On Monday, the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative hosted a forum in a non-debate setting for the current Albuquerque mayoral candidates where they shared their stances on current issues facing the city.
Three of the four candidates running for the position were present, including current Mayor Tim Keller (D), Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III (D) and conservative talk show host Eddy Aragon (R). Write-in candidate Patrick Ben Sais (R) was not present at the event.
A major point of discussion for the night was policing; candidates were asked about their stances on the Black Lives Matter movement, improvements they would make to the Albuquerque Police Department and what they saw as the source of the city’s “challenges to safety.”
Keller was the only candidate to directly support the Black Lives Matter movement; the other two aligned themselves with the “All Lives Matter” slogan. Keller went on to explain some of the programs the city implemented to help create more options for alternate policing.
“Now, we (are) the first city in America that you call 911 (and) you're going to get a third response — a social worker (who is) a trained professional — so the situations are not escalated, and also so that our officers can focus on fighting violent crime,” Keller said.
Gonzales blamed the general safety challenges in the city on the failure of political policy makers to act in the best interests of the people. Aragon said that a lack of funding in the police department was a primary contributor to unsafety and that most of the crime in the city happens between the unhoused population and those he referred to as “willingly homeless.”
“We shouldn't defund the police,” Aragon said. “I think that the entire word and phrase should be completely stricken not just here, but across the country.”
Keller said he supports the creation of the Westside Emergency Housing Center, a shelter for unhoused people, as well as other affordable housing programs.
“These people are unsheltered because they need help,” Keller said. “And the reality is Albuquerque has massive holes in our system.”
Another topic addressed was immigration, spefically concerning Afghan and Haitian refugees. During this portion of questioning, Keller called out Gonzales for his failures as sheriff to help stop white supremacists at immigration and Black Lives Matter protests. Keller said Gonzales has had photoshoots with the local leader of “Cowboys for Trump,” and more generally called on Gonzales to answer for times in which the community needed him and he did not show up.
“The reality is when there were child separation issues and we were fighting to keep the folks coming through our town fed and taken care of, there was no help from Sheriff Gonzales,” Keller said.
Gonzales said he believes Albuquerque is a friendly community toward the refugee population but the city has no control over federal regulations on immigration.
Both Aragon and Gonzales came down against Albuquerque’s “sanctuary city” status, which means the city protects undocumented individuals. Gonzales said sanctuary cities “pit immigrants against a majority-minority state, which we are.”
Each candidate also recieved questions catered specifically toward them. Keller was asked about the proposed United Stadium, Aragon was asked about his insensitive racial comments and Gonzalez was asked about his lack of COVID-19 regulation enforcement.
The gentrification concerns on the proposed United Stadium were brought up and Keller said the city would work with those affected with a “community benefit agreement,” which would address any concerns that residents in the area of the proposed stadium have. However, Keller said it is ultimately up to the constituents’ vote whether or not the stadium is even built.
“It’s up to your vote as a community with what you want to do, and I’ll respect that vote no matter how it turns out,” Keller said.
On Aragon’s insensitive claims, there was a focus on his treatment toward the Black community. His claim of being “4.6% black,'' which came from a recent racially inflammatory article on his radio show’s website, was specifically brought up. In response, he made several claims about the Black family structure but was unable to cite the source of where he was pulling his statistics and DNA makeup from.
The question about Gonzales’ lack of efficacy in enforcing COVID-19 mandates as sheriff was asked twice for a direct response, and Gonzales said he works for no one but the people but would ultimately enforce COVID-19 regulations.
Throughout the evening, Aragon pushed back on the moderator concerning time allotted and the questions asked. However, McGill said it is “typical and expected” for candidates to give pushback in forum settings.
The first official mayoral candidate debate is on Oct. 24 and will be sponsored by the Congregation Albert Brotherhood. The vote for Albuquerque’s next mayor will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite