October 18, 2019

A look at ABQ city council candidates

Albuquerque City Hall Photo: Andy Lyman

Saturday marks the start of expanded early voting in Albuquerque’s city council election. 

NM Political Report reached out to all of the candidates listed on the city clerk’s website and asked them all the same questions. Their answers were submitted over email and every candidate had about 48 hours to respond. 

District 2

District 2 is the most crowded of the four council races. Incumbent Isaac Benton is defending his seat against five other candidates. The district includes all of downtown, the historic Barelas and Martinez Town neighborhoods and creeps north almost to Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  

Isaac Benton 

Name: Isaac Benton

Occupation: Full-time City Councilor, retired architect 

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

Reducing crime should continue to be our top priority.  Today, we are rebuilding APD and for the first time in six years we have more than 1,000 officers, with 200 more slated by 2021. Instead of fighting DOJ reforms as under the Berry administration, we are working to implement the changes the settlement requires, including civilian oversight, better training, and better operating procedures. I’ve been a longtime proponent of community policing, and with Mayor Keller’s leadership, we are making it a reality, greatly increasing shifts of bike patrols in District 2. To reduce gun violence, we must take action as a city. I recently sponsored and passed a “red flag” resolution, urging the state to act to remove guns from dangerous people. We need to go further to push what we can do as a city, including banning firearms in city facilities, and working with the state to ban high capacity magazines. And to get to a major root cause of crime and homelessness, we must continue to support and fund the housing, mental, behavioral, and treatment programs that I champion on the Council.

What is your first priority for your district?

My priority for the district is the same as it is for the city – with particular emphasis on behavioral health and homelessness. 

What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time in office?
I spearheaded the purchase of our historic Rail Yards, and set up an oversight and advisory board to assure transparency in its redevelopment. I co-sponsored and built up funding for our Workforce Housing program, which in a decade has constructed over 1,200 affordable dwellings in our centers and corridors. I sponsored our Complete Streets Ordinance, which requires equity in design, prioritization and the construction of our street rehabilitation program – recognizing underserved communities, persons with physical challenges, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

Connie Vigil 

Name: Connie Vigil

Occupation: Board member, Wells Park Neighborhood, medical researcher, technical writer,teacher, city council member, executive director, founder and president of several nonprofits including Habitat for Humanity, and the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance, registered insurance agent in NM and TX, state and local science fair judge and student mentor, community activist with state, federal, city and county government to encourage collaborative solutions.

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

What is your first priority for your district?

To bring together the federal, state, county and city leaders to solve the drug, crime and homeless issues with a long-term, comprehensive plan for:

1) Long term residential treatment centers for those with mental disability, (re-establish those closed by the previous governor), with federal and state and county funding as well as housing those who need long term drug treatment-not jailing but treating the addiction…not just with a room, but a comprehensive, long term treatment plan,

2) A multi-faceted approach to not only provide homeless housing, but transitional housing and job skill development to get people back on their feet with jobs, to stop the free handouts to people being sent from other states using our tax dollars, and to stop those nonprofits whose programs get rich, while enabling individuals to continue to use drugs and needles without helping them off the addictions and negatively affect neighborhoods and businesses,

3) Address the rampant crime by taking officers out of the homeless problem and putting them where they belong solving violent crime, vandalism, theft, speeding and overall public safety by ending the settlement agreement and the associated costs that have drug out for over 3 years.

4) Stop the wasteful spending for signs and slides and put the money toward infrastructure, roads, sidewalks, crosswalks to enable people to use the ART safely, and get the ART up and running with incentives to riders, also expand commuter buses from bus and rail stations to help Sandia, Intel and the larger employers enable their workers to use mass transportation, do not ticket people for crossing ART lanes, and allow free street parking for all businesses.

I was a city council member in another state, and I am most proud of bringing federal block grant funding to fund a much needed community center, as well as starting a major community event which brought people from other states to the community.

5) Most importantly to call into accountability leaders who allow large dollar wasteful spending, (ART), as well those who make the public involvement process nothing more than a 2 min time in a city council meeting where decisions and promises have already been made.

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better while in office and how would you address it if you’re elected?

Actually listen and care about the issues of constituents instead of never meeting with many of his own constituents in a 14 year career, focusing on pet projects instead of major issues such as allowing the crime, homelessness, failing infrastructure, flooded areas, gentrification of historic neighborhoods, and destruction of downtown to happen under his watch.

Joseph Griego

Name: Joseph Griego

Occupation: Owner, Caretactics

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

Our number one priority should always be to work together for real solutions to every problem in the city.  Our first priority needs to be growing our police department with qualified officers who meet the standards set forth by the DOJ and the City.   

What is your first priority for your district?

The first priority for my district will be infrastructure.  District 2 has some of the oldest communities in the city. For too long we have neglected these communities’ infrastructure needs and for us to build a viable One Albuquerque we must begin by improving infrastructure. 

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better while in office and how would you address it if you’re elected?

I think that Councilor Benton has to do a better job of connecting with younger voters in the district. This could be why there are so many young candidates in this race. If I am elected I will hold forums that work across all generations. Doing town halls both in person and online. 

Robert Blanquera Nelson

Name: Robert Blanquera Nelson

Occupation: Program Manager at The Grants Collective

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

We need to prioritize stabilizing our communities by solving the systemic issues which have kept our city at the bottom of the list. Homelessness, crime, and poverty are complicated systemic issues, but the path to addressing them is simple: we just have to address the big picture and treat our city as a complete system. That means working towards policies that break the cycle for those trapped in the revolving door of poverty, crime, and homelessness, as well as supporting policy initiatives that make Albuquerque work for working class people. This is why my first policy priority as a City Councilor will be to establish our City’s first Public Health Department, because we don’t have one and City Hall currently has no way to meaningfully study and understand these complicated issues from an evidence-based framework. 

What is your first priority for your district?

After knocking on thousands of doors in every community throughout District 2, the priority of our community is clear: We must focus on addressing the growing crisis of homelessness and both property and violence related crime.  People throughout our communities are also very aware of the fact that current solutions and strategies have not worked, and that just hiring more police or moving homeless people from park to park will not solve the issue: people want to see more effective solutions that include more community input. 

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better while in office and how would you address it if you’re elected?

It would be easy to focus on either the A.R.T. project or the Integrated Development Ordinance as examples of policy initiatives that went wrong at the hands of the incumbent, but arguably more detrimental, is the problematic trend of the incumbent leaving the community out of critical decision-making processes that had severe impacts directly on our communities. I would address that problem by approaching policymaking as a City Councilor from a completely different philosophy; one that brings community engagement front and center throughout the decisions that impact our city’s wellbeing.

Zackary Quintero

Name: Zackary Quintero

Occupation: Legal Analyst

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

The most basic function of government is to keep its people safe. We are failing in that responsibility. The number one priority for our city should be public safety, the murder rate is out of control and we have no residential burglary unit. Things did not get this bad overnight and it was City Council who cut public safety in favor of other projects despite seeing a steady increase in violent and residential crime. We need to change direction, we need new leadership. 

What is your first priority for your district? 

The first priority for my District is homelessness and addiction. An emergency homeless shelter with addiction services should have been built years ago but it was never proposed, funded, or prioritized. We need a transition plan to help people who are in very dire circumstances. I would focus on establishing mobile healthcare units to respond to addiction and behavioral health issues rather than having our police and fire use more of their time. 

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better while in office and how would you address it if you’re elected?

Right now the incumbent is saying his hands were tied on public safety by the Berry administration and recommendations from the DOJ. It’s important we get the facts straight, the DOJ never asked for public safety cuts. I bring this up because the rationale that public safety was held hostage or cut down out of necessity is a myth. Councilor Benton knew what he was cutting when the data showed that our communities needed help. Additionally, if city council knew there were unsafe standards in recruitment for police they should have acted to change it and not have waited until the DOJ came in.

I would address the issue of public safety by 

1) Establishing a residential burglary unit, 

2) Creating a recruitment program from our historic neighborhoods for community policing, and 3) Fully funding basic life support services in our fire department.

No response from Stephen Baca

District 4

District 4 is the only race without an incumbent as Councilor Brad Winter decided not to run for an additional term. The district includes much of the southeast heights and uptown. 

Ane Romero 

Name: Ane C. Romero

Occupation: Deputy Legislative Director for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

Public safety. With substance abuse driving the majority of crime in our city, we must address the root causes of crime by expanding behavioral health and drug treatment services, increasing access to pre-K for children, and creating new and better paying job opportunities. We must also address our city’s homeless issue by starting with a plan to eradicate homelessness among veterans, as other cities have done. I support the city’s plan to build a 24/7 emergency shelter as a critical stop-gap where services are coordinated and permanent housing is the goal. 

What is your first priority for your district?  

Keeping our families safe. For over two years, I have been a member of the Northeast Community Policing Council (CPC) and I work directly with APD and our neighbors to strengthen relationships to make our community safer.  District 4 will benefit from more police officers and bike patrols for our neighborhoods. In terms of public safety, I support the investment in data-driven technology to identify criminal patterns and repeat offenders; improved lighting in neighborhoods and shopping centers; increased neighborhood watch programs; and, the creation of a one-stop shop for substance abuse and mental health to reduce drug-related criminal behavior.

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better in office and how would you address it if you’re elected? 

This is an open seat so I am not challenging an incumbent. However, this is why I’m running: 

I have spent my entire academic and professional career in public service working on issues related to public safety, healthcare, education and economic development. Through my involvement with the Northeast Heights Community Policing Council (CPC), I  have seen first-hand how public safety relates to the serious behavioral health challenges facing Albuquerque. I hope to bring my federal, state, and local experience to City Council.

Athena Ann Christodoulou

Name: Athena Ann Christodoulou

Occupation: Hopefully City Councilor for District 4 on January 1, 2020; retired Navy engineer; entrepreneur (Udorami app, sustainability consultant)

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole? 

Keep the city pointed and moving in the right direction to be a sustainable community: safe, economically robust, and soulful.

What is your first priority for your district? 

Continue to ensure safety and wellbeing.

Everyone I talk to recognizes that our district has the best schools, facilities, and choices. However, they are concerned for the rest of the city. They realize they can help, but fear the crime, homelessness, and addictions featured in most of the media. But I just walked in the downtown area and don’t see the same. I saw new businesses and efforts to revitalize the area. I saw really funky and fun businesses with few around to enjoy them. We really need to do more bragging and stop bagging Albuquerque. My first priority would be three pronged: 1) Broadcast the progress on APD completing the Court Agreement Settlement Agreement (CASA) and return to “neighbors watching out for neighbors” and a “cop on the beat,” as well as deploying police aides to bring a good pipeline of officers from within our citizenry. 2) Engage the various resources (APS,BernCo, & legislators) to bring the right-sized pool to the area for more family, athlete, and youth engagement, and 3) develop a sense of wellbeing by educating them on what they CAN do to turn the potential climate crisis into opportunity. As a tech transfer expert I would be the voice and vote at the table to bring 21st century solutions in a city surrounded by multiple national laboratories and universities.

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better in office and how would you address it if you’re elected? 

Councilor Winter did a fine job over his 20 year career in the city council. However, neighborhoods have started to separate from the rest of the district as they became inundated by unnecessary information and concerns. The District 4 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations is an excellent group of concerned and involved citizens. It is a good example of what true democracy IS when we work together on people and issues and not get bogged down in party and platform. I’ve witnessed them get together and broach issues while keeping out the extra baggage of ideology. I would make more of an effort to engage those neighborhood associations who have lost interest to try it again. I would also take a close look at the IDO (Civil engineer background) and process of planning and zoning. And then institute “Take Back The Night” during the entire summer with things like food truck Fridays, poolside potlucks (no glass), and more. Then teach them how to take it to the rest of the city. One Albuquerque.

No response from Brook Basan

District 6

District 6 includes the Ridgecrest area as well as the International District. It also extends south, well beyond of the Albuquerque International Sunport and Kirtland Airforce Base 

Pat Davis

Name:  Pat Davis

Occupation: City Councilor

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

It’s no secret that Albuquerque has a crime problem, but how we address it is a big point of contention in our city.  I, for one, am proud that we’ve tried to match dollar-for-dollar our investments in treatment, housing and intervention, with investments in policing.  We’ve made progress lowering auto thefts by 2,200 fewer thefts in two years, for example, by focusing law enforcement on the most serious repeat offenders and treatment and divisions for those involved in their first thefts. Our next step: building our central homeless and crisis center and deploying health workers we can dispatch to our parks and communities so police are not our first or only option to address homelessness and addiction.

What is your first priority for your district?

Neighborhoods like ours have a lot of aging infrastructure, including sidewalks, broken streetlights and parks in need of repair.  Earlier this year, I helped pass a law requiring the city to post all new street expenditures online and prioritize spending for new funds into neighborhoods with low-income and high senior density. That’s already helped us fix sidewalks and streets in older neighborhoods like ours, instead of investing in sprawling new developments we don’t need.

Incumbents, what accomplishments are you most proud of during your time in office?

I’m proud to be the co-author of the city’s first renewable energy standard and to have started converting city buildings to solar. And I’m proud that I passed legislation that APD used to intervene in 4 threatened local school shootings.  But my most proud moment was escorting a group of Dreamers and undocumented residents to the mayor’s office to watch him sign my immigrant-friendly ordinance that protected them from Trump’s dangerous plans to deputize APD for deportations. For the first time in a long time, those families saw that people in our city were looking out for them and that made me very proud.

Gina Naomi Dennis

Name: Gina Naomi Dennis

Occupation: Albuquerque Organizer for 4 years: President, District 6 Coalition, seventeen neighborhoods, 2017 to 2019; organizer across Albuquerque neighborhoods, 2015 to 2019. Attorney for 15 years: Federal regulatory law, Tribal law (licensed in DC). 8-year CEO: Small business owner, green building specialist, LEED AP.

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

Create a safe, healthy, thriving community:

-Community safety: address addiction and homelessness. Most of the crimes are committed while someone is high or trying to get high. Let’s reduce our opioid addiction rate so that we can reduce our crime rate. Addiction is also a root cause of homelessness; let’s reduce our addiction rate to reduce the homelessness.

-A.R.T. (bus transit) failures: get federal funding to address harm from the failed A.R.T. project and adjust the flawed A.R.T. design elements, and get federal funding to bring our small businesses back to Central Avenue.

What is your first priority for your district?

The first-priority is to address the extreme harm and economic trauma in District 6, which was caused during the last three years:

Part A: addressing the failures of A.R.T. (bus transit), such as the many, many problems caused by the A.R.T. failures and the over 100 Businesses crushed by the A.R.T. failures.

Part B: improving community safety, such as community policing and concerns about police response time, and excessive speeding and crashes on Lead, Coal, and Copper.

Part C: addressing the rising Homelessness and underlying issues of opioid addiction and mental health.

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better in office and how would you address it if you’re elected?

Listen, economic trauma is real. There’s a common theme of suffering across all 17 neighborhoods in City Council District 6, and that’s from Lomas to Gibson and University to Eubank. The supposed leadership in City Council District 6 drove right over our public input, gutted our historic Route 66 Central Avenue, crushed our businesses, caused collateral Damage with excessive speeding on Lead and Coal and ignored our city lighting infrastructure. That’s why Gina Naomi Dennis is running for City Council in District 6 because Gina is your champion for a safe, healthy, thriving community.

As city councilor of District 6, Gina Naomi Dennis will follow public input 100 percent. When our residents and our small businesses speak about the failed A.R.T. (bus transit) project and other problems, let’s follow their public input 100 percent. Let’s restore our historic Route 66 Central Avenue and our small businesses, improve community safety, address speeding and traffic, improve public health, address homelessness, addiction, and mental health, support our public schools, improve street lighting, address vacant and abandoned properties, and improve our parks. Let’s follow public input 100 percent.

District 8

District 8 encompasses a section of the far northeast heights and includes the Tanoan Country Club area. Incumbent Trudy Jones faces just one opponent. 

Maurreen Skowran

Name: Maurreen Skowran

Occupation: Data Analyst at UNM

What should be the council’s number one priority for the city as a whole?

Public safety, with a focus on reducing crime. We can do this through a number of measures: increasing the number of both officers and support personnel; improved lighting; and a public-health approach to preventing crime (such as by mediating conflicts and helping those at most risk of behaving violently get on a better path, by helping them with education, employment and drug treatment).

What is your first priority for your district?

Still public safety. Besides cutting crime, we also need to improve traffic safety, such as with more patrolling on the streets, catching speeders, and putting in speed bumps and traffic signals.

What is the most important issue you think the incumbent could have handled better in office and how would you address it if you’re elected?

The incumbent voted to reduce police pay, which led to a drop in the number of police officers and a dramatic jump in crime since she took office. Instead of blaming immigrants, I would use research about what has worked in other cities. For example, the public-health approach outlined above is tied to a 56 percent drop in homicides in a Baltimore neighborhood.

Trudy Jones did not respond