Talking with Susan Wheeler-Deichsel
Mayoral candidate is compassionate, ready to lead
An urbanist by trade and a working person throughout her life, Wheeler-Deichsel displays an interesting mix of gravitas and good-natured humility as she seeks a post many in the media say she cannot possibly win. That potential outcome hasn’t daunted this hopeful however. Susan—as she prefers potential constituents to call her—is in it to win it.
Weekly Alibi chatted with Susan about her candidacy, about the town she calls home and most importantly how her possible ascent as madam mayor portends a sea change in the way Burque’s citizens—and ultimately its political class—do business.
Weekly Alibi: Why do want to be mayor of Albuquerque?
Susan Wheeler-Deichsel: The reason I decided to run for mayor—there are manifold reasons of course—but the main reason has do with the fact that, for the last nine years, I’ve been working really, really hard on various projects in the city of Albuquerque, projects designed to improve the whole lot of the city, to change its direction. It became really apparent to me that one of the big impediments to moving such projects forward was pushback from City Hall. At first, I didn’t consider that I’d be any type of viable anything, and I wasn’t particularly interested in politics. But I realized that the mayor’s office was going to be wide open in 2017. I asked two gentlemen—
How has today’s political climate affected our progress, and has that climate affected the presentation of issues for this race?
I think there are a couple of factors here. One is that we don’t teach civics [successfully] in school. So some adults are finishing high school without an awareness of how civic life proceeds. They don’t have an awareness of the political process. Second, if they do have this awareness, or have learned about it through friends and family, they feel disenfranchised because they see [political] influence being purchased by money. After Citizens United, it became clear, once corporations began to be viewed as people by the political establishment, that money equals political influence. Lots of our local citizens have given up on politics because they feel they can’t influence progress with their votes. And they’re really tired of the polarization caused by a [money-oriented] two-party system.
How do changes to the structure of local political culture occur, especially without lots of money being involved?
There’s the rub, there’s the big question. My small group of volunteers, myself, my husband, my supporters are looking at that question every day. I have limited assets to work with; We’re going to be canvassing the Northeast Heights and Taylor Ranch areas to ask voters what they think of that essential idea. Everywhere I go I talk to people [about changing and evolving the current system].
Ultimately, what will it take to make Albuquerque a better place to live?
First we should finish the requirements of the DOJ settlement; then we should slowly build up our police force. Let’s make being a cop in Albuquerque an attractive roll to fill. The cops that were good cops, the one’s who’ve never used excessive force, have a great passion for their jobs and they felt dismissed by the DOJ agreement. They need to be lifted back up. They all need to know that they’re valued.
What about all the local cultural problems that underlie policing issues?
These problems—systemic poverty, drug addiction for examples—are not going to be solved overnight. But one thing we have to do is own them. We need to acknowledge that systemic poverty in particular drives much of the crime here in Albuquerque. There are many families among our impoverished and homeless population; most of them aren’t panhandlers or criminals. The resistance to dealing with our poor has almost been puritanical ... coming from those who are living lives of privilege. We need to put moral judgments aside and just take care of our people.
How do you envision such a change of heart and motivation happening in this city?
It has to do with the level of compassion from both citizens and government. For example, people that we hire to do things—like work on the streets—we need to pay them a decent, living wage. Right now, we’re barely paying Police Service Aides a living wage; that needs to change, our priorities have to change, from the mayor’s office on down. This is a community.
How do you view your chances of being elected?
We’re pushing forward everyday. As I wake up, I think, can I do this, just one more day? Today, can I do it today? Sometimes I get depressed and think no, and that all the others [candidates] involved are good people. But then I’ll go out into the city and somebody will come up to me and say, “Hey I saw you on TV ... ” and I know I can do it. I sort of feel like the Blues Brothers, the mission from God bit. And I’m not terribly religious. I don’t know what the [others’] endgame is, but I’m headed toward the finish line too.