Tucked away in a small corner of Siembra Leadership High School, mayoral candidates Timothy “Tim” Keller and Daniel “Dan” Lewis squared off in a not-so-typical debate — with a spicy twist.
Unlike previous debates, the two candidates would have no interaction with each other whatsoever. Instead, each would spend around 45 minutes being interviewed separately by Rachel Higgins, a local attorney.
But this seemingly standard forum did came with a unique spin: every question would be preceded by the candidate trying a local salsa, with increasing levels of spice.
Mark Fine of Dukes Up, the organization behind the forum, said the purpose of the salsa was to help the candidates “engage in loose and spontaneous conversation,” something which rarely comes through during highly rehearsed debates.
The event was originally scheduled to be held in the University of New Mexico SUB Ballroom. However, a few days prior, the location was moved due to the SUB not allowing “off-campus salsa,” according to a Dukes Up email.
The SUB maintains of forbidding outside vendors from bringing their products to on-campus events. All food must be provided through catering supplied by the school.
State Auditor Tim Keller was the first to be interviewed. It soon became clear that the loose and spontaneous nature of the interview would extend to the questions themselves, many of them dealing with the candidates’ lives outside of politics.
For example, in response to a question about the best heavy metal show he saw, Keller said, “Machine Head at Sunshine (Theater), that was about nine months ago. It was an amazing show.”
Many questions, though, did relate to the many issues facing Albuquerque, including potential problems.
Higgins posed a hypothetical scenario to Keller, asking him what city resources he would implement if a speaker like Richard Spencer were to speak at UNM.
Keller did not provide a clear position, citing his lack of experience in managing crowd control and events hosted by universities. He instead condemned the actions and beliefs of Spencer, while stating the situation would be better handled by the University.
“In my opinion, a mayor shouldn’t be meddling with guest speakers,” Keller said. “But for me, as mayor, he is not welcome here.”
Keller was also questioned about pollution in the city, and how it can disproportionately affect the poorest citizens the most. He reflected on his time as state senator for the International District as an example.
“(The International District) still has less lighting than any other part of town. I could not get medians in the International District,” he said.
Keller further explained how the poorest neighborhoods in the city often get significantly less funding than other, wealthier parts.
As for his spice tolerance, Keller held his own until the very last sauce, where he could barely answer a question about his favorite books due to the heat.
Up next was City Councilman Dan Lewis, who arrived at the high school straight from a city council meeting.
Lewis was a bit more sensitive to the spice, often having to drink some milk or dry the tears in his eyes in order to relieve himself.
Still, his answers were much cooler than the salsa. Lewis found ways of inserting talking points into the questions, in much the same way that Keller did.
The city councilman was also asked about pollution and climate change, specifically what his children think of it and how he plans to tackle the problem as mayor.
Lewis said that his family often discussed the need to not be wasteful and the importance of sustainability. He referenced a bill he helped pass that required that every house in the city had a recycling bin.
“When you put that recycling can out each week, you feel proud,” he said.
Stepping into the realm of national discussions, Higgins asked Lewis for his thoughts about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, and if he thought it was disrespectful.
“I don’t know what their motives are,” Lewis said. “I don’t like seeing that, but I don’t want to question their motives. I think there are more effective ways of protesting.”
Many football players, most notably former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have made headlines kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against African-Americans.
Lewis also received a number of more personal questions, including how his experience as a pastor could translate to the mayor’s office.
“It’s shown me how you could build something from nothing. It’s all about helping people,” Lewis said.
Lewis, an entrepreneur and businessman, was asked which city Albuquerque should try modeling itself after, besides Denver. He pointed to one of the largest cities in the Southwest as a prime example.
“Phoenix has been very proactive in its infrastructure. It is a city that’s attracting business from California,” he said, emphasizing a need to make Albuquerque a more business-friendly city.
The interviews, conducted on Wednesday, Oct. 25, will be posted on YouTube in around two weeks. The filming was performed by students from the Digital Art and Technology Academy in Albuquerque.
Early voting for the mayoral election is open now until Nov. 10. Election day will take place on Nov. 14.
Kyle Land is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Kyleoftheland.