For Albuquerque’s Headbanger Mayor, Power Comes in Power Chords

“That’s really cool that my book’s on his table,” said Daniel Bukszpan, 48, the author of the encyclopedia, a 2003 illustrated guide to all things metal. (In the interest of precision, it should be noted that Mr. Bukszpan’s exuberant response included the use of a four-letter modifier that, while it appears several times in his book, has been omitted here.)

Mr. Bukszpan, who lives in Brooklyn, added, “But please remind the mayor of Albuquerque that the proper way to read the book is in the bathroom, not the office.”

Either way, few people can speak with Mr. Keller’s authority when it comes to explaining what makes Albuquerque a place so welcoming for metalheads that one was elected as mayor. Yes, the city has nurtured bands dabbling in other genres, from indie rock to alternative country and norteño, Mr. Keller acknowledged.

“But what about Randy Castillo?” Mr. Keller asked, referring to the drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe who was born here and attended West Mesa High School before following his star to Los Angeles. In addition to the array of metal bands spawned and performing in the city, the mayor pointed out that another prominent figure in the metal world, Rex Brown, the former bassist for Pantera who now plays with Kill Devil Hill, makes his home in Albuquerque.

“I believe in the power of Metal!” -Mayor Tim Keller Video by ABQ-LIVE

A passion for metal minutiae might not seem like a priority for someone like Mr. Keller, who studied art history at Notre Dame and went on to obtain an M.B.A. from Harvard. With progressive political views, he served as a state senator and as New Mexico’s state auditor before running for mayor in a city that had been, until his election, under Republican control since 2009.

Born and raised in Albuquerque, Mr. Keller attended Catholic schools. He struggled with dyslexia as a child and still does, opting to devour audiobooks instead of reading. As the father of two young children, he insisted that he doesn’t attend as many concerts as other metal aficionados.


“What can I say, this is something I’ve been into for a long time,” Mr. Keller said of his love for heavy metal.

Gabriella Marks for The New York Times

Still, Mr. Keller said that he valued heavy metal’s capacity for bringing people from different backgrounds together, especially in the Southwest, where Hispanics and Native Americans have long featured prominently in the metal scene, forging subgenres like Rez Metal, popular on and around the vast Navajo reservation.

“Despite a reputation for metal skewing Anglo, it doesn’t in New Mexico and never has,” Mr. Keller said. He cited the appeal in New Mexico of songs like “Indians,” the enduring 1987 Anthrax single about the marginalization of Native peoples in the United States, and the admiration that many people here have for figures like Chuck Billy, the Native American frontman for the thrash metal band Testament.

While Mr. Keller’s fusing of heavy metal and politics has earned him a lot of attention, authorities on the genre argue that the mayor is part of a global current of elected officials who have made their love of metal part of their political narrative.

“It’s not that surprising, since the first generation of die-hard metal fans is entering their 40s and 50s, rising to positions of power and obtaining political influence,” said Jeremy Wallach, a cultural studies scholar at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who specializes in the global spread of heavy metal.

Danica Roem, the pioneering transgender vocalist for the band Cab Ride Home, won a seat in November in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Farther afield, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, may arguably be the world’s most powerful metalhead, listing Napalm Death and Lamb of God among his favorite bands.

Freddy Lim, the headbanging frontman of the band Chthonic, is a member of Taiwan’s parliament. And in Norway, Fenriz, a member of the black metal outfit Darkthrone, campaigned for a council seat in an Oslo suburb by posting photos of himself and his cat with the caption, “Don’t Vote For Me.” (He won anyway.)

Mr. Keller, for his part, insists that he is focusing on urgent issues in Albuquerque, including a stalled rapid transit system and luring investment to the city. His supporters note that he has begun chalking up victories, like the announcement this week by a Texas health care support company that it will hire hundreds of employees here. Mr. Keller also signed into law on Thursday a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, a move aimed at refocusing police resources in the crime-weary city.

Many constituents — including some in the metal scene — aren’t holding their breath that a new mayor, even one steeped in a take-no-prisoners music culture that isn’t normally associated with establishment institutions, will be able to achieve change overnight.

“I didn’t vote for Keller, but then again I don’t vote at all,” said Jake Pacheco, 35, vocalist for the Albuquerque thrash metal band Anesthesia.

Still, Mr. Pacheco said that Mr. Keller compared favorably with Albuquerque’s former three-term mayor, Martin Chávez, still notorious in the metal community for having sought more than a decade ago to crack down on downtown concerts — viewed then as contributing to underage drinking and violent crime.

With each concert appearance, Mr. Keller seeks to bolster what he views as heavy metal’s “empowerment” potential.

When the Florida metal band Trivium arrived here for a concert, there was Mr. Keller on the stage at the Sunshine Theater, reminiscing about how he had listened to the group’s music on the campaign trail, before urging fans to let loose a welcoming scream for the performers.

Paolo Gregoletto, the bassist for the band, seemed delighted to come across an elected official expressing such zeal, and said as much later on Instagram. The mayor, he declared, had provided “one of the sickest show introductions ever.”

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As Amazon Steps Up Tax Collections, Some Cities Are Left Out

“It’s just a direct price advantage that shows up on customers’ receipts,” Mr. Davis said. “You never want to end up in the situation where the companies you’re offering better deals to are the ones that don’t even have roots in your community.”

Amazon says it collects taxes in every jurisdiction where it is required to do so, and Mr. Davis’s report found that the company does collect local taxes in most states. But a hodgepodge of state laws govern tax collection, meaning there isn’t a simple solution for municipalities that are now left out.


An Amazon warehouse in Florence, N.J. The company says it collects taxes in every jurisdiction where it is required to do so.

Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

For example, sales tax rules based on the location of the seller may be impossible to enforce if the company has no physical presence in that jurisdiction. And smaller online retailers can escape collecting sales taxes in more places than Amazon does — even when they use Amazon to sell their products.

Amazon is facing increasing scrutiny over its tax policies. Despite being one of the largest retailers in the country by revenue, Amazon pays relatively little in federal income tax, largely because of its low profit margins. Until several years ago, Amazon also collected little in state sales taxes, and in most states still does not collect taxes on goods sold on its platform by third parties. (Amazon collects taxes on such third-party sales in Washington State, and agreed this month to begin doing so in Pennsylvania.) The company has also faced criticism for requesting tax incentives from state and local governments to lure Amazon facilities, including its planned second headquarters.

Mr. Davis, however, said his findings were less the fault of Amazon than of state tax systems that don’t require, and in some cases don’t allow, online retailers to collect local taxes. He said states rushed to strike deals with Amazon without always ensuring that local governments would benefit as well.

“It’s just been overshadowed by the state issue,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s smaller dollars at play, but for these communities, it’s dollars that matter.”

Amazon sometimes collects taxes where other online retailers do not. In Chicago, for example, Amazon collects local taxes because it has warehouses and other facilities in Illinois; online retailers that don’t have a physical presence in the state generally don’t have to collect taxes there.

Usually it is states — not cities or counties — that decide who has to collect local sales taxes. In most states, taxes are based on the location of the buyer, and retailers are required to collect local sales taxes alongside state taxes. But in some states, including New Mexico, taxes are based on the location of the seller, meaning there is no mechanism for collecting taxes from sellers that don’t have a physical presence in the area. Other states have other legal quirks that affect local tax collections.

Those loopholes have existed for years, but their significance has grown greatly with the rise of online retail, said Scott Peterson, vice president of government relations as Avalara, a company that helps retailers calculate and collect sales taxes.

“This huge hole that exists in the sales tax structure has been known for a long time,” Mr. Peterson said. “Their laws have not kept up.”


Candelora Versace and her husband, Marc Howard, who run a jewelry shop in Santa Fe, N.M. “The roads don’t pay themselves. The schools don’t fund themselves,” Ms. Versace said.

Gabriella Marks for The New York Times

A pending Supreme Court case, South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., could change the legal landscape, but not necessarily simplify it. Depending on the outcome, the case could pave the way for states to require companies to collect sales taxes even if they don’t have a location in the state. But local governments in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and other states still wouldn’t be able to collect taxes without help from their legislatures.

Local government officials in many parts of the country say the rise of tax-free online shopping has had a big impact on their budgets. Albuquerque, for example, relies on the sales tax — or what is known in New Mexico as a gross receipts tax — for nearly two-thirds of its general fund revenue, which totaled about $500 million last year. The city’s finance department estimates that it lost out on $5 million in tax revenue on Amazon purchases in 2016, although calculations are difficult because of a lack of available data. Lost revenue from other online retailers adds millions of dollars more.

Mr. Keller, the mayor, said Amazon benefited from city services, such as the roads used by delivery trucks carrying its packages and the police officers who makes sure packages aren’t stolen. But unlike local retailers, the company doesn’t chip in.

“This is the fundamental way we fund American society, and thanks to technology they found a way to opt out of that,” Mr. Keller said. “They’re getting a free ride.”

For businesses, the practical effect of that free ride is probably small, at least outside of a handful of high-tax jurisdictions. Local sales taxes add just 1 or 2 percent to prices in most cities, not enough to sway most shoppers’ decisions. But retailers said the tax was a matter of fairness: Why should local businesses be at a disadvantage, however small, against a much larger, out-of-town rival?

“The 2 percent doesn’t drive someone from my place to Amazon, but it doesn’t help,” said Richard de Wyngaert, owner of Head House Books, an independent bookstore in Philadelphia. “I just feel that if not all businesses, why any business? If we don’t all pay taxes, why should any of us? To me, it’s ludicrous. There is a social contract with your citizens.”

Candelora Versace, who with her husband runs a custom jewelry shop in Santa Fe, N.M., said that her customers frequently buy gemstones online, then come into the store to have them put into settings. She said that she doubted they were explicitly trying to avoid paying Santa Fe’s roughly 3 percent sales, but that regardless of their intent, the effect on the community was the same.

“The roads don’t pay themselves. The schools don’t fund themselves,” Ms. Versace said. “When they don’t want to pay the tax, it cheats us. It cheats those of us who live here and have businesses here.”

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