Let’s talk about City Council District 8. I know, primos, it’s all the way up in the Heights (like all the way, the eastern boundary lies along the edge of the Sandia Mountains between Menaul and Montgomery) but the seat itself could play a big role in establishing and maintaining a progressive local governance presence in the far Northeast Heights. But one person and one perspective remains a barrier to that goal.
City Councilor Trudy E. Jones, a Republican with ties to all the other elephants, including Trump, has been ensconced as the councilor of this district for nearly 12 years. That means she ascended to city politics at pretty much the same time when Richard Berry began his awful tenure, a time that longtime District 2 City Councilor Isaac Benton referred to as a veritable “dark age” for progressive politics in this town.
Benton merely survived, but Jones flourished, voting against a DOJ investigation of APD and later sponsoring anti-panhandling legislation whose constitutionality is still being debated in our court system. The last time her seat came up for election, she ran unopposed, probably because Dems felt that the district was a red lock.
But since then, much has changed. Locally, the area turned remaining state house seats into blue bastions—for example the election of Melanie Stansbury in long-held elephant territory—and a consolidated progressive voice that lacks strict geographic boundaries, has risen in Burque.
This year, Jones is being challenged by Maurreen Skowran, a progressive Marine Corps veteran with traditional values and an optimistic, forward-looking demeanor. A former Republican, the lately Democratic Skowran has invested in a platform that includes attention to our city’s crime problem, but also focuses on restoring prosperity, reducing homelessness and treating drug addiction as well as advocating for the natural and built environments that comprise Albuquerque.
After reporting on the District 2 and 4 races a couple weeks ago, Skowran’s campaign manager contacted Weekly Alibi to ask us to cover this important race in the Heights. So we invited Skowran to stop by for a chat. After an illuminating, eloquent discussion of the issues, we choose to endorse her because we believe that her skills and experience are part of the formula that Burque needs to successfully and sustainably greet the future.
Here’s a brief look at what the challenger offers in District 8, a place bounded on one side by big hills and filled up everywhere with humans who have dreams that sometimes surpass the size of those mountains.
Weekly Alibi: Ms. Skowran, could you please tell our readers a bit about yourself and what’s important to you?
Maurreen Skowran: I come from a military family. Everybody in my immediate family served in the military. I’m a veteran of the Marine Corps. I served in the Presidential Helicopter Squadron. Now, I think it’s time to bring the service closer to home. I want to be a voice for the people in District 8. I want people’s voices to be heard. I want to make sure that the people in this district have the services they need and deserve.
What services do you mean?
Well for instance, there are 23 community centers in the city, [but] only one in District 8. There are 18 libraries in the county but only one in District 8. There are 72 new patrol officers [at APD] but only seven of them are going to the Foothills Command, which covers most of District 8.
Politically, do you think there’s renewed interest in traditionally Republican districts like yours?
This area in general hasn’t been competitive until recently. I looked back at the last four elections, and only one of them was contested.
I think centrist Republican Greg Payne opposed Jones in 2011. We endorsed him, believe it or not. Why is now the time to finally switch gears? It seems like it’s been an uneventful tenure at first glance.
Well, that’s the thing. I want to make sure different voices are heard. I’d be responsive to constituents and call them right back. I want to make sure that people have a chance to interact with their elected representatives.
As a constituent-centered candidate, do you see the district as particularly conservative?
I think, for one thing, that the stereotype of this area [of town] is that it’s very homogenous. I think that’s changing, the demographics are changing. There are more young people and more Democrats in the area. The Democrats are getting more active, various wards [in the Heights] are getting more organized. In the New Mexico House elections of 2018, all the Democrats got elected.
Weekly Alibi was really pleased about that. We endorsed winners like Melanie Stansbury and Abbas Akhil. It was humbling to be part of that success. We are hopeful for the same thing here.
If you were elected, you’d be working with a City Council that is currently growing its progressive wings, especially in regards to police reform. How do feel about that?
That’s really a happening thing! As a group, we want to make sure that the police are being taken care of, that we build staffing levels, but also that they continue to be held accountable for their behavior. We need to stay vigilant with the settlement agreement.
How important is following through with reforms like that?
That’s the biggest thing I hear about [from potential constituents]. It’s the police. Not so much about the settlement agreement. Even though there’s not so much violent crime in the district, people are really concerned about property crime. Those sorts of crimes have a big impact on citizens, insurance rates go up, they have to pay for alarm systems. But you don’t see police officers patrolling much anymore. Basically, you see them if there’s an accident.
So although experts say there needs to be better or even less interaction with the public, you’d argue for a larger police presence?
They need to be seen. We need to see them out there so that people feel safe. It’s one of the biggest deterrents to crime.
I think APD is on the right track and it does make me feel more comfortable if I know that they are interacting with the public at a community level, promoting safety and being law abiding and so forth. I think Mayor Tim Keller and Pat Davis and Isaac Benton are all actively trying to change the dynamic.
I agree. But like I said, of these 72 new patrol officers, we only got 7 for the Foothills area command. That’s just a tenth.
But there’s a fairly big population in that district, que no?
We have a tendency to stereotype them all as upper-middle class whites, but it’s actually quite a mix of young people, people of color, apartment dwellers.
What are some of the citywide issues that you resonate with or want to work on improving?
We must focus on the crisis of homelessness, mental health and drug addiction. The Mayor is working hard to move forward on this. So there’s no wrong door and people can get the help they need.
What else is important for the city to get a handle on?
Economics. The [business] incubators and accelerators are essential to growth. Then there are some quality of life issues. For instance, there’s no plumbing in city parks. You can’t get a sip of water, can’t go to the bathroom. So people don’t bring their kids [to the parks]. What good is a park if you can only stay an hour [because you’re thirsty]?
So these are all small aspects of experience that can make a city much more livable, right?
Right! You want to feel good about where you live and get the most out of your city.
How about bigger picture issues like immigration?
On immigration, the city voted to spend a quarter of a million dollars to help immigrants on their way to asylum, I agree with that. We need to help these people and remember Ellis Island, where many of us came from. Unless you are a Native American, you are from somewhere else. They’re just trying to make better lives for themselves and their families.
How do you view yourself politically?
The area I want to represent is pretty evenly divided between registered Democrats and registered Republicans. There’re also a healthy amount of political independents in the area. So I think I’d be a great representative for the District. Officially, it’s a nonpartisan race. I’m registered Democrat now, but I had been registered as Republican in the past. I think I will be able to hear from and understand people from across the political spectrum.
Why is this a good time for change in District 8?
There’s a lot of momentum. People want to change things, to bring good changes about. We’re on the right track with Mayor Keller, we’re on the right track with the police but we could also be working on protecting the Bosque and understanding climate change. I’m sure I can help with that process.