Two divisive Albuquerque city council district races were decided in a runoff election Tuesday night. Incumbent City Councilor Isaac Benton won his race in District 2, which includes the downtown and historic Barelas neighborhoods. Political newcomer Brook Bassan won her race against Ane Romero, who has never held a political office before, but ran for a state House seat in 2016.
Benton told NM Political Report that his win shows that his constituency knows he’s not in it for the fame or fortune of the city council. “I’ve always just wanted to serve and I think quite a few people recognize that,” Benton said.
Leading up to the election last month where Benton won the most votes, but failed to get more than 50 percent, accusations of dishonesty came from both sides. But it was a mailer from political group who supported Benton that caused the most controversy and division.
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.
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 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.
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.
Words have meaning. But sometimes in politics, there are delineations between former job titles and former job duties. An Albuquerque city council candidate’s self-proclaimed experience as a city economist has raised a question: What is an economist? Since council candidate Zachary Quintero announced his candidacy for City Council District 2, which encompasses downtown Albuquerque, NM Political Report received numerous comments and concerns about one of Quintero’s claims. According to his campaign and at least one of his social media accounts, Quintero worked as an economist for the City of Santa Fe. But Santa Fe does not have a city economist.
The Albuquerque City Council voted 8-1 late Monday night to withdraw a proposition that would have asked voters to decide whether the city would use ranked choice voting for municipal elections. Even if the council had sent the issue to voters, the city’s elections would not see a change until 2021.
After hearing from a few supporters of ranked choice voting, who expressed concern about educating voters ahead of November’s election, Councilor Don Harris, who sponsored the proposition, announced he was taking it off the table.
“I’ll probably just withdraw this,” Harris said just before the council was set to vote on the proposition. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Heather Ferguson told the council her organization is usually emphatically behind voter initiatives, but that there are too many misunderstandings about ranked choice voting and the proposed language for the ballot was too vague.
“Our main concern is we want an informed electorate,” Ferguson told the council.
Ranked choice voting, sometimes referred to as instant run-off voting, is a process in which voters rank their candidates. During the tallying process, candidates who come in last are eliminated, and the second-choice votes on those ballots are picked until a candidate reaches 50 percent. Until 2009, a candidate in Albuquerque’s municipal elections needed to get a simple majority.
Albuquerque will not become the latest city in the state to adopt ranked-choice voting. The Albuquerque City Council voted 5-4 Monday night against implementing a ranked-choice voting system in time for the next municipal election in November. Ranked-choice voting is also known as instant-runoff, and is a process in which voters ranked their choices of candidates. In a ranked-choice election, if no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated from the list and voters who chose that candidate have their second choice counted. That process continues until there is a winner with the majority of the votes.
Albuquerque’s city council election is five months away and on Tuesday, the city clerk’s office announced which candidates qualified for public financing. Ten of the 13 candidates who tried to qualify for public funds successfully collected enough signatures and corresponding $5 contributions, according to a press release from the clerk’s office. For the first time, City Clerk Katy Duhigg said, the $5 contributions could be made electronically. “We believe the City’s public financing program has proven to be accessible, and we will continue to work with Mayor Keller and this administration to find more ways to improve and advance the program,” Duhigg said in a statement. Four of the city’s nine council seats are up for election this year.
Albuquerque could be the next city in the state to adopt a new way of voting in municipal elections, but a looming deadline doesn’t leave city councilors much time to make it happen. Ranked-choice voting, sometimes called instant-runoff voting, allows voters to rank their choices on a single ballot as opposed to only picking their number one candidate. Santa Fe held their first municipal instant-runoff election last year and about a dozen other municipalities across the U.S. use a similar voting method. A 2018 change to the state’s election law allows municipalities the option to move their elections to November in order to coincide with state elections, and the law also gives city leaders a chance to switch to an instant-runoff election system. Cutting it close
In 2018, then-Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Local Election Act into law.
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.