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 V.14 No.37 | September 15 - 21, 2005 

Feature

District 3

Isaac Benton

Wes Naman

District 3 is comprised of a diverse cross section of neighborhoods stretching from UNM, throughout Downtown and across to the Westside. It's the literal heart of the city, an anchor for the tourist and entertainment industries, centralizing the city's so-called "string of pearls," made up of cultural amenities like the KiMo Theater, BioPark, Explora, Old Town, Natural History Museum and the rapidly transforming EDO corridor. Intertwined with these areas are some of the city's most established, historic neighborhoods like Huning Highlands, South Broadway, East San Jose and Barelas.

Candidates Diana Dorn-Jones and Isaac Benton support the Planned Growth Strategy, Impact Fees ordinance and promoting infill in the district's neighborhoods. They also both support an increase in the minimum wage, anti-predatory lending laws and a host of other things that are in line with the publication you are reading. There are significant differences between the candidates, as well.

Born in the same Tennessee town as Carl Perkins, Benton grew up in Puerto Rico and speaks fluent Spanish. Thirty years ago, Benton moved to District 3 as a VISTA volunteer and never left. He's currently a partner in a Downtown architecture firm that focuses mainly on public design (libraries, schools, community centers, affordable housing projects, etc.). He has worked with the city for decades as an architectural designer, thus he understands the planning, zoning, permitting and construction process inside out. If elected, he'll be sacrificing city business contracts he's worked on for years. Benton says he is running for City Council out of concern that his district is suffering due to lack of planning throughout the city. A true new urbanist, he's for public transportation, water conservation, renewable energy, walkable and bikable communities, reduced crime through localized policing (more bike and on-foot cops) and revitalized commercial activity from UNM to Old Town.

Benton worked on and supported EDO (the master plan to revitalize East Downtown). He also supported carefully written protections from increased property taxes for long-term residents, including tax abatements for the elderly and low-income housing (as does Dorn-Jones). The EDO issue, though, is one of the stark differences between Dorn-Jones and Benton. While Dorn-Jones says she supported EDO, she did oppose the master plan, saying it encourages gentrification and suggesting that predatory real estate peddlers are now offering to buy up dilapidated homes in parts of South Broadway. She's very sensitive to gentrification, but to the point that it seems like neighborhood improvement could be extremely slow going if she's elected because she's inherently suspicious of infill developers and community advocates who support EDO.

True, Dorn-Jones offers a passionate and articulate voice for the area's most impoverished neighborhoods. An Albuquerque resident for most of her life, she refers to herself as "a recovering banker," but her work history centers around the nonprofit sector, establishing affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods—her conviction being that home ownership is the basis of strong communities. She was executive director of United South Broadway Corporation for many years, promoting economic development and youth programs in the area, receiving millions of dollars in government funds, but the results of the organization's work in the pocket of poverty have been mixed.

We favor Benton because he would make a thoughtful, relaxed and diplomatic councilor, someone willing to listen to a variety of angles but not bending to special interests. Although we respect Dorn-Jones for her passion and advocacy work, she seemed set in her ways and almost interested in arguing with people. She said, "The public is sick of bickering—we need to respect our differences, that's part of a growing city." But we don't think she always practices that attitude when she doesn't like somebody, especially if they are an EDO supporter. Also, the fact that she spent seven months working for Mayor Chavez as the Chief Operating Officer for his administration, and Chavez has encouraged his production homebuilder constituency to support her campaign financially, makes us feel a bit uncomfortable.

What District 3 needs is a well-informed and passionate advocate for the old neighborhoods as well as the new, and someone who will deliver measurable results. The Alibi endorses Isaac Benton for District 3 city councilor.

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