Editor's Note: This article originally stated the candidates visited UNM on Saturday. That is incorrect — the event occurred on Thursday, Sept. 28. The Daily Lobo apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.
Several mayoral candidates came to the University of New Mexico campus on Thursday, Sept. 28 in the Student Union Building for a final forum before the Tuesday, Oct. 3 election.
Timothy “Tim” Keller, Augustus “Gus” Pedrotty, Michelle Garcia Holmes, Daniel “Dan” Lewis, Susan Wheeler-Deichsel and write-in candidate Stella Padilla participated in the forum. Brian Colón gave an introduction but left early due to scheduling conflicts.
The forum was hosted by the Associated Students of UNM and a University political science class. ASUNM Vice President Sally Midani and UNM law student Zachary Quintero moderated the event.
Candidates were chosen two-at-a-time at random and took the stage to answer a randomly selected question submitted by students.
Joshua Reeves, left, embraces mayoral candidate Augustus “Gus” Pedrotty on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2017 after the mayoral debate forum at the SUB ballroom.
Audience members were given cards with a picture of a red chile on one side and a green chile on the other. At the end of each round, the moderators asked the audience to express what they thought of each candidate’s answers by lifting the card into the air — a green chile symbolizing their approval and a red chile indicating that the candidate’s ideas need more work.
Students’ questions addressed police reform, the homelessness problem, education, jobs, immigration, crime and other topics.
Student Emily Hartshorn said she learned a lot from the forum.
“I thought it was interesting,” she said. “It definitely helped me decide a little more. I liked the formatting a lot, it was definitely better than the average debate format where you don’t get to ask questions that matter to you.”
Hartshorn said she was especially happy to hear the candidates discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals resolution, immigration and their view on sanctuary cities.
Having followed the race closely, Hartshorn said she was originally leaning toward Tim Keller. But during the forum, she was impressed by Pedrotty, a recent UNM graduate, and said she’s now conflicted between the two candidates.
“Gus definitely showed up and showed off tonight,” Hartshorn said.
Pedrotty spoke about the spark that originally got him passionate about politics: the shooting of homeless man James Boyd by APD officers in 2014. He went to a large demonstration near UNM where protesters faced off against riot police, and Pedrotty was tear-gassed.
“It made me ask what a citizen’s responsibility is to their city, and what a city’s responsibility is to its citizens,” Pedrotty said. “Traditional government structure and organizing didn’t really interest me. I think politics is when you see a community need and try to fix it with a community solution.”
On stage, he told the story of announcing his bid for mayor in front of one of his classes. No one took him seriously, and he was laughed at, he said, but he didn’t let it discourage him. He received some of the most passionate applause out of all the other candidates for his answers.
“I don’t run or ask for your vote because I’m young, but because all the other ideas are too old,” Pedrotty said.
Candidate Dan Lewis said the most overlooked problem in Albuquerque is heroin use and discussed a bill he sponsored in City Council to have every police unit carry naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse an opiate overdose.
“We haven’t done enough to work with other agencies to really attack (this problem) and wipe it out here in Albuquerque,” Lewis said.
Susan Wheeler-Deichsel also described her entrance into politics, when she got involved in community organizing to revitalize a community grocery store. She made the pitch that students should vote for her because she isn’t a politician.
Tim Keller, who was leading in the polls at the time of publication, laid out his vision for citizen involvement in every area of city politics.
“I do not believe the mayor should be telling anyone what to do,” Keller said. “I believe that the best mayor we can have is someone who listens. I want to set up a city that runs different. It runs from the bottom up.”
Former police detective Michelle Garcia Holmes was focused on the crime problem in Albuquerque and ending government corruption.
“Making public safety a priority, in my mind, is bringing our number of police officers up to 1,000. We’re budgeted for 1,000, let’s get up to 1,000,” she said.
Election Day is Tuesday, Oct. 3, and there will be a polling location in the Student Union Building. Based on polling, there is expected to be a runoff election in November between the two candidates who receive the most votes on Tuesday.
Jonathan Baca is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JonGabrielB.