Mayor Keller To Veto Charter Amendment On Eliminating All Runoffs; Will Let Stand Two Other Charter Amendments; Voters Need To Talk Some Sense Into City Councilors Who Want To Eliminate Run Off Elections For Sake Of Carrying Out Personal Vendetta Against Keller

On June 17, the Albuquerque City Council passed 3 City Charter amendments to be placed on the November 5 general election ballot for voter approval. Those Charter Amendments are:

  1. Eliminating all runoff elections and mandating whoever gets the most votes wins with no runoff between two top vote getters.
  2. Establishing a process for removing APD and fire chiefs.
  3. A charter amendment to create a process to fill vacancies on a city committee intended to resolve separation of powers issues between the mayor and city council. The committee includes appointees of both the mayor and city council.


By far the most contentious city charter Amendment that passed on June 17 was the one that would eliminate all runoff elections for Mayor and City Council and mandating whoever gets the most votes wins with no runoff between two top vote getters.  Whoever secures the most votes of all the candidates running wins the election out right. However, if there is a tie between the two top vote getters, then and only then would there be a runoff.  The charter amendment was sponsored by Republican Dan Lewis and co-sponsored by Democrat Councilor Klarissa Pena.  The Charter amendment eliminating all runoffs passed on a 6-3 vote.  Republican City Councilors Dan Lewis, Brook Bassan, Renee Grout and Dan Champine along with Democrat City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Klarissa Pena voted “YES”. Democrat City Councilors Tammy Fiebelkorn, Nichole Rogers and Joaquín Baca voted “NO”.

Dozens of public commenters spoke in opposition to the measure during the City Council meeting. One commenter said that despite the high cost of runoff elections, it was “money well spent.”  Another said “Breaking with established norms, you are proposing to do away with majority rule, a cornerstone of a representative democracy. You are suggesting that a candidate that receives a majority of votes against them is fit to serve and carries a mandate to govern.”

Proponents of the measure said it could decrease the number of runoff elections, which have low voter turnout and high costs.

Several public commentors called the proposal undemocratic which prompted nasty and hostile reactions from City Council President Dan Lewis and Councilor Klarissa Peña, the  bill sponsors.  Lewis said this:

“There’s nothing more democratic than Council to be voting on this tonight. … And nothing more democratic than the general public voting on this in November.”

Councilor Klarissa Peña, the second sponsor of the amendment, pulled the race card saying primary runoff elections are used in only a few states and were rooted in racist policies intended to keep white politicians in power. Peña said this:

“This is history, folks.”

Councilor Peña said she sees problems with low voter turnout, especially in historically disenfranchised communities. Peña said this:

“We’re in really difficult political times, and people feel like their voices aren’t being heard. … When we have such small voter turnouts, and even smaller the second time around, then something’s wrong.”

First term City Councilor Nichole Rogers, the only African American on the city council, and who was elected in November, 2023 in a runoff election after none of the 4 candidates running secured 50% of the vote, rejected Pena’s  argument and said this:

“Do not use my people’s plight to justify … making things easier for you to win.”


Common Cause is a national, non-partisan, watch dog organization that fights for accountability in government, equal rights and opportunities and representation, including voting, and empowering voices to be heard.  Common Cause was quick to address the city council vote on social media this way:

“[The Albuquerque City Council]  took us backward by amending an already bad proposal. Rather than lowering the threshold to be elected mayor or city councilor from 50% to 40%, they’ve eliminated any threshold altogether. Candidates under this scheme could be elected with 10% for example. The 6-3 passage of this proposal means, voters will be confronted with a question on this November’s ballot to eliminate run-offs and move to a free-for-all voting process where fringe candidates and special interests will dominate our elections.”


Mayor Tim Keller announced  he will  veto the charter amendment  eliminating all runoff elections and said this:

“Now basically you can be mayor with like 10% of the vote. And, I mean, sometimes there are a lot of people who run and lots of candidates. So it’s just very difficult to govern when people expect our leaders to get a lion’s share of the vote.”

Keller gave three reasons for his veto:

First,  voters in 2013 voted to approve a charter amendment  to increase the vote threshold from 40% to 50%. Keller said “The voters have already voted on this. … There’s no reason to make them do that again.”

Second, the change could make it difficult for incumbents to lose in a city with no term limits. Keller said in races with several candidates, plurality would make it easy for candidates with more name recognition to win. Keller said this:

“This version helps incumbents in a way that, even though it would benefit me, it’s just wrong for Albuquerque, and I think wrong for elections. … It’s just too much bias towards incumbency.”

Third the ballot measure could become a “political sideshow.”  Ostensibly this comment references the days when there were multiple candidates running for Mayor and many were considered fringe candidates that diluted the vote with some candidates giving a circus atmosphere to the election.

Regardless of a veto, City Councilor Klarissa Peña said something needs to be done, even if it’s not the charter amendment.  Peña said this:

“I’m not sure plurality is digestible for people. … I just hope people recognize we need to do something about waking the sleeping giant.”


On June 19, it was reported that Mayor Keller does  not plan to veto the other  two charter amendment proposals that passed the City Council.

Keller said he will not veto the charter amendment to create a process to fill vacancies on a city committee intended to resolve separation of powers issues between the mayor and city council. The committee includes appointees of both the mayor and city council.

Keller said he would not veto charter amendment which would change the process for removing the chief of police or the fire chief.  The current charter requires cause to remove the police and fire chief. An amendment passed would require an employment contract agreement for both positions. The proposal would allow the mayor to terminate the chiefs. The City Council would also be able to remove either position with at least seven votes, after notifying the mayor and chief.  Keller said this:

“We worked together, and we came up with a good piece of legislation to send to the voters that really allows what people want, which is in extreme cases, the council could get rid of a chief with a two-thirds vote, and so could the mayor.”

Those charter amendment will  be on the November 5 ballot. The City Council can override mayoral vetoes with a two-thirds vote.

The link to a quoted news source article is here:


It is right for Mayor Keller to announce early that he intends to veto the charter amendment eliminating all runoff elections. The problem is that it was enacted by the City Council on a 6 to 3 vote, meaning his veto could be overridden by the council if all 6 of  the City Councilors who voted for it initially refuse to change their minds. Simply put, the Charter Amendment to reduce the vote to win a City Council or Mayoral race with whoever gets the most votes with no runoffs is very bad government on many levels and will promote chaos in municipal elections.


The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council have deteriorated because of the sure frustration the conservatives on the council have experienced in not being able to stop the Keller progressive agenda with overriding vetoes. The conservative leaning  city council has shown significant resistance to Mayor Keller’s progressive agenda as going too far.  Repeatedly the conservative city council has attempted to repeal ordinances and resolutions enacted by the previous more progressive city council and to limit the authority of Mayor Tim Keller.  Prime examples include the following:

  1. A resolution to repeal or limit mayoral authority during a public health emergency.
  2. A resolution baring the city from mandating covid-19 vaccines for the municipal government workforce.
  3. Resolution directing the city administration to consider and “push to renegotiate the terms of the federal court approved settlement agreement.”
  4. Repeal of a quarter cent tax increase in gross receipts tax enacted a few years ago.
  5. Repealing or attempting to amend the City’s “Immigrant Friendly” policy calling it a “Sanctuary City” policy and requiring  APD to assist and cooperate with the federal immigration authorities.

The  charter amendments are not the first time that the conservative city council has attempted to reduce the authority of Mayor Tim Keller by City Charter Amendments. The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council deteriorated so significantly that on April 27, 2023 first term City Councilors Democrat Louie Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout announced legislation proposing a City Charter amendment for a public vote that would have made the Mayor of Albuquerque a member of the City Council.  They wanted to transfer all the mayor’s executive and city management duties to a city manager chosen by the city council. According to the proposed legislation, the mayor would have been recognized as the head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes”.   

The city council is now  trying to get city voters to change in a very dramatic way how we elect city officials in order to carry out a personal vendetta against a Mayor they do not like and who they perceive as ineffective and unpopular.

It’s downright offensive to city voters that City Council President Dan Lewis and Klarissa Pena pulled  the “race card” alleging runoff elections are rooted in racist strategies in the South. Both conveniently ignored  the fact that it was voters who changed the charter provisions by requiring run offs where no one candidate secures 50% of the vote  and it was done so on recommendation of a Charter Review Task Force.

Initially when the Mayor-City Council form of government was created, it was common to have upwards of 15 candidates running for Mayor and who ever got the most votes won. A good example of this type of election occurred in 1997 when Progressive Democrat Jim Baca was elected with 29% of the vote in an 8 candidate race. Baca was hampered during his 4 years as Mayor by critics claiming he did not have a mandate to govern. Baca sought a second term and lost. In 2017, when there were also 8 candidates running for Mayor, and when runoffs were mandated between the two top vote getters, Tim Keller won the 2017 runoff by a decisive landslide with 62.20% by securing 60,219 votes to Dan Lewis 37.8% who secured 36,594 votes.

Mayor Tim Keller, and for that matter the general voting public, should make every effort to try and  talk some sense into the 6 city councilors who voted for this ill-advised amendment to eliminate run offs and encourage them to let the Keller veto stand. Otherwise, every effort should be made by Keller and the general public to campaign and make sure the measure is defeated at the polls come November 5.


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.