach could not be quieted. (Benton's campaign also came with a "fact check" page on the various campaign ads circulating.)

Until Friday Benton, 68. was coasting as he watched Quintero struggle. The 29 year old's first run for political office has been so lackluster it left observers wondering if Benton might get to 50 percent and avoid a run-off.

That run-off may or may not be more likely now. The question is whether Quintero made up enough ground with this late serendipitous break to influence Election Day voting to tilt more his way and stall Benton.

Insiders, City Hall hangers-on and seasoned Alligators see no problem if Benton comes with at least 42 percent of the vote and must go to a run-off, but a drop further sets off speculation that outside money might take an interest in taking Benton out.

Then there's the Quintero percentage. Even if Ike slides to 40% Zack will have to be within shouting distance. That distance, if you go by the Alligators, is less than double-digits.

So, a minor dust up that is too little and way too late? Or an unforced error that causes Benton major grief?  Stay tuned. . .


The charge of racism in the historic District 2 council seat is especially radioactive for Anglo progressive Benton. It has long been the intent of the council that three or more of the nine districts be represented by Hispanics. For decades Benton's district had Hispanic representation. Currently there are three Hispanics on the nine member council while the city population, according to the July '18 Census estimate, is pushing 50 percent and the city's total majority-minority population is over 60 percent.

Benton has made the district his own--with strong Hispanic support--and there has been little grumbling over Hispanic representation on the council. The mailer on Quintero, which photoshopped tattoos on his arms, threatens to reopen an old wound that could make a run-off downright nasty. Notably, Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the Hispano Roundtable of NM, chimed in on the Quintero mailer:

This kind of mailer has no place in New Mexico politics, it’s a complete misrepresentation of a man.


How do you know it's election time?

First, you get the somewhat unusual news that APD conducted a well-publicized downtown drug sting Oct. 29, arresting six people. Downtown happens to be in Councilor Benton's district. He's been endorsed by Mayor Keller. Benton's opponents paint him as soft on crime.

Then there's the news of the Rail Yards celebrating the opening of a new plaza Saturday. Pretty innocent, right? Well, there's an $8 million bond proposal on the ballot, $5 million of which would go to clean up the historic but dilapidated Rail Yards that critics call a money pit. Mayor Keller is a strong supporter of the Rail Yards renovation.

Finally, you get the speculation that the proposed $14 million homeless shelter might be built in the UNM South Campus area around University Boulevard and Avenida Cesar Chavez. That comes as some citizens complain that they don't want a 300 person capacity shelter in their backyard and want to know where it will be built. Dropping a rumor about where the shelter may be placed could ease the concern of voters as they decide this major Mayor Keller bond initiative.

If the powers-that-be at City Hall come up short on anything tomorrow night, it won't be because they had a shortage of spin doctors.


We'll have Election Night results at 7 p.m on KANW 89.1 FM and KANW.COM. The four city council races will be front and center but we'll also closely watch the $128 million dollars in bonds. Will all pass?

And that Democracy Dollars proposition has become a hot button that will get our attention.

Joining us to keep tabs on the action will be Carla Sonntag, head of the NM Business Coalition, westside City Councilor Ken Sanchez and political consultant Sisto Abeyta.

There's always a surprise or two so join us as we find out together how the voters settle matters.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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