'This is an incredibly unique place': Berry reflects on time as mayor | KOB 4

'This is an incredibly unique place': Berry reflects on time as mayor

Chris Ramirez
November 30, 2017 10:51 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Mayor Richard Berry gave himself a two-term limit and stuck by it. He wrapped up his last day in office Thursday, paving the way for Tim Keller to take over.


On Friday, he returns to private life.

As mayor, Berry proved himself to be a builder. In his eight-year tenure, the city spent $1.2 billion on public works projects, including the reconstruction of the Paseo del Norte interchange project, the Convention Center renovation, a 50-mile bicycle loop, new trails and bridges in the Bosque, rehabilitating the Rail Yards, and the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.

Berry also gained national recognition for how he tackled chronic homelessness and was one of the first mayors in the country to open an office in city hall designed to help refugees.

However, crime spiked under Berry's watch. 2017 will be the year with the most homicides on record. Property crime is at an all-time high, and Albuquerque remains the number one city for auto theft.

Before leaving office, Berry sat down with KOB for an in-depth interview.

KOB: "Tomorrow, you return back to the private life. What's next for you? What happens when you get to go back to being just Richard Berry?"

Berry: "Well, I'm going to stay somewhat connected with cities. I've been asked and I'm honored to coach new mayors and do some work with incoming mayors around the country. I'm going to do some work with Yale University that I've been doing for the last number of years. Meeting mayors, talking about best practices, so I'll be able to do what I've really come to love which is -- be a student of cities. That's not how you make a living, but I'll get to still stayed connected and I am thrilled for that. 

"From a living standpoint, I don't know. Maria and I don't know yet. We still have the construction company. It's like a time capsule. I walked over there the other day. I think the ham sandwich I was eating when I got elected is still in the fridge. But it's still there. Our shop is still there. I don't know if we'll get back into construction or not.

"We're chapter people. I spent my early life in athletics, and I was a Lobo. We spent 20 plus years in business. Now we've spent 12 years in public service between the legislature and the mayor. Our next chapter doesn't look like politics for us. But we'll see what doors open. I have a lot of faith that doors open."

KOB: "Since the election, you've met with Mayor-elect Keller from time to time. What kind of advice are you giving him?"

Berry: "Listen, you're going to walk into challenges. All of us walk into challenges. If I would have run for a third term, we all would face the same challenges next week. It's a big job, but you have 6,000 people at the city who get up every day and work really hard. They were here before you got here and a lot of them will be here when they are gone. Embrace them. Let them teach you. Listen to them a lot. 

"Find something that keeps you really grounded. You're going to have some highs on some days and some real lows on others and do your best. We're going to make mistakes. Work hard to make them honest ones. Just give it everything you got for this city because it deserves it."

KOB: "After eight years, there are a lot of projects that have your thumbprint on them. Do you worry that Mayor-elect Keller may roll back or undo some of the initiatives that you've worked so hard for?"

Berry: "No. I have a fundamental understanding. There is a collective wisdom in your community. They elected me at a time when they felt they needed a business person in City Hall. You don't get to choose when you serve.  I'm in a cohort of mayors who served during the Great Recession. Those are different times than today when we've had 25,000 jobs, and the economy is in the upswing. But now crime is up, so that is a challenge he will have to tackle. I just I think the best thing you can do as a mayor is take what your predecessors did, take the things you believe in, build off those foundations, bring your visions and aspirations to the office."

KOB: "In 10 years, 20 years from now when people are looking back and talking about the Berry administration, what do you hope they say?"

Berry: "Look, I'm not a special guy. I'm just a guy who loved my city enough to put my business on hold and try to leave things better than how we found them.  I surrounded myself with talented, energetic, people, very diverse group of people -- politically diverse, diverse in thought, traditional diversity. We cared and hopefully some of the things we've done will take a long approach."

KOB: "Do you see yourself running for office again in the future?"

Berry: "I think what Maria and I are thinking in terms of our next chapter, [it] does not involve politics. Not that I won't do civic engagement or find ways to add value to the community, but we don't have any plans at this point to run for any office."

KOB: "What do you regret? When you are lying awake at night and you're thinking to yourself, 'Man I wish I would have made this decision differently,' what is that?"

Berry: "That's kind of like an athlete question. I always go back to the athlete. Regret is built around times when you didn't give it everything you had. So knowing that every day for eight years we gave it everything we had, those regrets aren't there.  I'm never going to look back and say, 'I wish we would have tried harder for this or tried harder for that.' Hindsight is 20/20, and you look back at mistakes, mine included. You make mistakes. Ours have been well-intentioned, honest mistakes, and you look at them and say, 'Well, we could have done this or that better next time.' There are hundreds of those.

"This is one thing that I haven't told Keller yet, but I will. This town will let you work hard, even if they don't agree with you because they know if you are doing it for the right reasons."

KOB: "The ART project is nearly complete now. For a long time, it's been a really unpopular project for a lot of people, particularly the merchants along Central. What needs to happen to change that perception? When do you think that perception will change?"

Berry: "What we are hearing on the street is that it already is changing. There is no way to sugarcoat it. When we put orange barrels up in front of your business for a year, that's a tough year. We kept lanes going for the entire year. That's why more businesses didn't go out of business.

"Let's just agree it's been a tough year for those businesses.

"This is the biggest single public works project in our city's history, so that was not unexpected. What we tried to do was minimize that by keeping the lanes open and now that the barrels are going away and getting a chance to ride ART and see these beautiful stations light up at night. They see you can now see the view-corridors, you don't have a 60-foot bus zooming next to you on a sidewalk. You can see the business storefronts better. People will see not what Mayor Berry designed, but what we allowed the world-class designers to design. It's really going to be a positive thing going forward, and it's a time thing. It will take another intentional effort to keep it and make it successful."

KOB: "What is the answer? How does Albuquerque dig itself out of this crime problem? What needs to happen?"

Berry: "Let me start by saying it's going to get better and I'll tell you why in just a minute. Let me start by saying we know how to fight crime in Albuquerque. We know how to do it.

"What we haven't been able to do yet is overcome the emptying of the Bernalillo County jail. We have 2,000 fewer people in jail than what he had a few years ago. When you look at those low crime rate years, we had between 3,100 and 3,800 people in jail. But since 2012, we have reduced the number of people in the Bernalillo County jail by 60 percent. There are 2,000 more people in our community who are doing a lot of harm, some of them.

"It's not just a less cops, more crime issue. It is a disrupted system that we haven't been able to get square yet, but I think we have the tools in place to get it square."

KOB: "Does it bother you that so many people blame you for the crime problem we are having?"

Berry: "Hey, look. The buck stops at the mayor's desk. I get it. We pull some of the levers on the criminal justice system, but not all. You're a reporter professionally, and you know how tough it is to navigate that criminal justice system and figure out what's happening where. We are just trying to give people a straight answer. Yes, we need more police officers, but our studies don't show why crime is up."

KOB: "A lot of people feel that there were significant failures at APD during your administration. What do you think should have been done differently at the police department?"

Berry: "As we speak, there is a noticeable difference. Our officers are better trained, have better resources than they had. We spent millions more on resources than on my first budget here. There are a lot of positive things here. It takes a long time for some individuals, and frankly, some individuals won't ever get there and I understand that. But I think the men and women at APD have made tremendous progress. Complaints from citizens are down 22 percent, so we are showing some progress."

KOB: "Which leads me to my next question, which is: a lot of people still don't like Chief Eden. People thought hiring him was a mistake. Was hiring Chief Eden a mistake?"

Berry: "No. People ask me about Ray Schultz. People ask me about Allen Banks. People ask me about Chief Eden. What we've done is have the best people doing the work that needed to be done at the time it needed to be done. Everybody has their longhands and their shorthands, and every chief I've had has added some value to the department. Chief Schultz, the Real Time Center, the Silver Alert Program. 

"Chief Eden came at a time where we needed a reformer in chief.  Different cities at different times need different things. I felt like we need someone with extensive experience in policing, an academic background, and someone willing and able to approach those in the right way. I understand that not everybody likes Chief or me or the next elected person or the next chief. But I just watched the guy work every day, and I can tell the community that there is a lot of love for the officers and the community in his heart and soul."

KOB: "The relationship with the DOJ monitor is rocky at best. Knowing that relationship is so important, how and why did that relationship deteriorate the way it did?"

Berry: "Well, go back and think about the process. We have an investigation by the DOJ and they come out with the findings. It says there are improvements in a lot of areas that need to be made. We then negotiate a settlement agreement. That takes a long time. That is a lot of effort, and then we end up where a monitor needs to go through a competitive process and is selected.

"When the monitor comes in, you have a police department trying to answer half a million calls for service, every year, every day, all day, all night. You've got a monitor who has experience with other departments. Everybody is trying to get to the right place the right way. There will always be differences in opinion. I can tell you though, to the community, everybody is working hard. The monitor is working hard. APD is working hard. Do they disagree at times? 

"I've seen everybody working hard, and I know they have disagreements. But at the end of the day, I still have confidence that everyone is working toward a common goal."

KOB: "Your relationship with the police union was off to a terrible start since Day 1. In 8 years, how come that relationship was never repaired?"

Berry: "Since I've been mayor, we've had four heads of the APOA.  You have to remember: we walk in and we have a $90 million shortfall our first year. We had two options … well, three. We could have raised taxes, but we've never raised taxes in my administration. We could have laid off dozens if not hundreds of officers or do a pay cut. That upsets people. I get that. We told the officers at the time we'll do our best to get it right with you. Since then, we have raised pay 21 percent. We've had several raises get turned down.

"I appreciate that the union leadership has a job. They have a constituency. I have a job. I have a constituency. I don't believe anyone could argue our door isn't always open. If you have a good idea, if you have a way to be more efficient, keep officers safe, we are always listening. We won't always agree, but we have to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Like any other mayor around the country, there is tension involved in that as well. 

"What people should remember is that it's the arguments that make the news. There has been a lot of time where there has been agreement and our team of negotiators and Rob Perry have met with leadership and have come to an agreement on other things. I think it's parcel to running a large organization. I don't begrudge them. They are fighting for a raise, and sometimes we have to say we don't have the dollars for that raise. Let's work where we can. It's part of the process."

KOB: "One of the common themes I hear from your critics is that moments of crisis during our city, you weren't there. Or during moments of crisis when our community really needed to hear from the mayor, it wasn't the mayor speaking. It was somebody else. What do you think about?"

Berry: "I don't think that's true at all. I mean, I was there 45 minutes after the findings letter came out talking to a room full of press."

KOB: "So you disagree?"

Berry: "As a mayor, you have your public face but you're also in the living room with a family picking out the funeral dress for a girl killed in a road rage incident. You're in the hospital in the middle of the night while an officer struggles for his life. There are a lot of moments as a mayor. I would have to ask those individuals what was that moment you are speaking about because I'm here all day, every day. I don't think we've ever turned down an interview or turn down an opportunity to speak to our community whether it's good news or bad news, and it's been an honor to be able to do that. I just don't think I'd agree with that."

KOB: "Eight years ago you walked into office and I know you had a head full of ideas, a head full of things you wanted to accomplish. Do you think you accomplished all those things?"

Berry: "I think for the vast majority, we did through collaboration. People ask us, 'What are you really proud of?' I'm proud that we were able to work with a City Council that had a Republican majority at times. They had a Democrat majority at times. We had to cut pay. Times were tough. When we had to cut pay, we had Democrats with us. When we wanted to do public transit projects, we had Republicans with us. We didn't get to the point where we are going to hold your vote against you and your district tomorrow. So if you look back at the massive rewrite of the zoning codes, not the sexy headline stuff, but heavy, heavy lifts -- the homelessness initiatives, the $1.2 billion in infrastructure -- that's not because I'm any kind of a genius. That's because we were able to collaborate and cooperate. There is the entrepreneurial ecosystem thriving in Albuquerque now. The fact that we have added 25,000 jobs in the last five years in Albuquerque, that's good stuff. Crime is on the front of the agenda today as it should be, and nobody is saying that doesn't need to get better.

"When you look back on the eight years, I've been extremely fortunate that this community would work together and we have got a lot of things done through that process. You never finish everything, but just a big thank you to this community. I'm telling you, apologize to no one for being Albuquerque, New Mexico. I've become a student of cities. I've come to know hundreds of mayors around the country. Everybody has opportunities, everybody has challenges, but this is an incredibly unique place. Together, we faced very difficult challenges -- the Great Recession and others. But in many ways, other than crime, we are leaving the place better than how we found it. I say we because it's not your mayor, it's all of us. We got to a lot of collected yes's in the last eight years. There are mayors around the country would dearly love to have that and they don't. 

"We served as best we could. The community has left a lot of things better than when we found them. We did what we said, was running City Hall more like a business and less like a political machine. Without a doubt, we absolutely have done that. We reinvented government in a lot of ways because we have 6,000 employees. And then most of all, we have a community who really does like each other. We have 600,000 brothers and sisters. And sometimes you argue, right?

"This town doesn't have a habit of letting each other down. Mayors come and go, I get that. We've been blessed to do it for eight years. Maria and I say thank you to the community for that. I ran for mayor because I love my city, and I'm leaving with an adoration far beyond what I ever expected. We're just thankful people."


Chris Ramirez

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