If Dan Lewis loses the mayoral election to Tim Keller, we'll know at least one reason why: people are turned off by his negative attack ads against Keller and are turning away from him.
At least that was part of the sentiment Thursday night at the Albuquerque Press Club where the two mayoral candidates attended a “Fireside” chat, an informal forum in which the two answered questions from members of the audience.
The event, put on by the Press Club and the weekly Alibi, was billed as a civil kind of debate at which there would be no finger-pointing and no attacks, just talk about policies and ideas.
But Lewis repeatedly broke the rules by attacking Keller for voting to allegedly protect sex fiends when he was a state senator, for his support of public transportation and the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project, and for failing to control crime in his former senate district, the International Zone.
Lewis even dumped on Keller's choice of neighborhoods in which to live with his wife and children.
The crowd was small – not more than 40 people – the room was small, and you could sense that when Lewis started with his first attack on Keller – about voting for a senate bill that supposedly protected sex offenders – there was some unease in the room.
By the time of Lewis' third attack there were some groans and moans and even a couple of shouts to stop the attacks.
And then, near then end, there was a question from a retired UNM medical school professor that will probably come to define and haunt Lewis' campaign. The prof prefaced his question with a lengthy statement – surprise, surprise - about how he voted for both Democrats and Republicans and how he was offended by Lewis' TV attack ads against Keller.
"Why the attacks? What I'm seeing on TV is so negative that it tends to make me not want to vote for the candidate with the negative ads on TV,” the prof said. “I feel like it insults my intelligence.”
Then came the killer question:
“How do you feel about losing people that may have voted for you otherwise?”
Lewis didn't get a chance to answer because the moderator deemed the question too similar to the previous one. But the question will probably haunt Lewis and his campaign strategy of attacking Keller instead of touting his own qualifications, plans and ideas.
How many others are being turned of by it?
The crowd wasn't a bunch of crazed young radicals or screaming progressives. It was mostly middle aged and older folks – people who are definitely going to vote. My sense was that if this small group of people was insulted by Lewis' live performance, then the city in general is being turned off by his attack ads.
I've only met Lewis a few times, and our conversations have been short. Twice he was friendly and engaging. But in a number of phone conversations over the years he's been mistrustful of the media, defensive, and sometimes, angry, irritable and unwilling to answer questions.
If there are two Lewis', the irritable one showed up Thursday night. I got the sense that he was annoyed to have to be there. While Keller was relaxed and smiling, Lewis seemed, I don't know, somewhat irritated and resentful.
Lewis even took to dumping on the audience, which is a dumb thing for a politician to do.
When answering a question about the defeat of the mandatory sick leave ordinance on Oct. 3, Lewis said he opposed it and that he believed in helping business owners thrive so they could create jobs and lift people out of poverty.
Someone in the audience shouted out sarcastically: “It will eventually trickle down.”
That drew a lot of laughs, and the anger out of Lewis.
“Man, you guys are showing your real colors, what it's all about,” Lewis said. “Man, I thought it was just the national media that was biased. You guys are too.”
That floored a lot of people because there were only two or three reporters in the room. Everyone else was a so-called regular citizen.
In another strange move, Lewis dumped on Keller for moving from the International Zone to the Country Club area.
“Tim doesn't live in that district anymore. [International Zone],” Lewis said. “He moved to the Country Club. Why would you move away from the district you want to fight for?”
Well, maybe he felt like it. But Keller responded with an answer that everyone could understand that that basically blew Lewis out of the water.
“Look, I love my family,” Keller said. “We had a second kid. That's why I moved. I was in infill housing and it was really small. And when Jack was born we needed a bigger house.”
Then Keller leaned forward in his chair, and you could see the passion, and continued:
“And when I was in high school I dated a girl in the Country Club. And I picked her up for prom and saw that neighborhood and those trees, and I literally was like, 'Someday, I'm going to try to move here.' And I'm so happy that I had the opportunity.”
That got a few “Aws” from the audience, many of whom undoubtedly had the same experience when they were younger.
At times, Lewis made no sense. When discussing the defeated sick leave ordinance, he again attacked Keller and seemed to contradict his own position on the proposed law.
“It's almost embarrassing to hear some of the things Tim is saying,” Lewis said. “Tim lives in the Country Club. Tim's family doesn't need government-mandated sick leave. People in the International District do. They need help, but you moved away from there. I'm glad for you, really happy for you.”
Lewis opposed the sick leave ordinance, but here he was making a case for it by saying that people in the International District need it.
Keller summed up Lewis' performance for the evening pretty accurately.
“Just throwing out compliments and then calling me dishonest doesn't really make sense,” Keller said.
He was right.