Recently, I met an Australian couple visiting our country. “You have a beautiful city,” they told me. And we do.
Albuquerque is blessed with a stunning landscape and an ever-changing climate allowing us to experience all four seasons—sometimes in one day. Our residents come from many backgrounds: cultural, national, spiritual, and economic. They bring to our city their talents, skills, energy, and creativity.
Albuquerque has an abundance of artists and craftsmen whose talents are exhibited in mosaics, murals, sculpture, fabric arts, writing, and in print. We see this on a grand scale around our city, in the small alleys connecting our streets, in schools, in public forums, in our libraries, and on the walls of individual homes. Our rich history incorporates immigrants from all over the world, as well as natives of this area. Our strong entrepreneurial spirit shows itself in many ways. Family-established small businesses, restaurants, secondhand bookstores, furniture stores, and clothing shops anchor and contribute to our city. All of our residents are an integral part of the mosaic that is Albuquerque.
This beauty—natural and manmade—makes up our city, our house, our home.
However, Albuquerque—our city, our house, our home—is suffering. The walls are crumbling; the foundation is cracked; the roof is leaking; the windows are broken. We are plagued with high crime rates, high levels of drug and alcohol addiction, a lack of economic opportunity and jobs, a high illiteracy rate, a low educational ranking. In many ways, Albuquerque is trapped in the twentieth century.
Every problem Albuquerque faces connects directly with other problems. I will solve this complicated puzzle by understanding the impact each problem and each solution has on the others. Otherwise, the repairs will not last; the house will not stand. We will lose the beauty in Albuquerque. We will lose our home.
All of Albuquerque’s residents share our city’s problems. When we work together, we can solve them. Our city is only as strong as its weakest link. When we lift the least of us up, we will all rise.
Together, we all win.
Let’s face it. Albuquerque is at a standstill. Unemployment is at 5.4 percent; our country’s average is 4.3 percent. Last year New Mexico’s employment growth was 0.9 percent; our country’s average was 1.5 percent. Growth in employment in all of our neighboring states was higher than the country’s average; our state fell short. New businesses do open, however, they don’t always succeed. Our workforce is undereducated and underprepared; too many of our residents suffer from forms of addiction. Many companies choose to look elsewhere for these reasons.
So we seek answers to this problem: better education; treatment programs; modern technology; more incentives. But what we envision today may be obsolete in ten years if we don’t focus on new approaches and technologies now. Our businesses must utilize technology to become better connected and more productive. These technologies must be embraced. They must be woven into our daily lives.
As mayor, I will invite companies developing modern technologies, from earth homes to solar panels, from new medical and bioscience to hemp technologies. Any company that transplants in Albuquerque will receive tax breaks, employee-training programs, and other incentives. Even our own area incubators, from UNM to the WESST Enterprise Center, and the BioScience Center, will receive the same incentives and opportunities. Let’s give our talent a purpose: to grow our economy and create the future.
I have been a hands-on citizen advocate throughout my life; I will continue to be one as mayor. I will invite national and international businesses to come to Albuquerque, to see what our city offers (for example, our international free trade zone that allows goods and materials to be shipped in and out of Albuquerque without the cost of international duties), and to tell us what they need. I will do the same for our homegrown entrepreneurs. I will employ scouts to find bioscience, IT, and solar businesses—companies and technologies that offer a good fit for our Albuquerque.
Imagine Chobani opening a second plant in Albuquerque, and, through their philosophy of hiring immigrants and former inmates, telling both groups they are a part of Albuquerque’s family, thus aiding in their success.
Prosperity would be shared by all of us, both individuals and small businesses. Big businesses need not only trained employees, they also need small businesses—the restaurants, hair salons, print shops, cleaners, bakeries, repair shops, carpenters, plumbers—everything that keeps a city going.
I will take this one step further. I will protect the small businesses we already have.
Albuquerque’s budget for its daily needs can fund the city’s small businesses. Small local businesses owned by underutilized individuals—including women, minorities, immigrants, those from impoverished backgrounds, those in recovery programs—would receive preferential treatment when bidding for the city’s budget needs. Why go to Dominos Pizza to feed city board members during monthly meetings when a local restaurant such as Amore or Firenze could fulfill that contract?
The city would not be shutting out big businesses; rather, we would be bringing small businesses into the fold, allowing them to compete on an equal playing field with large corporations. It would give our local business owners a chance to contribute their skills, talents, energy, and services to the economic wealth of Albuquerque at no increased cost. It would allow the city’s government to promote Albuquerque’s small businesses and its own economic wellbeing.
Then, to make establishing and growing a business within Albuquerque easier, I would open the doors of city government.
All too often our city has put the cart before the horse, deciding on answers before understanding its problems. Before bringing in outside experts to deal with development, the city government should collaborate with local private entities to gather their knowledge and understanding of what changes may be needed. The city’s residents would be invited to all city meetings—in person and on the Internet. I would welcome all those voices as they are a part of the conversation.
Albuquerque’s bureaucratic requirements for all businesses are a mess. I would simplify zoning requirements in residential areas for builders, reduce the steps for business licenses, and provide easier access to information about tax breaks and other incentives for new and existing businesses. Our city should serve as a guide to its business owners; when a small business opens, it will be on the path to success.
However, Albuquerque’s residents must understand this is a two-way street. Open city meetings mean nothing if the residents don’t attend. The city can’t make your business successful, no matter how much it simplifies the means to start one; as a business owner you must bring your business into the future.
All too often our city has looked to the past for a path into the future. Nostalgia doesn’t work. We can’t turn back the clock. The past provides a wealth of lessons, information, and ideas from which to draw. However, Albuquerque must learn to gather that knowledge, then turn towards the future. That is where the answers to our problems are.
The quality of life of a city can be measured in many ways: economic opportunity, environment, education, cost of living, and the vibrancy of its culture and arts. But the strength of a city is best measured by one thing: the strength of its people.
A city’s residents are its bones and blood, its life force. A city should be both a parent and a partner to its residents. It should support, promote, and educate its residents.
However, in Albuquerque, economic growth is stalled, crime is out of control, and our educational system is failing.
The statistics in education tell our dismal story: Forty-eight percent of our population is illiterate. Thirty-seven percent of our students drop out of school without graduating. In 2015, we had the worst high school graduation rate in the nation. We graduated 69 percent of our students; all other states exceeded 70 percent; the national average was 83 percent. That same year, Albuquerque graduated 62 percent of its students; only Milwaukee had a lower rate. We seesaw between 48th and 50th position in terms of our educational expenditure per student, then congratulate ourselves when we rise to 47th.
Our state ranks 40th in the nation in our number of students completing two years of college, 47th for those who complete a full four years. We are 47th in our math scores, 49th in our reading scores.
These numbers are as frightening as our rankings concerning crime. Yes, crime affects us on a daily basis; however so, too, do the after effects of failure in education and, let’s face it, they contribute to crime.
And the problems we face in education, like those we face in our stalled economy and our rising crime rates, are rooted in our poverty and in an unwillingness to look beyond the past for answers.
We can’t blame this problem on poverty alone. Yes, a large percentage of our students, 58 percent, qualify as low income, living below the national poverty level. Of those who do not graduate, 70 percent are low income. However, two states have even higher levels of low-income students, yet both have much higher graduation levels for those students. In California, 67 percent of the students are low income; 78 percent of them graduate. In West Virginia, 66 percent of the students are low income; 83 percent of their students graduate. As mayor, I will study those states’ approaches to the problem of poverty to learn what they are doing right.
New answers are out there; new technologies are being developed daily that can improve our lives. However, just like our businesses, our classrooms, our students, and our residents must be challenged not simply to adopt these innovations, they must embrace them as a part of their daily lives. Knowledge alone is not enough: It must be applied.
As mayor, I cannot directly affect what takes place in Albuquerque’s classrooms. However, I will influence it. I will serve as a link between private funders, educators, parents, consultants, nonprofit organizations, and students, pulling them together to collaborate in finding answers to the problems our students face. Yes, students should have an active voice in finding these solutions; their futures depend on the outcomes.
But my involvement will go further than that.
What if every coffee shop, pizza and fast food restaurant, city library, and other public meeting place had an area where any student could open a laptop or tablet, turn on a Smartphone and access a community of tutors and other students? This community would help them with difficult subjects, solve problems they are struggling with—provide them with guidance and information.
What if by participating in this community every student gained not just the benefits of education but also reward points for cokes, pizza, hamburgers, clothing—whatever services and goods the participating businesses had to offer? This would not only make enrollment in this program more attractive to students, it would provide a safety net for those who do not have regular meals, who are not adequately clothed, who are, perhaps, isolated or homeless. It would feed them, clothe them, provide them a seat at a community table.
But we can take this one step further. Education must reach beyond high school. A large percentage of our adult residents are illiterate. A similar approach could be used to address this problem. Starbucks, the Satellite Café, the Pueblo Restaurant, and other businesses could provide a virtual community where struggling adults can meet in person or via the Internet for group support and assistance. This portal could be integrated into our city libraries’ Internet services.
How will we fund this? In return for their participation, Albuquerque will provide every mentor business tax incentives, access to small business training, and, of course, repeat and future customers.
Then, as parent and partner to our residents, our city can continue to help our graduating students find their way into the future.
As mayor I will work with our local community colleges and technical schools to promote existing apprenticeship programs. I will also create a guild program for small businesses interested in training new graduates to carry on the skills of their trade. High school graduates who are not interested in attending a university could, through a series of paid internships and apprenticeships, gain valuable skills guaranteeing them employment into the future. Those businesses and craftsmen and women who sign on as mentors will be rewarded with tax breaks, small business training and loans, and other incentives.
Education goes beyond the classroom: It is a human rights issue.
Our students must graduate. For survival in today’s world, a high school diploma is a basic necessity, on a level with food, water, air. High school dropouts earn an average income of $11,416 annually, well below the national poverty level; 13 percent are unemployed.
Our students must find a path after graduation, one that allows them to see a way to future success. As mayor, I will help them find that path. As parent and partner, Albuquerque owes them that.
Albuquerque has an abundance of wealth—in its environment and in its residents. However, without an educated healthy population, the city is doomed to failure.
For too long, our state and our city have resided at the bottom of the national list in terms of their participation in and funding for the education of their students, and in terms of their involvement in bettering the lives of their residents.
I want to see a graduation rate well above the national average; I want our illiteracy rate to be well below that average. I want our students and adults educated, literate, trained—ready to face the challenges of the future. As mayor, I will work towards those ends.
Since joining the mayoral race, I have spent a lot of time meeting and talking to residents of Albuquerque. Without fail, whenever our conversation turned to this city’s problems, crime came up. Without fail, almost every person I spoke with had been directly affected by crime. Several had had their cars stolen or broken into; several had been victims of other property crimes. Many had family members who had been incarcerated for committing crimes, most of which were, directly or indirectly, connected to selling or using illegal or other addictive drugs; several had served time themselves. A number had been the victims of violent crimes or had a family member or a friend who had been victimized.
In too many rankings New Mexico and Albuquerque trail the nation. But in one, we lead it: crime.
The numbers are appalling. Albuquerque has more auto thefts annually than any other city in our country: more than New York City, more than Los Angeles, more than Chicago, although all three of these cities have much larger populations. Our state ranks first in the nation in burglary, second in the nation in other property crimes, second in the nation in forcible rape, and third in violent crime and aggravated assault. In 2016 Albuquerque was ranked the fifth most violent city in the nation; we were third in the nation for violent crime and second in property crimes.
You are twice as likely to be raped, assaulted, burglarized, or to become the victim of auto theft and other property thefts in New Mexico than in the nation as a whole. Your chances of being murdered or robbed on our streets are also higher.
There’s no denying we have a problem. But what can we do about it? The answers have to be as complex and as simple as the problem itself. Almost nobody chooses crime as a career path; it chooses them. Crime is linked, hand-in-hand, with poverty; criminal behavior is a result of a sense of despair, a loss of choices and opportunities, a lack of good education, drug and alcohol addiction, and a belief that the immediate benefits from a crime are worth the risk of being caught.
New Mexico ranks 50th in the nation in poverty; 20.6 percent of our residents live below the poverty level. Too many of our city’s residents are underemployed due to a lack of good jobs; too many are unemployed due to a lack of education or skills or to problems with addiction. Our streets and communities are vulnerable due to a shrinking police force with officers who are, all too often, dealing with problems they are not adequately trained for.
As mayor, I will tackle this problem head-on in all of its fronts.
Our city’s police department is suffering from a negative image caused by a “culture of aggression,” resulting in a lack of trust between the police and those they are hired to serve. I will complete the Department of Justice settlement agreement as quickly as possible. I will create a Department of Public Safety to include and oversee the police and fire departments, the emergency dispatch centers, and the emergency operations center. I will hire a civilian police commissioner to head it, and hire a new police chief who is willing to work with both of us in finding new answers to our problems. Together, we will reach out to leaders from other cities, such as Dallas, who have dealt with the problem of police aggression and succeeded in solving it. I will actively recruit more police officers, train, and retain them, by offering them a wage competitive with salaries paid in our neighboring states.
Our police should be a name and a face, not just a uniform. I will integrate our police officers into the communities they serve, when possible assigning them to the areas of the city in which they live.
I will work with the APD to set up community outreach programs, sending police aides to our city parks, churches, and schools, with an emphasis on middle schools where, most experts agree, criminal behavior first becomes entrenched. As mayor I will join these aides, actively participating in these meet-and-greets.
I want our residents to feel comfortable calling the police department when they feel threatened, when they see a crime being committed. I want our police force visible out there in our city working as police officers.
Too many of our police calls are dealing with situations resulting from drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, and mental health issues. As mayor, I will implement programs to deal with these problems before they result in violence or death. I will study successful programs in cities such as Santa Fe where the emphasis is on preventive measures, not cleanup.
Funds and personnel from a variety of sources, including the fire and police departments, the city hospitals, and UNM could be combined to create a mobile triage, composed of physicians and those trained to work with individuals suffering from mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction, and the homeless, circling the city. This triage could make regular visits to transient and homeless camps and to shelters, to places where these groups congregate during the day and sleep at night, getting to know those individuals in need and addressing their problems before they reach the crisis level.
As mayor I will work with our existing nonprofits and with developers to create more community housing for our homeless and those residents suffering from addictive and mental health issues. I will seek ways to increase federal grants to help fund these groups.
Drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, and mental health problems are health issues, with transit and housing components. The key to solving these and, thereby, to preventing crimes connected to them, is to connect those dots, to provide necessary health services, social services, and a stable, drug-free environment for those residents.
If a police officer is viewed not as a threat but as a friend and neighbor, that officer can work not simply to solve crimes but to help prevent them. If we reach out to those suffering from some of the root causes of crime, our city, too, can overcome this problem.
All too often when faced with a complicated problem such as crime, we turn to easy answers: more police on the street, more guns, tougher courts, stiffer sentencing. Complicated problems require complex answers. As mayor I will address all aspects of this problem, bringing empathy and hope to those who are at risk of being pulled into crime’s circle and offering opportunities to those who want to work to prevent and control crime.
Albuquerque is plagued with crime. If we work together, as individuals, as neighborhoods, as a city, we can solve this. We can heal our city.