Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

City council with the highest turnover in 20 years

Albuquerque Council Chambers. (Robert Browman / magazine)

Copyright © 2021

A longtime Albuquerque city councilor calls it the “big reset.”

Another says this is cause for optimism.

Four new Albuquerque councilors will take their oaths on Saturday, marking the largest council change in the last 20 years.

In fact, more seats were awarded in the most recent elections than in the last three local elections combined. Not so many new members have joined the council since 2001, which means that not even the longest-serving current member of the council – Isaac Benton, who has served for 16 years – has been part of it.

“It’s going to be different from any other transition than I can remember and everyone will have to get used to each other,” Benton said. “It’s a big reset.”

Both incumbent councilors and newly elected councilors say they are hopeful of a fresh start despite the potentially deep ideological divide within the nine-member legislature.

Although the city elections are officially impartial, the new council will include five Democrats and four Republicans. In the past few years the Democrats had a 6-3 majority.

The new council takes its seat after a record year for murders in Albuquerque and with the city facing major homelessness-related challenges. Tammy Fiebelkorn, a Democrat who recently won the election to represent the city’s middle heights, said she believes city councils all understand the problems and are able to come up with common solutions.

“I’m really encouraged by the conversations I’ve had with (other council members) on the completely different end of the spectrum from myself, political,” she said. “We find overlaps and areas of interest that we can agree on.”

Fiebelkorn succeeds Diane Gibson, a two-term Democrat who has decided against re-election. Renee Grout, a Republican, won the race to replace Don Harris, a Republican compatriot who left the city on his own terms after serving 16 years as a representative of the southeasternmost borough.

Republican Dan Lewis and Conservative Democrat Louie Sanchez, meanwhile, take office after ousting Democratic incumbents Cynthia Borrego and Lan Sena in the November 2 election.

Benton said he would not characterize the new council as “more conservative” and said he preferred to describe it as “independent thinking”.

“That might be a good thing right now,” said Benton, who is representing Downtown.

In recent years the council has rarely been divided along strict party lines, but there are other breaks and 5-4 votes are the order of the day.

Councilor Trudy Jones, a Republican from Northeast Heights who has served 14 years, said the past year has been as controversial as anything she saw while serving on the council. She is looking forward to the new perspectives that sales bring with it.

“I think it will be a council that ponders their legislation instead of just following their leaders,” she said.

Mayor Tim Keller – a Democrat who easily won re-election in November – often easily brought proposals through the council during his first term, but that may change as new faces oust some of his greatest allies in the legislature.

“There will be more checks and balances,” said Grout of the new advice. “The uncontrolled power (of the mayor) will be different.”

Keller, meanwhile, says he has worked successfully with people across the aisle in the past, citing his experience in other elected offices before becoming mayor.

“This advice will not be different just because the rhetoric and partisan landscape may have changed,” he said in a statement. “It depends: we were all chosen in this cycle to work on the challenges facing our city, not to point the finger or play the game of accountability and blame; We need proactive ideas and solutions to our problems. As long as the new councilors follow this electoral mandate, we will have (a) great relationship. “

With the exception of Lewis, who served two terms as councilor before stepping down in 2017 in an unsuccessful bid for mayor, none of the new councilors had previously served in an elected office.

Jones said there were advantages.

“For advice, it’s always good to have fresh blood and new visions – people see the good and bad in the way things go and maybe some great new ideas,” she said. “I’m very optimistic about that.”

Grout said she would use her early days in office to research, ask questions, and listen.

Fiebelkorn said she will spend her first month securing capital expenditures from the legislature, which will meet on Jan. 18, and getting to know her colleagues better.

She said she took office with “full confidence” in the city leaders’ ability to come together to make Albuquerque a better place.

But she added, “Speak to me again in three months and see if I still say this.”

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