Kids at school called Nicholas Bevins “Rain Man.” The unwanted nickname sprang from the title character of a movie about an autistic man who was kidnapped by his greedy younger brother.
Neither Bevins, now 25, nor his schoolmates were born when Rain Man hit theaters in 1988. The other students knew Bevins is autistic. They used “Rain Man” as a slur.
It was an early lesson for him on how roughly someone who’s different can be treated.
Bevins is still an outsider, this time in big-city politics. He is running for mayor of Albuquerque against impossible odds.
It would be a difficult race for any youthful newcomer to win. Bevins says he has trouble attracting notice while publicity is lavished on Mayor Tim Keller and one of his challengers, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales.
“News outlets have almost entirely ignored our campaign while at the same time writing large articles about the incumbent and the sheriff who is running,” Bevins said.
The mayor’s race is nonpartisan, but Keller and Gonzales are registered Democrats. Bevins is an independent, though only because there’s no state party encompassing his political preference.
Bevins calls himself a “libertarian socialist,” and he has a platform he believes appeals to many in Albuquerque.
“There is a hunger in this city for leftist politics,” he said.
Perhaps Bevins’ most radical plank is to legalize drugs in Albuquerque.
He says his administration would do this by directing police to ignore drug crimes. Money would be spent instead on housing and treatment programs aimed at turning addicts into sober citizens.
Allowing drug deals to occur with impunity is an idea straight from The Wire, an old television series set in drug-infested Baltimore. Bevins says reducing demand instead of trying to control supply is the right approach on fighting drugs.
“I subscribe to the idea that people closest to the problems are closest to the solutions,” he said. “I see the problems every day. They’re not going to be solved by spending more money on the promise of hiring more police officers — an approach that has failed repeatedly in Albuquerque.”
A renter who lives with two roommates, Bevins travels the city by skateboard, bus and the Sun Van system. Sun Van provides transportation for people whose impairment can make it difficult to use fixed-route services.
He says his circumstances give him a view of Albuquerque that Keller and Gonzales don’t see.
Keller proposes increasing the budget for police. Gonzales uses “tough on crime” as a centerpiece of his campaign pitch. Bevins says both out are out of step.
“People are terrified to call police in this city,” Bevins says.
The Albuquerque Police Department has a documented history of using excessive force, including deadly force. It is under a federal court order to make reforms in training and practices, but Bevins says little has changed.
One of his first moves as mayor, Bevins says, would be to fire Police Chief Harold Medina, who was appointed by Keller in March.
While working a beat in 2002, Medina shot and killed a 14-year-old boy. Medina said the teen pointed a gun at him and another police officer. The boy’s weapon turned out to be a BB gun.
Bevins says Keller’s selection of Medina was another setback for a department that doesn’t have the public’s trust.
As for Gonzales, he was radical in his own way in resisting a proven method of police accountability.
Gonzales became Bernalillo County sheriff in 2015, and for years he refused to equip his deputies with body cameras.
Good cops don’t mind cameras. An accurate recording of their work can demolish frivolous claims of misconduct.
Gonzales yielded last year after the state Legislature approved a law requiring all law enforcement officers to use body cameras.
Keller began his political career as a liberal state senator. Gonzales’ crime-fighting ideas once won him a laudatory tweet from then-President Donald Trump.
Still, Bevins doesn’t see any practical difference between Keller and Gonzales. They’re talking a lot about policing in a year when Albuquerque’s murder rate has escalated. But, Bevins says, the high-profile candidates haven’t done anything innovative to reduce crime or to improve relations between cops and residents.
Bevins’ hero in politics is Sen. Bernie Sanders. At age 19, Bevins volunteered for Sanders’ first presidential campaign.
Bevins helped Sanders again last year. As one of the senator’s “victory captains,” Bevins advocated for Sanders throughout Albuquerque.
In addition, Bevins has campaigned for liberal candidates for the Legislature and the Albuquerque City Council.
Bevins has taken courses at a community college and the University of New Mexico. He didn’t graduate.
He has worked in the dialysis unit of a hospital and in quality control for private companies, but he’s not currently employed.
Still, he says, he’s working each day. He sees his job as shaking up a mayor’s race that otherwise would be what Bevins detests — politics as usual.