Thursday, March 31, 2005

High Drama Grips NM's Largest City; Police Cover-Up Scandal Claims Chief, Plus: Mayor's Race "Cracked Open?" The Blog Report: In-Depth & Hard-Hitting 

A rare atmosphere of high drama enveloped Albuquerque political circles Wednesday as an ashen-faced and somber Mayor Martin Chavez hit the airwaves with the announcement that embattled ABQ Police Department chief Gil Gallegos would be resigning. It was gripping theater with the Mayor's afternoon news conference followed by the chief's who promptly refused to acknowledge the elephant in the room and claimed to be retiring on his own accord. But the allegations of a cover-up at the APD evidence room enabled by Gallegos, and the inability of local prosecutors and investigators to get their arms around it, will now hit the national news wires bringing unwanted attention to the Big Duke City and a long-lasting black eye to nearly 1000 ABQ police officers.

Rather than putting a damper on interest in the scandal, the Gallegos resignation seemed to spark a momentary feeding frenzy. "This seems more like a beginning than an end," said one politico." Others disagreed: "The police in this town have always gotten off with a slap on the wrist. I expect this thing to wimp out with no indictments and not much else of consequence," rattled off another Alligator. But as the drumbeat builds that may be of small comfort to Nick Bakas, the former cop who is now Deputy Chief Administrative officer for public safety and was Gallegos' immediate supervisor. The mayor said "heads" would roll. So far, the crowd has one. Are they sated yet?


As Gallegos threw in the towel, the euphemism that evidence was "missing" became almost laughable. The gravity of the situation had finally hit home. The questions are these: "Did Albuquerque police officers steal evidence, namely jewelry, cocaine, electronics, plasma TV's, cash, gold coins and other valuables? And did they take that "evidence" and sell it to fences and profit from their thievery? In the case of the drugs and cocaine, did they use it themselves, or sell it?

Its baffling how these direct questions don't seem to get answered much when things like this pop up in our Enchanted Land. But they are as clear as a pimple on a nose. Certainly, they were ignored when ABQ District Judge John Brennan was arrested in 2004 for cocaine possession. We never did find out where he got the stuff. And now, with NM Attorney General Patricia Madrid's office doing nothing to indicate she is asking those tough questions, we are again left to wonder if potential wrongdoers will get the proverbial "slap on the wrist."

Jay Rowland, the guy in charge of hearing complaints about APD, will also investigate. Ex-Chief Gallegos and his cronies practically laughed in attorney Rowland's face when he had the temerity to suggest that some charges of wrongdoing by APD officers were actually true. Who's laughing now?

After expressing disgust and concern that APD is infected with the cover-up virus, politicos turned their attention to the political implications. After all, the Mayoral election is October 4. One point most agreed on is that the mayor's race, courtesy of apparent rogue APD officers and an either knowing or asleep-at-the-wheel chief, has cracked the race open.

"Marty has been sitting on the ball on this one. He's had decent poll numbers, money in the bank and not a whole lot going on. But public safety is the number one issue and this is going to force even casual voters to take a look at what is going on," commented one of our mayoral watchers.

One of those watching very intently is former Dem State Senator Richard Romero who, as we blogged this week, apparently conducted an in-depth poll on the possibility of jumping into the festivities. Word around town Wednesday was that Romero has been making fund raising calls and even invoking the name of Big Bill as one who has encouraged him to get in the thing. Oh my, Big Bill backing Romero! That would make for a very thick plot.

Meanwhile, perennial candidate and Big Bill crime adviser Bob Schwartz's name also cropped up yet again as a police department scandal is something a former district attorney might have a few words to say about. But could he get the money to get the words across? In the case of Romero, the cash tree can be shaken from the list of donors he cultivated from his losing congressional effort last November. Getting pro-Heather Wilson Republicans to vote for him might be more of a problem, but there is a sub-species of "moderate to liberal" R's that Romero might make a play for.


For Mayor Marty the scandal's timing could not be much worse, but the night before Gallegos resigned the mayor was hosting a $1000 a plate dinner with former Clinton cabinet member Henry Cisneros. One source said a conservative estimate for Marty's take was $100 grand. Now that's what you call a big damage control fund.

The only declared contender, Dem ABQ City Councilor Eric Griego, cannot be happy with a possible Romero entry as he will split votes with Eric in his downtown council district which is also part of Richard's former state senate district. The so far all-Hispanic field has the eyebrows raised from the Valley to the hills in the Heights. That's never happened before and the smart money was betting in yesterday's crisis ridden atmosphere that it could soon change. "A lone, strong Anglo candidate could consolidate the vote in the Heights and make a mayoral run-off easy," said one longtime politico.

But many don't think Schwartz is the Anglo to do it because he's been around the track so often and does not appeal to conservative Republicans who right now are being courted by Chavez with his pro-business platform. Still, Bob has got to be sorely tempted to take one more bite out of the apple, even if it means giving up the best paying job he has ever had.


If there is a "for real" investigation of the APD evidence room, you will see cops "singing like canaries," offered one source. Already, we have whistleblowers, the police chief thrown overboard and attorneys filing federal lawsuits left and right."

In his Wednesday farewell, chief Gallegos said he planned on enjoying motorcycle rides in the months ahead. But judging from the accumulating evidence, the "missing" evidence, the chaos and the back-stabbing going on in the APD, the felled chief may be spending his time in a much more stationary position--sitting in a hard-backed chair answering investigators'questions.

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