Albuquerque progressive voters came out in force yesterday, giving State Auditor Tim Keller, a Democrat, just shy of 40 percent of the vote among eight competitors in the city’s mayoral election. Keller will face off in a runoff election Nov. 14 against Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis, who came in second with 22.93 percent.
The two were frontrunners in a race shaped early as a battle between a lone publicly financed candidate — Keller — backed by small donors, labor and progressive organizations, and three privately financed candidates who together raised almost $2 million — Lewis, County Commissioner Wayne Johnson and attorney Brian Colón.
Turnout was higher than the city has seen in well over a decade, around 25 percent. Unofficial results show 96,971 voted in the mayoral race. A special ballot question asking voters to approve a paid sick leave ordinance saw a massive ground campaign to bring out progressive voters, but in the end the ordinance couldn’t overcome a well-financed media campaign against the measure. It was defeated by just under 800 votes. But Keller undoubtedly benefited from the turnout push.
Four other privately funded candidates weren’t able to raise the kind of money, or have the name recognition, necessary to mount truly competitive campaigns. But one, young progressive, Gus Pedrotty, scooped up almost 7 percent of the vote with only $17,784 to work with. By comparison, Republican County Commissioner Wayne Johnson spent $330,126 for 9.63 percent.
Johnson fought hard to overtake Lewis and Colón for the second spot, going negative at the end against both Lewis and Keller. Both Johnson and Colón captured the votes that pre-election polling largely predicted. Colón raised the most campaign cash, spending $808,468 for a little more than 16 percent of the vote.
Keller utilized Albuquerque’s public financing system, which provided him $418,611 to work with. He campaigned in part on the fact that he was the only candidate to use the system, and lauded that fact in a press release sent late Tuesday night.
“This was also a win against special interest money and a strong statement of support for the idea that how we elect our next mayor matters,” he said in the press release. “Our publicly financed campaign not only competed, but prevailed over big money politics. Over the next six weeks we will continue reaching out all across Albuquerque with our positive vision for the future that includes a real plan to create jobs and foster economic development.”
While Keller highlighted use of public financing, he also benefited from an independent group that formed a political committee to support his campaign. Albuquerque Forward Together raised $361,650, of which 55 percent came from labor or progressive organizations, and he received endorsements by the local firefighter and police unions. But he was also the target of a hard-hitting negative campaign by another political committee backed by a Hobbs oilman and a large land developer seeking to develop a wide swath of the former Atrisco land grant in far west Bernalillo County.
Lewis raised almost $600,000 from private donors, with strong backing from the real estate and development community, which provided 29 percent of his funds. He was also subject to a negative advertising blitz by Johnson. But he seemed to capitalize on the negativity, urging Republican voters to unify behind his campaign in order to not have a runoff between two Democrats. He also got a late endorsement from one of the other candidates, Ricardo Chaves, who publicly urged his voters to go for Lewis.