ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s long-beleaguered police department and questionable campaign donations are casting shadows in the city’s open mayoral election.
Some candidates have received endorsements from those in the community spotlight and from former police officers, while others have done work with police, all raising eyebrows in the nonpartisan race dominated by crime and promises to reform the Albuquerque Police Department.
State Auditor Tim Keller, a Democrat who has been leading in early polls, has been the target of much of the criticism from the seven other candidates on the ballot.
Republican Dan Lewis, Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson and Brian Colon are also facing criticism leading up to the Oct. 3 election. If no candidate gets 50 percent, the top two vote-getters head to a runoff.
In stump speeches, Keller, a former state lawmaker speaks of fighting rising crime and restructuring the Albuquerque Police Department that is undergoing federal court ordered reforms. He also wants a new police chief.
Yet, it’s the endorsements listed on Keller’s campaign web page from former Albuquerque Police Chief Sam Baca and former police sergeant Paul Heh that are drawing attention.
Baca had a troubled tenure in the 1980s that included accusations that he kept “intelligence files” on political opponents, including a mayoral candidate. Those files were the subject of a federal lawsuit, but civil liberties say those files were later destroyed, according to news reports from that era.
Baca later became a police chief in Lakeland, Florida, but resigned amid accusations he intervened in a suspected drunken driving traffic stop involving the city manager.
“After reviewing Tim’s strategy on real solutions for making Albuquerque safe, I believe this plan is excellent,” Baca says on Keller’s campaign website.
Heh, a retired sergeant, drew scrutiny of city officials for pulling tens of thousands of dollars in overtime. In 2011, city records showed that Heh was the fourth-highest paid employee the previous year at $139,000, earning more than the mayor.
Heh has been linked to Eye on Albuquerque, a blog that posts anonymous, expletive-laced attacks on other mayoral candidates. Heh has said he has posted on the site.
Keller spokeswoman Jessie Hunt said in a statement that Heh and Baca are part of the dozens of current and former law enforcement professionals who support Keller’s plan to fight crime.
Lewis also has drawn scrutiny for an endorsement. Legacy Church pastor Steve Smothermon recently said that he was supporting Lewis because he wouldn’t “support the homosexual agenda.”
But Lewis told the Albuquerque Journal (https://goo.gl/c9w8P7) that he would hire gays and sign a proclamation for the gay pride parade if elected. “As mayor, I would never refuse to hire someone for a job based on their sexual preference,” Lewis said.
Meanwhile, Keller and Johnson both face complaints about campaign donations. The publicly-financed Keller is facing a complaint that his campaign took “in-kind” cash donations, and Johnson is facing one claiming that he took donations from people doing business with the county.
Both say their campaign donations are legal.
Colon, a former Democratic Party of New Mexico chairman, is facing criticism for working for a law firm that defends officers involved in shootings. He, too, is promising to support court-ordered reform in the police department.
Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, said he couldn’t support Colon because of his law firm’s past.
“We’ve had a number of police shootings in the city and Colon’s firm was first and center in defending these cops,” Arellanes said. “No way I will ever trust him.”
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras