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Progressive incumbents prevail in New Mexico mayor races

November 3, 2021 GMT
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, center, fixes a campaign sign as his daughter Maya looks on, upon their arrival to a polling place in Albuquerque, N.M. Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters in New Mexico's largest city are deciding whether to reelect progressive mayors or to back more conservative challengers within the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
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Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, center, fixes a campaign sign as his daughter Maya looks on, upon their arrival to a polling place in Albuquerque, N.M. Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters in New Mexico's largest city are deciding whether to reelect progressive mayors or to back more conservative challengers within the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
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Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, center, fixes a campaign sign as his daughter Maya looks on, upon their arrival to a polling place in Albuquerque, N.M. Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters in New Mexico's largest city are deciding whether to reelect progressive mayors or to back more conservative challengers within the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Voters rallied behind incumbent progressive mayors of New Mexico’s largest city and state capital in local elections Tuesday, rejecting challenges from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller held a commanding majority with all precincts reporting. He claimed victory and said voters sent a clear message of support for his administration in the midst of a pandemic and public safety challenges.

“We’re going to push forward, and we’re going to lift up this city for future generations,” Keller told supporters.

Keller’s challengers included two-term Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who backed a move by then-President Donald Trump to send more federal law enforcement agents to Albuquerque. Eddy Aragon, owner of a conservative radio station, also sought the top job in Albuquerque, describing a city afflicted by crime and economic insecurity.

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In Santa Fe, publishing entrepreneur and Mayor Alan Webber received 55% of votes in a three-way race, according to uncertified results from all city voting centers.

Webber said the election hinged on his administration’s response to the pandemic, affordable housing shortages and “investments in people and people-related projects” such as the creation of a South Side community center for teens.

“They really felt the city had done, as a community, a great job in responding to COVID and keeping people safe,” Webber told The Associated Press.

Tuesday’s voting was a preamble to statewide and congressional contests in 2022, when Democrats hope to prolong their hold on all statewide offices, including governor and majorities in the Legislature. The local elections extended to city councils, school district boards and tax initiatives for local education spending.

In Santa Fe, Webber’s progressive bent includes support for a pilot program that provides a guaranteed minimum income to parents attending community college.

He was challenged by fellow Democrat JoAnne Vigil Coppler — a city councilor, real estate agent and Latina born in Santa Fe — who highlighted her long career in public administration.

She also has cast herself as a guardian of respect for the city’s cultural traditions, in an election contest overshadowed by conflicts over historical monuments.

Republican environmental engineer Alexis Martinez Johnson ran for Santa Fe mayor as a political outsider, after losing a bid for Congress last year.

On the campaign trail in Albuquerque, Keller confronted questions about his ability to contain crime with plans and programs that focus on the root causes, such as addiction and poverty. Albuquerque surpassed its annual record for homicides over the summer, and the death toll has continued to climb.

Keller told the AP in an interview Tuesday that he believed the campaign has been one about what kind of leadership citizens want in a time of crisis.

“These are tough times for Albuquerque, whether it’s COVID or crime or homelessness,” he said. “I believe we’ve built a foundation to deal with those issues in a real way. And we’ve got to continue and follow through with those.”

Affordable housing has been a leading issue in New Mexico’s largest city, where Keller blamed the pandemic for a surge in homelessness.

At one Santa Fe polling site Tuesday, students from a high school history class arrived. Among those old enough to vote, Joshua Durr, 18, said he favored Webber “because he’s working on affordable housing and opioid addiction.”

Separately, Fernando Rodriguez said he was drawn to Vigil Coppler’s local roots and painted the current mayor as an outsider.

“She’s for the people. He’s in it for himself,” Rodriguez said.

Uncertified election returns also showed voters rejecting a $50 million bond measure that would help pay for a new stadium in Albuquerque. New Mexico United for All — a political action committee bankrolled by the New Mexico United soccer team — had been the biggest fundraiser and spender in the city election.

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Cedar Attanasio contributed reporting from Santa Fe. Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.