This is the year change came to Albuquerque. Sometimes that change came because of long-standing problems in the Duke City, other times, it came despite the issues and troubles that were seen in these parts in the year 2017.
It’s not difficult to highlight those big stories and subsequently the deep changes they may bring; it becomes problematic to rank them though, as so much of that forward momentum was supplied by a really big change at the top.
The election of Tim Keller as mayor ranks at the top of our important local stories this year.
Keller began his quest for Burque’s top job amidst a field of eight candidates that included a then-current City Councilman and County Commissioner—both had big plans and big ties to the revisionist, populist maniacs now in charge of our nation—as well as a bright young visionary, a reform-minded business owner, a former Obama appointee, a bigwig from the state Democratic party, a former cop, and a classless, clueless Downtown parking-lot owner.
Keller’s strong showing in the October primary election demonstrated he had the political mojo to wrap up the election with a substantive victory for progressive politics in Albuquerque. His ground game, level of organization and ability to relate his proactive platform to local citizens of all stripes created an electoral environment where his main opponent—who spoke mostly in warning tones and portrayed municipal matters in apocalyptic terms—had little chance of winning.
Keller literally trounced Trump clone wannabe Dan Lewis in the Nov. 14 general election, setting the stage for a new administration that will be called upon to effect major course changes, even as our city continues to suffer from problems and policies aggravated by the Republican Berry administration.
One of the problems facing Keller and his estimable brain trust is the noticeable rise in crime this city has seen in the past couple of years. Savage murders and astonishing property crime continued to make headlines in 2017, even as Keller was elected to promises of stanching the flow of blood and resaleable goods in Burque.
Recent statistics—and a casual perusal of local newspapers, this one included—show an unforgiving rise in crime in Albuquerque this past year. In September, national media outlets told a terrible tale about Burque and crime. According to the FBI, instances of violent crime increased 15.5 percent between 2015 and 2016 (the most current dates for which such statistics are available) and property crime rose by 13.3 percent.
On top of this awful accounting, murder rates in Albuquerque soared in 2017. As of Nov. 30, there had been 71 homicides in Albuquerque, a number that is higher than it’s been in 20 years. Clearly, as 2018 advances on this small city by a big river, reducing violent crime and property crime continue to be civic priorities for a new administration that is already battling the problem with an infusion of new ideas, new officers and a new policing plan for Burque.
Another huge bit of news here in Burque doesn’t so much have to do with cultural failings as it does with accepting the errors of the past and evolving plans to be more in line with citizen wants and needs.
Such is the case with the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, or ART. Initiated with little or no citizen input, the multimillion dollar project begun by the Berry administration is yet to be finished—and won’t be up and running until early next year—and may not receive the federal funding called for in the project’s initial roll out in Sept. 2016.
The feds have yet to reimburse the city for any of the project; though a grant from the Federal Transit Administration was to supply between $50 and $75 million in reimbursements for construction of ART, the funds have yet to materialize and members of the Keller administration will have to meet with authorities in January to try and cement the deal with paperwork and signatures.
Due to all of the infrastructure repair that took place during the project’s construction, the whole deal is also currently $15 million dollars over budget.
In the meantime, there has already been talk of modifying the scope of plans for ART to include service to Albuquerque’s Sunport. Though that may pave the way for further funding—in the form of airport bonds—it also means an extension of street construction which has been maddening to local drivers as well as a scourge to the Central Avenue businesses along the current ART route.
In a move that speaks to efficiency as well as engagement, the Keller administration continued to make positive local news when it was announced last week that the plans for a long-planned-for but somehow never-asked-for solid waste transfer station in the North Valley—the infamous Edith Transfer Station—would not be continued to completion. Long a thorn in the side of many residents and a vociferous collection of neighborhood associations, Keller listened to the people and decided that moving forward with a huge indoor garbage collection center in the middle of a neighborhood was a bad idea.
Though such activities might seem small at a glance, especially with the threat of crime and a boondoggle of a bus system at the head of the table, this was a very important policy decision for Keller and company. It demonstrates that local government, far from being beholden to developers and bureaucrats in the decision making process, is quite capable of listening to local voices and moving forward with the needs of our city’s citizenry respected, intact and part of the plan to improve this city in the years ahead.