Almost a year after the Albuquerque municipal election, a former city council candidate is suing his former opponent, who won the council seat. Byron Powdrell, who owns and operates a local, non-profit radio station, filed a lawsuit against City Councilor Don Harris and a private investigator hired by Harris during the 2017 mayoral and city council election season. Powdrell alleges Harris and private investigator Joe Fanseca published the radio station owner’s private information, including his Social Security number, to a campaign website aimed at disparaging Powdrell. The website, which was registered to an email address for Harris’ law firm, has since been taken down. Harris told NM Political Report he had no comment as he had not been served with the lawsuit at the time of publication.
The recent Albuquerque and Las Cruces municipal elections, along with other races nationwide, could signal a warning for Republicans in the 2018 elections. The pendulum looks to be swinging from Republican gains during the Barack Obama years to Democratic gains in response to Donald Trump, according to Brian Sanderoff, the president of the Albuquerque-based Research & Polling, Inc.
“I think the political mood right now benefits Democrats,” he said. “And I think part of that is due to the fact that a Republican is in the White House, has lower approval ratings and all the dynamics that go with that.”
In New Mexico, 2018 will be an important election year with the governor’s race, a U.S. Senate seat, three U.S. congressional districts and a number of other statewide positions up for grabs. Locally, Tim Keller’s comprehensive victory in Albuquerque for mayor, the flipping of a previously Republican-held Albuquerque city council seat and the progressive sweep of the Las Cruces city council show how national shifts are reflected in New Mexico politics. “That’s American politics, du jour, that it goes back and forth,” University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said.
Nearly as many people voted in the Albuquerque runoff election Tim Keller won on Tuesday as voted in October’s eight-way election, according to unofficial numbers from the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office. According to the city’s unofficial numbers, 96,813 voters cast ballots in the runoff between Keller and Dan Lewis—a 28.7 percent turnout among registered voters. That’s close to the 97,000 who cast ballots in the first round of voting on Oct. 3, a 28.8 participation rate among registered voters. UNM professor of political science Lonna Atkeson said she was surprised by the high turnout and cited Keller’s “incredible ground game.”
“His volunteer base was huge and he was getting volunteers to get other volunteers,” she said.
UPDATE: Our liveblog is done for the night. The archive remains below, and you can read our story on Tim Keller’s victory. We’re back again tonight with another liveblog on election night. This time, it’s a very short ballot—for most voters in Albuquerque, just one question: Tim Keller or Dan Lewis for Albuquerque mayor. We will stick around until the bitter end tonight.
Tuesday night’s drama centered around the mayoral election (the race for second, anyway) and the healthy workforce ordinance. But a majority of seats on the City Council were up for grabs as well. Four incumbents ran and each won outright. Candidates had to reach 50 percent to avoid a runoff on Nov. 14, just as in the mayoral election.
As we have done with big election nights in recent years, we will be providing live updates on the Albuquerque municipal elections all night. The big race, of course, is to see who will be the next mayor. It’s not considered likely that any candidate will get the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff in November. The liveblog below will update automatically, no need to refresh.
A new Santolina backed political committee popped up an electronic billboard and sent out mailers on Albuquerque’s west side late last week to support the re-election bid of City Councilor Ken Sanchez. Energize Albuquerque filed a campaign report showing a $20,000 contribution from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the company seeking to create a massive master planned community in far west Bernalillo County that would be called Santolina. Over the past two weeks, another committee backed in part by Santolina developer Jeff Garrett, called Make Albuquerque Safe, blanketed the city with negative ads against mayoral candidate Tim Keller. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Both Energize Albuquerque and Make Albuquerque Safe are helmed by Denise Romero, Chairperson, and Donna Taylor, Treasurer.
The City of Albuquerque Board of Ethics Monday afternoon voted to impose a $1,900 fine on an Albuquerque City Council Candidate for not following the city’s election code. The hearing was the latest related to a complaint by former mayoral candidate Stella Padilla and private investigator Carlos McMahon against city council candidate Javier Benavidez. Padilla and McMahon alleged that Benavidez’s campaign fraudulently obtained about $38,000 of public campaign funds by using some of their own money instead of collecting $5 from each petition signer. Padilla and McMahon’s lawyer, prominent Republican Pat Rogers, wrote in his closing argument that Benavidez should return the taxpayer-funded money his campaign received, be fined at least $21,000 and be removed from the City Council if he wins the race. Rogers also said the issue should be referred to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution.
In Albuquerque’s city hall earlier this week, dozens of people watched lawyers argue before an elections and ethics board over whether a city council candidate intentionally defrauded citizens of about $38,000. City Council candidate Javier Benavidez qualified for public financing after his campaign collected almost 400 qualified contributions of $5 along with signatures from each contributor. Prominent Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers argued Benavidez purposefully allowed his campaign to forge signatures and falsify contributions and called the campaign’s actions a “very serious issue.”
In his opening statement, he accused Benavidez of “cheating.”
Rogers argued that Benavidez did not correctly collect contributions, and therefore defrauded taxpayers by using public money for his campaign. Rogers is a former Republican National Committeeman and former go-to counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez. Benavidez is the former executive director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, a group that works on racial and economic justice issues.
Potential candidates for Albuquerque City Council who aim to run using public funds are up against their first deadline later today. To qualify for the public financing, the city requires candidates to collect a certain number of $5 contributions, depending on how many people are registered to vote in the district. So far, about 60 percent of city council candidates are seeking public financing. Only one mayoral candidate qualified for public financing. Coming into the final day to collect the qualifying donations, about half of the city council hopefuls attempting to qualify for public financing are on track.