Stadium bond sinks, but voter turnout rises

Keller wins re-election in Albuquerque’s mayoral race, while the City Council could veer more conservative

By: - November 3, 2021 6:20 am

Albuquerque skyline (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)

A bond that would have put $50 million in taxpayer dollars toward a stadium for the United soccer team tanked yesterday with only about 35% of Albuquerque voters saying yes to the venture. 

The team’s committee to support the measure spent over $800,000 during the campaign cycle, according to city finance records

Back in January, before the bond proposal, the idea of a stadium had strong support, according to early polls

But opponents in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote raised concerns about rising housing costs and gentrification in the two areas being discussed as possible locations for the stadium. The Barelas and South Broadway neighborhoods near Downtown saw rallies and marches

As the last hours of the election ticked by, both Mayor Tim Keller and United’s committee tried to remind people that the location for the stadium wasn’t certain, and if neighbors said no, they wouldn’t force it.

People around the city also expressed that they weren’t sure a publicly funded stadium was such a wise investment in an economically shaky time, though the committee promised it would be good for the local economy.

In the afternoon on Election Day, journalist Gene Grant with New Mexico PBS asked Keller why now had seemed like the time to ask voters to invest in a stadium (scope the 1:31:36 marker here). Keller answered that it had to happen this way because of the bond cycle, and he mentioned the more hopeful outlook of last summer. 

Maybe he meant 2019?

Incumbent Mayor Tim Keller addresses the audience at the mayoral forum hosted by the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative at Highland High School on Monday, Sept. 27. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)

Four more years

Incumbent Keller has another four years as mayor in front of him, capturing nearly 56% of the vote and avoiding a runoff in Albuquerque. In his victory speech, he said last night’s clear win showed confidence in his leadership during tough times.

The 2021 campaign cycle focused heavily on crime in Albuquerque, which seemed like it would be a boon to mayoral candidate and Sheriff Manny Gonzales. But the sheriff cornered only about 26% of the vote, while radio personality Eddy Aragon broke off a surprising 18% — a bump up from his latest polling numbers. 

Gonzales’ campaign was run by Jay McClesky, the GOP strategist behind the scenes of former Gov. Susana Martinez’ two terms

Dan Lewis, a conservative who ran against Keller four years ago, recaptured his former City Council District 5 seat yesterday with messaging that was critical of the city’s direction overall, perhaps signaling that his own mayoral ambitions aren’t quelled. 

A conservative Council?

Albuquerque’s City Council could veer right after yesterday’s election. 

Lewis vacated his seat on the Council four years ago to run against Keller for mayor. He won his Council spot back last night, ousting Cynthia Borrego. During this election cycle, Lewis criticized the overall direction of the city under Keller’s leadership, vowing to fund the police and reverse immigrant-friendly policies.

Incumbent Lan Sena lost her seat by 10 percentage points to Louie Sanchez, a former Albuquerque Police Department officer who centered his campaign on his crime-fighting experience. Councilor Sena co-sponsored a bill in June 2020 to bar APD’s participation in a federal program offering military surplus to local law enforcement agencies. The resolution failed in a tight Council vote.

Lori Lee Robertson also ran on an anti-crime platform, and as the lone GOP candidate, she took the lead in a field of six vying to represent the mid-Heights area. Robertson did not manage to snag at least 50% of the vote though and will face a runoff.

Reneé Grout pulled ahead in her bid for Council but will also be facing a runoff after running a campaign criticizing crime and the encampments of people experiencing homelessness in the city.

The Clerk’s Annex polling location in Albuquerque 10 minutes before the polls closed on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Between 50 and 70 people were still in line, with more arriving. (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

Record-breaking turnout

Voter participation was high in Bernalillo County on Tuesday, where unofficial results from the Clerk’s Office showed over 118,000 people casting a ballot in the mayoral race. That’s a record, surpassing the 100,000 mark. 

It’s about 20,000 more voters than last time around — and that was the biggest number seen in a decade

Long lines snaked down sidewalks outside several polling locations, delaying results some, Clerk Linda Stover said as the polls closed.

The 2021 vote was only the second time local offices and issues were put to voters on the same day across New Mexico, instead of low-turnout municipal elections dotting the calendar. 

Statewide, participation was similar to the first Regular Local Election in 2019, with a little over 18 percent of registered voters casting a ballot both times, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. But in 2019, there wasn’t a contentious mayoral race or a divisive stadium bond in the state’s most populous city to feed the overall numbers. 

It might be hard to gauge the full statewide effect of changing New Mexico’s election cycle for another four years.

Twenty-eight municipalities chose not to include some races in the Regular Local Election this year, because they want a voter ID requirement or didn’t want to cede elections’ control to their county clerk. Rio Rancho is the biggest city intentionally sitting this one out mayor- or Council-wise. It’s the third-largest city in the state boasting a population around 100,000.

More people cast a ballot for the stadium bond in Albuquerque than the entire population of Rio Rancho, with a little over 117,000 ballots cast on the issue, according to the Clerk’s Office. 

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Marisa Demarco
Marisa Demarco

Marisa Demarco is an Albuquerque-based journalist and lifelong New Mexican whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent almost two decades as a reporter, producer and newsroom leader, co-founding the New Mexico Compass, and editing and writing for the Weekly Alibi, the Albuquerque Tribune and UNM's Daily Lobo. She began a career in radio full-time at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health and criminal legal reform for much of the last seven years. During the pandemic, she was also the executive producer for “Your NM Gov” and “No More Normal,” shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice.