Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The ABQ Streetcar Follies; Come Along For The Ride, Plus: Senator Fidel Retires; Raises Leadership Issue, Plus: The Really Final Vote Numbers 

Councilor Heinrich
The ABQ streetcar follies is turning out to be fine post-election entertainment, with nine city councilors and a usually politically savvy mayor finding their boots covered with fresh dung they stepped in and furiously trying to wash the stuff off. All this is to the delight of Joe Citizen who says the politicos brought it on themselves when they tried to ramrod through a ten year extension of a transit tax without a public vote and devote much of it to a highly controversial $270 million streetcar proposal.

Like sticky dung, it appears it is going to take a while for this mess to be cleaned up. After caving in to voter outrage, city fathers talked of having the streetcar-transit tax placed on the ballot February 6 as part of the Albuquerque Public Schools election. But the legal beagles have nixed that idea and now some councilors and the mayor are thinking about a March mail-in election. Others want the quarter-cent tax on the regular city election ballot next October. Either way, there's trouble in River City.

"Right now the streetcar would go down by at least a two to one vote. The best course to preserve the plan is to delay it so you have a chance to get support and change some minds," said veteran pollster and consultant Harry Pavlides.

I pointed out that the original transit tax narrowly passed in 99' in a mail-in vote, but Pavlides and others I surveyed did not see that strategy making much of a difference saying voters in March will still be joyous to defeat it because it will send the politicians a message for trying to deal them out.

City Council President Martin Heinrich says he is not set in cement on an election date or format. Councilor Ken Sanchez has already proposed putting the streetcar-transit tax on the regular October city election ballot. A decision could come Dec. 18.

Mayor Chavez
Mayor Martin Chavez's first year of his third term was coasting along just fine, until the streetcar started to derail. Now he will have to fight to save face. It won't be easy. The $270 million plan calls for the state putting up over $100 million. No one is even dreaming that the traditionally ABQ wary Legislature will come through.

The Mayor's best bet may be the October election giving him time to make a case for the streetcar which would run along Central from Washington to Atrisco Plaza. A mail-in ballot is alluring because of that one success back in 99', but opposition then was muted, unlike today.

But, more important, says streetcar backer and politico Steve Cabiedes, "the city has to slow down" and try to sell the concept. "It may take a couple of years, but if they continue to rush it, they will kill it permanently."

The controversy could also be used by Republicans to slap around the Mayor who has made no secret of his plans to pursue the Dem nomination for governor in 2010. Handing him a defeat at the polls would serve the R cause.


The streetcar hot potato could also endanger a Republican or two, in particular freshman Councilor Craig Loy of the far NE Heights who is up for re-election in 07'.

"He could get a challenge from another Republican for supporting this deal and for being too close overall to the Mayor," commented one insider R.

Dem Council Prez Heinrich also might get hurt on the streetcar tracks, said pollster Pavlides.

"He is a strong liberal, but has a good image with moderates and conservatives. This could change that, especially if he is campaigning for this measure which the voters hate because they see the council and mayor as trying to take away their right to vote. This could be a loser for Heinrich with voters he might be able to attract in the future." Warned Pavlides.

It sure could. No city councilors have ever built state political careers. Issues like the streetcar only make it more difficult.

With warning flags flying from all corners of the city, it is hard to see how a council of nine politicians and a three term Mayor will not pay heed and slow their ardent desire for a streetcar named Albuquerque. Stay tuned.


Sen. Fidel
The State Senate could join the State House in having a leadership battle. That's the word from the insiders in the wake of Tuesday's announcement that Dem State Senator Joe Fidel, 83, will retire from the senate and a replacement will be named by Governor Big Bill. Fidel, a 34 year veteran of the Legislature's upper chamber, supported Michael Sanchez for senate majority leader in a close leadership contest. Will Fidel's absence tip the balance to Sanchez chllenger Senator Phil Griego? Something to keep our eyes on. Surely, Big Bill is. Sanchez has been a thorn in his side while Griego has in the past openly boasted of his friendship for the Guv.

Another angle on the Fidel retirement. He represents the Grants area. The House district of wannabe House Speaker Ken Martinez overlaps the Fidel district. How about appointing Kenny to the state senate and getting him out of Ben Lujan's hair, Guv? Just a thought from those always plotting (and sometimes smirking) Alligators.

We broke the news here Tuesday of Martinez's challenge to Lujan for the speakership and think Martinez would be more than reluctant to leave the House where his future looks bright, but in politics we've learned to expect the unexpected, even the weird.

Here is more on Joe Fidel from an interview I conducted with him back in November of 2003. He was a major player in his day. Senator John Arthur Smith of Deming is expected to take over Fidel's chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee. The replacement the Guv names to fill out Joe's senate term will have to seek election in 08' if they want to keep the seat.

Congratulations to Senator Fidel on his many years of service to our Land of Enchantment. We wish him and his wife of 57 years, Dora, all the best.


Which statewide race attracted the most NM voters November 7? Governor? U.S. Senate? Nope. It was attorney general, according to the final official state figures.

559,432 voters cast ballots in the King-Bibb AG contest which King won handily with 57% of the vote. In the Guv battle, Big Bill came in with an official 68.8% of the vote to best R John Dendahl and to set a new record for a Guv victory. The old one was 60.2% by Dem Jack Campbell in 64'.

About 40% of statewide votes were cast before the actual Election Day. That is down from 2004 when just over half the ballots were early. About 50% of all registered voters turned out.


I have a bunch more cool stuff for you, but it will have to wait until tomorrow. Hard to believe how busy it has gotten for this time of year, but it has.

Drop me an email with your latest news and comments. There's a link at the top of the page. See ya' later Gators.

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