Monday morning is a great time to drive through and around Dirt City's highways and byways. With the sun newly risen at the end of an unseasonably warm winter, it's the perfect way to appraise the spirit and the substance of the city.
In all that bright light, with a spring-teasing breeze accompanying daybreak, one could even imagine oneself to be lord mayor of this dusty realm, deciding what to do here and there to make this city great again, as if it is not great now, as if redemption requires imperial intervention.
Such a mind experiment may seem implausible, but what of its opposite? I suggest a contrary scenario whereby 14 local candidates—now getting their campaigns together as I write—do as I did. That is: Have an enjoyable ride looking around this place that is home in order to determine where exactly we are as a city, at the end of Mayor Berry's tenure, at the beginning of a reassertion of national power by the right amid indications of a rising progressive tide, locally and statewide—and most importantly—as we age and a new generation comes to the fore to steward this city through a sustainable future.
Beginning in March and continuing through the election cycle, Weekly Alibi will host interviews with Albuquerque's candidates for mayor, seeking clarity and solutions to our city's issues as well as celebrating our diversity and commitment to progressive values. We'll be hosting Brian Colón in two weeks, taking the candidate on a virtual tour of our town and asking about issues that directly affect our readers.
But, anyway, this is what I saw on Monday morning and here are some of the things our new mayor will have to reckon with when he or she takes the reins from Berry after winning the Oct. 3 ballot with at least 50 percent of the votes. (City ordinance requires the winner of the election to have garnered at least 50 percent, otherwise a runoff election between the top two vote getters ensues.)
Driving conditions on Central, between San Mateo and Downtown and then from Downtown past Rio Grande, have continued to deteriorate as the ART project proceeds. It is common sense to stay away from the maelstrom of concrete, closed lanes and congestion that Berry's multimillion dollar project has engendered in its beginning stages. The sort of complex chaos that ART has created ironically mirrors the fancy disorder masquerading as progress that the Trump administration trotted out as it began its American engagement. While Trump and his minions are busy damaging our nation's credibility, massive and poorly thought-out reform in the city of Albuquerque has damaged the underlying economic fabric of the city. Businesses are struggling, drivers are increasingly frustrated and, although the project is set to be completed in autumn 2017, local business owners have recently complained of sales declining up to 40 percent. One owner told the media that ART was the knockout blow for her Nob Hill business. So though the ART storm will pass as all storms do, the damage left its wake is still incalculable and may take years to recoup.
Beginning in March and continuing through the election cycle, Weekly Alibi will host interviews with Albuquerque's candidates for mayor, seeking clarity and solutions to our city's issues as well as celebrating our diversity and commitment to progressive values.
After I decided to take my mind off of ART, a set of sentient signifiers caught my perception. Humans, some looking quite lost, most just plodding along the broken-up sidewalks and by as-of-yet unleased commercial properties on Central, wandered here and there without any apparent purpose. Some were young, hardcore. But others looked like they could have been my next-door neighbor, clumsily dragging a shopping cart full of their life along as they looked for food or shelter or companionship.
Statistically, the ranks of the homeless, the displaced, the at-risk have declined in Burque during Berry's tenure—and for that matter during the past 15 years. However promising this decline seems though, it has coincided with the challenge of finding adequate healthcare, housing and survival options for our town's poorest and most fragile in the face of worsening economic conditions. This is an issue which should be at the heart of the campaign; as the ranks of homeless in Albuquerque continue to suffer due to such privations, so do subsequent problems like property crime and drug and alcohol addiction.
There was one thing I did not see in my morning sojourn through this town. Despite all the uncertainty, dissolution and doubt haunting Burque's streets, I saw no comforting and steadfast police presence rolling about the metropolitan area. This town's short on cops and it shows. Whether the force has withdrawn as a Ferguson Effect-like consequence of scrutiny from citizens and federal officials or is beset with a noticeable personnel problem remains to be determined, but the effects of this lack of community presence and policing adds to the perception that the main players in this town are currently out of tune. Although at least one mayoral candidate has made clear their intention to do a thorough housecleaning of APD—including the removal of Chief Gorden Eden—none have produced a fully formed plan for dealing with a police department that still struggles with compliance, is beset with poor management and—in national publications like Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and The Atlantic—has been called out for having and tolerating bad cops as a matter of de rigueur department culture.
These three core issues, urban development, homelessness and the resolution of perpetual problems policing the local police force should be at the forefront of each of the 14 candidates nascent campaigns. Here's the deal: Candidates have until April 28 to confirm their validity. Being included on this year's ballot means that the 14 have to each gather 3,000 signatures from voters registered in the city limits.
Further, 10 of the 14 candidates (Independent and Urban ABQ Founder Susan Wheeler-Deichsel; Independent talk radio host Eddy Aragon; Democrat Elan Colello; Independent, retired police detective Michelle Garcia Holmes; Democratic state Auditor Tim Keller; Democrat Scott Madison of Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories; Old Town resident Democrat Stella Padilla; Gus Pedrotty, Rachel Golden and Lamont Davis) are planning on asking the city to help finance their campaign. To qualify for such money each candidate has to generate about $19,000 in contributions—none can be smaller than $5—by March 31.
The rest of the field (Democratic former Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta; Brian Colón, former chairman of the state Democratic Party; Republican Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson and Republican Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican) will finance their respective campaigns privately.
Before any of these folks move forward and after having been driven around the potential source of their imperium, let's ask them—and ourselves—how city government is going to step up to the issues contained herein and in a drive through our fair city.