November 5, 2019

Two ABQ council races likely headed for a runoff election

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Voters in several municipalities across New Mexico voted Tuesday, marking the first consolidation of elections under a new state law. 

Albuquerque voters picked city council candidates, school board members and voted on a long list of municipal bonds. Albuquerque voters also weighed-in on two campaign finance propositions — one was for a voucher program for publicly financed candidates and the other was a proposal to increase funds for publicly financed candidates. 

But one of the closely watched races in Albuquerque was in the city’s District 2, where incumbent Isaac Benton ran against five other challengers. Benton failed to clear 50 percent, and will face Zack Quintero in a run-off election next month. 

The contention between the two seemed to overshadow the rest of the candidates as a measure finance committee—the city’s version of a political action committee—which supported  Benton ran a series of mailers accusing Quintero of misrepresenting his work history. One of those mailers had a picture of Quintero superimposed on the body of a cook, with the words, “ZACK QUINTERO DIDN’T INVENT CHRISTMAS ENCHILADAS.” The mailer was one of a series that accused Quintero of inflating his job responsibilities while working for the City of Santa Fe. The series of mailers also included one with Quintero’s face superimposed on the body of an astronaut. 

The unofficial results on Tuesday night showed Quintero with about 20 percent of the vote and Benton with about 42 percent. But under city election code, since no candidate broke the 50 percent mark, the two candidates with the most votes—Benton and Quintero in this case—will go on to a runoff election. Benton said he’s confident he can win next month. 

“I’m confident,” Benton said. “[Quintero is] an ambitious young guy, but I’m confident.”

But, Benton said, he was displeased with “falsehoods” disseminated by Quintero’s campaign, namely that Benton cut police funding to bankroll the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) system. Benton said he hadn’t planned on reaching out to Quintero the night of the election, but said he would like to see an honest campaign. 

“I would say [to Quintero], be truthful,” Benton said. “This is your first big campaign. Be truthful.”

As for the mailers many deemed racist, Benton said he was unaware the fliers were sent out until he received one in the mail. Plus, he said, he kept “a legal arms length” away from the group who sent out the fliers. Much like some political action committees on the state and federal level, municipal candidates in Albuquerque are prohibited from coordinating with measure finance committees. 

Quintero said he looks forward to another race against Benton and called it a “fresh start.” 

“My hope is that it won’t be, not only negative, but that we’ll be able to talk about ideas in an honest way,” Quintero said. 

When asked about his thoughts on Benton’s call for honesty, Quintero pointed to homelessness and homicide rates in the city.  

“If we’re going to talk about focusing on the truth, lets go where the numbers are,” Quintero said.  

Quintero said he wants to publicly debate Benton in the next several weeks. 

“I’m hoping that we’re able to get an opportunity with the media, with the voters looking at us to decide what ideas are the best ideas for the city,” Quintero said. 

Another closely watched race that will also head to a runoff election is District 4 where three opponents ran to replace Brad Winter who announced this year he would not run for reelection. 

In a much closer race than District 2, Brook Bassan received nearly  49 percent of the vote and Ane Romero got slightly more than 42 percent. Bassan declined to comment late Tuesday night so she could put her kids to bed. 

Romero said she planned to meet with her campaign team Wednesday morning to plan for the next election.

“We’re going to regroup as a team and look at the things we did well and see how we can move on to get us a win on December 10th,” Romero said.

Romero added that she was grateful for the large number of voters this year and for the support she saw while campaigning

“Historically, this was such a huge turnout and for me it’s just really great to know that people care,” Romero said. “They’re engaged and they wanted to be a part of something big in helping to make our community a better place and that gives me a lot of hope.” 

Besides the two most contested races, it was clear wins for incumbents. 

In District 6, incumbent Pat Davis won with a 13 point lead over his opponent Gina Naomi Dennis. 

Incumbent Trudy Jones also beat her opponent S. Maureen Skowran by about 13 points. 

Voter turnout was noticeably high this year, but a spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office said that was expected as multiple elections were combined this year. 

“The whole idea behind consolidating the elections is to have more people turn out to weigh in on all of these issues,” Secretary of State spokesman Alex Curtas said. 

The city’s runoff election will be held on Dec. 10.

Update: Added comment from Ane Romero