Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Voters in Southeast Albuquerque next month will pick a fresh-faced political newcomer to represent them on the
Don Harris, a four-term Republican who has represented the district since 2005, isn’t seeking reelection in District 9. Two registered Democrats and a Republican — none of whom have ever held public office — have emerged as contenders for the seat, which represents east Albuquerque from Menaul and Eubank, south to Kirtland Air Force base, and east of Tramway.
Though city races are nonpartisan, Harris is one of three Republicans on the nine-seat panel.
The election is Nov. 2. If neither candidate earns more than 50% of the vote, then the top two vote getters will face each other in a runoff.
Rob Grilley Jr.
Grilley, 37, said a drive down Route 66 in the district displays why he’s running.
That stretch of Central could be a gem that welcomes travelers to the city, he said. Instead, many of the businesses in the shopping centers along the iconic street are vacant.
“District 9 is where Route 66 comes into Albuquerque … and what are the first things that you see? A motel with cops parked in the front of it and a park that isn’t being taken care of,” he said. “I’m not saying we need a giant Las Vegas-style neon sign or something like that, but I want to try and restore some pride in our community.”
A native of Connecticut, Grilley has lived in Albuquerque for about 10 years.
“I had a lot of good volunteers that were helping me out. But I think I, myself, knocked on over 1,200 doors,” said Grilley, who has experience working on campaigns for City Councilor Pat Davis and current Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
Grilley is the board president for Common Bond New Mexico, which advocates for LGBTQ youth, and he worked as an aide during the most-recent legislative session. His husband is a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories and they live in the Juan Tabo Hills neighborhood.
A registered Democrat, Grilley said he wants to increase funding for Albuquerque police and boost officer pay. He said he doesn’t agree with calls to defund police.
But Grilley said he was also troubled by the “Crime Matters More” campaign by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, which Grilley said seemed like a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“All it’s done is just stir the pot and make lots more people angry,” Grilley said. “It makes it harder for me to try to say, ‘I don’t want to defund the police. I do want to have accountability in our department, but we need to support our officers.’”
Grout, 60, has lived in the Four Hills neighborhood since she was 16 — so she’s a 43-year resident of the district.
She said she’s running to address two issues — crime and homelessness.
The Republican first-time candidate said she would do so by advocating for strict enforcement of all laws, including arresting homeless people for minor infractions like drug possession, loitering, panhandling and vagrancy.
“I love this city, I was born and raised here. I’ve raised children here. We have grandchildren here. And I don’t like the crime and the homelessness that are plaguing it,” she said. “If you make the city environment good or ripe for homeless people, they are going to come. Because they are not held accountable. They can live their lifestyle the way they want to because we are allowing that. We need to stop that.”
Grout suggested that the city should renegotiate settlements the city has reached with the Department of Justice or as part of a lawsuit over jail conditions, both of which have led to years long reform efforts within Albuquerque police.
“Little crimes become big crimes,” she said. “If I’m getting away with shoplifting, I’m going to move on to something bigger, period. It needs to be addressed.”
Grout and her husband are co-owners of the The Auto Clinic, which they purchased from Grout’s parents in 1989. Grout said she and her husband are active in their church, Hope in Christ Church. She is also a member of the National Rifle Association and the Music Guild of New Mexico.
She said she typically supports Republican candidates, including former President Donald Trump.
“I’ve got lots of friends, and I’ve lived in this area forever,” she said. “We walked and knocked on doors, and we worked hard” to earn support.
Powdrell, 54, is making another bid.
After challenging Harris unsuccessfully four years ago, Powdrell is making another attempt to represent the district.
Powdrell, a Democrat, is general manager of a low-power radio station he operates out of his home in the Eastridge neighborhood. He said his uncle worked in the radio business, and since he was a child his dream was to own a station.
Powdrell said he gained experience serving as co-chair of a community policing council for Albuquerque police’s Foothills Area Command. Those councils were created as part of a settlement between the city and the DOJ, which aimed to correct patterns of police misconduct, including shootings.
They aim to improve relationships and understanding between police and the public. And Powdrell said he gained insight into the job of a police officer and the challenges they are facing, which will serve him if elected to the city council.
He said as a councilor he would advocate for more investment into Head Start programs because he thinks early childhood education can ultimately reduce crime.
“Kids have to have structure by the time they’re 5 years old,” he said. “When a kid starts playing cops and robbers, hopefully their structures are in place by that time.”
Court records show that Powdrell was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence seven times between 1989 and 1994. Powdrell said the charges were the result of a bad relationship he was in at the time.
He and his current girlfriend have been together for nearly 20 years and are raising four children together.
“In my earlier life, things were different. And God forgives me for the things that (I) have done. And the court system did what the court system did,” he said, pointing out that he was never convicted of a crime in any of the domestic violence cases. “What I’ve learned has made me a better person.”