Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
In March 2018, less than four months after taking office as mayor of Albuquerque, Tim Keller signed a bill to increase the city’s gross revenue tax. City council had already passed the tax hike, but it was never presented to voters for approval, a move a mayor campaigning for Mayor Keller had said he would take before any increases.
The tax increased the city’s annual operating resources by about $ 50 million, primarily for public safety. This is, Keller said, one of the wisest actions of his first term, despite the associated flashback.
“I think at that point we had public safety and in some ways a budget emergency,” Keller said of the $ 40 million structural deficit at the time. “I had to make a decision that I knew would be unpopular – and contrary to what I said – but I think it’s important for leaders to learn.
For Keller, the decision represents the gulf between being what he calls a “well-meaning candidate” who wanted mayor since sixth grade to the person who actually makes the daily calls from the 11th floor of Town Hall. .
This real-world experience is why he thinks voters should give him a second term.
“I am 10 times the mayor in the future than I was when they first elected me to this post because of what I have learned and what we have been through,” said said Keller, who is facing fellow Democrat Manuel. Gonzales and Republican Eddy Aragon in the November 2 ballot.
Now 43, the Albuquerque native acknowledges the city still has significant challenges ahead – such as a record number of homicides and an increase in homelessness – but believes he and his administration are the best qualified to continue to guide it.
The pandemic, he argues, has demonstrated it.
Keller considers these dramatic and uncertain moments at the start of the pandemic among the most crucial of his first term. The city’s operations, he said, could have come to a screeching halt. Instead, the city of Albuquerque hosted a major meal pickup / delivery operation for seniors, implemented childcare options for essential workers, kept the buses running, and kept the buses running. operations of the planning department to ensure the continuation of construction activities. The city has also implemented several business relief programs.
“They were all choices,” Keller said. “Most people have chosen to close; we have chosen to remain open as a city and to keep the safety net open.
The city government, he noted, has also made efforts to reopen swimming pools, libraries and even the zoo as soon as possible after the early closures of the pandemic.
While the state government has issued general public health orders and dictated most of the related restrictions, Keller said the city has developed a new multi-service effort to ensure local rule compliance – focusing on education rather than sanctions – and also played a key role. in the area’s vaccination efforts.
Keller has repeatedly compared Albuquerque’s COVID-19 measurements to other western subways in the United States, publicly highlighting its generally more favorable infection and vaccination rates. The city’s performance during the pandemic, he said, attracted outside attention and became an asset for economic development.
“The pandemic has reset the way people assess where they want to live, work and play. And, in this reset, Albuquerque is a clear winner over these other cities, and it has done more to change our economic value proposition than any explicit strategy we’ve tried in the past 20 years, ”Keller said.
Leading a city through such upheaval has also served to strengthen the leadership he has installed in city government, he said, forcing quick decisions, but also flexibility in a busy environment. fire test.
“It’s training that is invaluable (and) that they can use in the future,” he said.
But pandemic aside, Keller said he had learned a lot since taking office, including not making promises like his 2017 pledge not to raise taxes without voter approval. With four years of fresh perspectives, he says promises only make sense in “fantasy land.”
“You can’t do that as a mayor – at least an effective mayor – of Albuquerque,” he said.
For example, its 2017 platform included reducing crime and returning the exhausted Albuquerque Police Department to 1,200 officers.
Property crime is on the decline, according to APD data, but violent crime is relentless. The city has broken its annual homicide record twice during Keller’s first term – including this year, surpassing the previous record with months to go – a morbid step critics consistently place at the mayor’s feet.
Keller, in turn, cites national trends. He said the city will do everything it can to turn the tide – by offering bonuses for hiring police, adding new technology and summoning criminal justice partners – but that Albuquerque is not safe from the rise of violence.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that there is something we could have done that would have prevented an increase in homicides,” he said. “I think across the country it just shows that it’s just not true right now.”
APD, meanwhile, remains well below its staffing target, despite an officer salary increase in 2018 – facilitated, Keller said, by this increase in gross revenue tax – and an effort to concerted recruitment. The city has managed to attract around 100 new people per fiscal year, Keller said, but has been unable to weather the wave of retirements and other departures.
The exodus included the handpicked former leader of Keller, whom the mayor sacked a year ago in a move he defines as brave, but also sadly late. He now says he should have acted sooner.
“I lost a year and our city lost a year. If I had gotten rid of him sooner it would have helped, ”Keller said of Mike Geier, who himself blamed Keller’s administration for micromanaging ODA and prioritizing public relations and photo opportunities.
Keller defends his administration’s communications strategy, saying citizens expect him to be visible.
He held regular, sometimes even daily, press briefings early in the pandemic – more so than Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham – and a 2020 citizen satisfaction survey showed most residents rated the city well for its communication efforts during this period.
Even before the pandemic, Keller held frequent press conferences – taking turns donning a neon vest to demonstrate pothole repair and using a bucket elevator to install a new LED bulb in a street light – and has maintained an active social media presence with posts on issues related to the city, but also the holiday season with his wife and two children, and his metal fan.
Keller has said he would prefer fewer cameras in his life sometimes, but he believes in bringing “your whole being to work,” and social media offers a channel for that and more transparency.
“I think our city demands that a mayor be in public,” he said.
The bottom line, he said, is that being mayor of Albuquerque is hard work; the former state senator and state auditor even argues that it is the hardest elected office in New Mexico.
The scrutiny is intense, the challenges – such as crime – are complex, and simple solutions are rare.
“I think everyone inside knows these are tough issues. And if there had been a quick and easy fix, we would have tried it already, ”said Keller, who holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Harvard Business. School.
The incumbent believes he has some promising programs in place, such as the new Albuquerque Community Safety Service. Announced during a nationwide protest movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd, the ACS will send people with more specialized training – such as social workers and mental health professionals – to certain 911 calls, such as threats of suicide, public intoxication and homelessness. The ministry has been slow to take hold and has not released its organizational plan, but some existing staff are already taking calls.
Keller said this would have multiple benefits, including reducing the ODA burden – he wants to remove at least 10,000 calls a year from the police domain – but also connect people to the right services and, has- he says, speak to at least some of the police-related trauma that communities of color have faced.
He said the city had laid the groundwork for an improved economy, from the arrival of Netflix in 2018 to the establishment of a small business support office and development center to help businesses owned by companies. minorities.
He expects the Gateway Center – the homeless shelter and services center he discussed at length at the start of his first term – to finally begin providing overnight accommodation this winter, complementing what the research has shown is an insufficient number of emergency accommodation beds in Albuquerque. It is inspired by similar programs in cities like San Antonio, Texas.
“Frankly, we should have had it 20 years ago,” Keller said.
The city could also have a new multi-purpose football stadium if voters agree to a special tie in the November 2 election. While public opinion at the proposed venue – where New Mexico United would play – is mixed, and opponents have questioned the city’s investment, given other lingering needs, Keller has been optimistic about the idea, stating that “it’s time” for a new sports site to support family entertainment.
He said the city as a whole is still reaching its potential.
“I believe our best days are ahead of us – and… they are also in the near future,” he said.
Q&A mayoral candidate Tim Keller
Name: Tim Keller Political Party: Democrat Age: 43 Education: Honors MBA, Harvard Business School;…