You can't ask for a better councilor than Isaac Benton. Early in his first term, he was faced with the immediate problem of flooding in Barelas and the Santa Barbara / Martineztown area. Benton says the flooding wasn't a top priority of Mayor Martin Chavez' administration at first. He passed a bill through the Council that forced it to the top of Chavez' to-do list. Benton's efforts resulted in new storm drainage retention ponds in those neighborhoods that reduce the chance of future floods.
He co-sponsored a bill that put greener building ordinances in place, requiring structures to be more energy efficient. He also helped make sure 3 percent of the city's General Obligation Bond went to investing in renewable energy and energy conservation.
Benton says he opposes expanding water rights to sprawling areas of the Westside at the expense of the city center. Benton maintains that's something his opponent, Alan Armijo, has not always done. Both Benton and his challenger sit on the board of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
It's not uncommon to find Benton riding the Rapid Ride or taking a trip Downtown on his bike. He's a supporter of multimodal streets that have large bike lanes, well-maintained sidewalks and smooth-flowing traffic.
Benton supports revitalizing Downtown, but he says the neighborhoods surrounding the area should be involved in deciding what a revamp looks like. "As a center city, we have very good neighborhoods surrounding it," Benton says. "They need to be protected when we do redevelopment, and they need to be heard and understood."
Benton is a team player who gets along well with his fellow councilors. He points to his unanimous appointment as Council president as evidence of his ability to work with others in the legislative branch. Chavez often butts heads with councilors, and Benton is no exception. But Benton says he maintains a healthy working relationship with the mayor and can pick up the phone and talk to him when he needs to.
Benton's done a lot in his first term, helping secure millions of dollars for projects and programs in his district. The freshman councilor sums up his short time in office succinctly. "I'd put my record of three and a half years up against anybody's," he says.
Benton is our pick for district three, but Alan Armijo is a close second. He's a county commissioner who also served on the City Council for 12 years, beginning in 1989. Armijo says he decided to run for the Council again after he received calls from people in the district who complained Benton wasn't responding to their concerns. "They were simple things like, Do we qualify for speed humps? Or, Can someone come and check out this house where we think there's illicit activity going on?" Armijo says.
When education is mentioned, the former Albuquerque High teacher's enthusiasm surges. "People keep saying, You can't throw money into education," Armijo says. "You have to have resources put into it. If you can have smaller class sizes, that costs money. We need to do it, especially in some of the lower socioeconomic areas." Armijo says he also supports after-school programs in arts, science and athletics.
Throughout his political career, Armijo has been a champion of social services for youth and senior citizens.
Armijo says he would take a compelling approach to stamping out crime in District 3. According to Armijo, more police should drive and walk through neighborhoods. He also says neighborhood watch organizations should be encouraged to form and meet frequently with officers to discuss their concerns. The longtime Albuquerque politician says properties where drug dealing or other illicit activities take place should be shut down as quickly as possible.
Armijo shares Benton's desire to see Downtown revitalized. He also agrees that surrounding neighborhoods should have a say in determining the area's future.
Ultimately, it's impossible for us to turn our backs on Benton because of how successful he's been. But Armijo's passion for education and interest in serving the working people in this district make him an attractive option.
Political Experience: City councilor for District 3 2005-present (current president), Water Authority 2006-2008 (Vice-Chair 2006 and 2008), Regional Transit District 2006-present (Current chair)
1) What's your plan of action for three major issues in your district?
Traffic/Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety: Our streets should serve all of us, not just drivers. We need to rebuild our major corridors into “complete streets,” with wider sidewalks, on-street parking, street trees and (where space allows) bike lanes. Somewhat narrower traffic lanes help slow speeders while providing the extra space for these amenities. I’ll help develop plans for neighborhood traffic management, which must be done comprehensively rather than piecemeal in order to be effective. I will fund the construction of traffic-calming devices like bulb-outs and enhanced pedestrian crossings. I support completing and expanding our bicycle network to fill in the missing links.
Compatible, Neighborhood-Sensitive Development: I support redevelopment, but I’ve stood with neighborhoods against inappropriate development. I will continue to work to improve communication between developers (including UNM), and neighborhoods so sensitive and compatible infill development can occur. With proper neighborhood involvement and collaboration in planning, we can keep District 3 a growing and vibrant place to live without negatively impacting our established residential areas. We also need a housing rehabilitation program at the city. Now is the time to bring it back so that people can make their homes more energy-efficient and easy to maintain, while creating jobs.
Flooding: I would continue to fund much-needed and long-postponed storm drain improvements throughout the district. I am proud that during my first term, for the first time in a half-century we saw the completion of major flood control facilities to protect Barelas and Martineztown. The city should also support private and public small-scale efforts such as fewer hard-paved areas and more landscape areas for on-site rainwater catchment and rain barrels. These help control storm runoff while reusing our rainwater, recharging the aquifer before the water is released downstream.
2) What’s your take on three major citywide issues?
Transportation and Transit: I am an outspoken advocate on the Council for public transit and multimodal streets. Renewal of the City’s existing quarter-cent transportation tax will be critical to ensuring that we can continue to provide, expand and improve transit service and road rehabilitation throughout the city. Ever since gas prices started rising, there has been increased demand for new transit routes and expanded hours. The city’s roadway system represents a $1 billion+ asset that must be maintained. The tax also provides funds for rehabbing our streets into multimodal facilities as described in my answer to the first question above.
Event Center: While the proposed event center/convention hotel project would be located downtown, it would have a positive citywide impact on our economy. We are a great destination for conventions, which bring in outside dollars. For Albuquerque to be competitive with other destination cities of our size, we will have to build facilities that can accommodate the demands of the modern convention market. As a “bonus,” we will have a multipurpose performance and assembly venue for our own use. As a major civic project that will require a public subsidy, I support asking the voters of Albuquerque whether they support it.
Affordable Housing: Mixed-income neighborhoods are healthy neighborhoods. Working people should be able to choose to live close to transit, jobs and services. Housing on the far fringes is not affordable when considering the costs of transportation. With Councilor O’Malley I was co-sponsor of the Workforce Housing Opportunity Act. It sells city bonds (on the ballot again Oct. 6) help finance new mixed-income, transit-friendly ownership and rental housing in the already-developed areas of town. In our older neighborhoods, we also need a renewal of the housing rehabilitation program that the city once operated. This will be a priority for my second term.
3) How can we balance city growth with sustainability?
Growth doesn’t have to only mean building on undeveloped land at the far fringes of the city as Albuquerque has done. For growth to occur in a sustainable way, more of it needs to be in older infill areas—close to jobs, transit, and existing public services and facilities. Sustainable growth is both an environmental and economic issue. The further away from the center city that growth occurs, the more expensive it is to provide city services, everything from roads and buses to police and fire. Infill growth must be planned sensitively care to not harm existing neighborhoods.
4) What will you do to help residents in your district who are struggling with the economic downturn?
Goal one is to create as many jobs as possible through public sector construction projects. Leveraging funds from the federal government with existing state and local funds, the city should focus on putting people to work constructing the many infrastructure projects that need to be built. If done correctly, there is an opportunity to create jobs in the short term and build much-needed infrastructure, such as roads and workforce housing that will serve us all for the long term. The city can also cooperate with CNM and businesses to identify and train people who need to change careers.
5) What's your take on public transportation, and do you support modern rail?
I have been and will continue to be an advocate for high-quality, well-planned public transportation. It is unsustainable to overly rely on the single-passenger automobile. Public transportation can take many forms, including neighborhood circulators that help people get to major routes, expanded bus rapid transit (Rapid Ride) and someday, perhaps, an urban rail component. I support the idea of modern rail, but we need to do a better job of planning the system and bus tie-ins to it, educating the public about its benefits and making sure there is broad public support and buy-in for such a system.
6) What can be done to improve public safety?
Adding to the numbers of police is not necessarily the only thing that can be done to improve public safety. We need to use the police officers we have more effectively by increasing the number of bicycle patrols in neighborhoods and business districts. We also need to get more patrols off the major thoroughfares and into neighborhoods, which is called “beat integrity.” The beat patrols can access the thoroughfares as needed. We need to do more to rid neighborhoods of nuisance properties by reviving the home rehabilitation program, providing a way to turn blighted, crime-attracting properties into community assets.