In the first debate before the runoff election, mayoral candidates Tim Keller and Dan Lewis squared off at the Congregation Albert synagogue in Albuquerque.
While the race is technically nonpartisan, it became clear that both candidates were firmly planted on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Dan Lewis, who received 23 percent of votes to Keller’s 39 percent in the first election, was on the offensive throughout much of the debate.
During a question concerning job growth in the city and 15 minutes into the debate, Lewis said he “didn’t create...sweatshop jobs in Cambodia like Tim did.”
The comment stems from accusations that Digital Divide Data, an NGO founded by Keller and his brother that trained amputee victims in computer coding, ran sweatshops in Cambodia.
Keller said that comment “showed a lot of ignorance about what actually happened in Cambodia and the genocide there.”
Later in the debate, Keller stressed the importance of creating trust between immigrants and the city, when he addressed the topic of sanctuary cities.
“We will never be able to deal with our crime problems unless we have the help of our immigrant and refugee communities,” he said.
Lewis had a different take on the issue.
“We’re talking about violent offenders within our (Metropolitan Detention Center),” the city councilor said.
He also emphasized just how polarized the views of the two candidates were: “There couldn’t be any further differences, I think, on this issue.”
Albuquerque has been dealing with a surge in crime, particularly property and violent crime, and it has become a large focus of the election.
Tim Keller reiterated his earlier point about creating trust between police and immigrant communities. He also said funding should be put toward hiring new officers.
“We traded officers for capital projects,” he said, referencing budget cuts made toward the Albuquerque Police Department.
While Lewis also stressed the need to hire new officers with changed leadership, he pointed out the flaws he perceived in Keller’s plan.
“It’s a hug-a-thug plan,” he said. “It’s about coddling and putting criminals in this city.”
Lewis’ use of the word “thug” drew a sharp reaction from the crowd, with one man having to be removed, visibly upset with the city councilor’s choice of words.
Keller responded in turn that he has the support of the Albuquerque Police Department and the fire department, unlike Lewis.
Lewis also critiqued Keller for voting on a bill during his time as state senator that would have prevented local governments from creating laws that restricted where sex offenders could live. The 2011 bill was eventually defeated.
In response, Keller said that the vote was about good governance.
“I’m proud of that vote, because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I will never run away from my record.”
The race will culminate on election day, Nov. 14. Early voting begins Oct. 25 and will end Nov. 10.
Kyle Land is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Kyleoftheland.