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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Key Council Ally Of ABQ Mayor Chavez Turns; Power Could Go With Her; It's A Political Dog Fight, Plus: Justice Pamela Minzner Is Remembered 

Councilor Mayer
ABQ City Hall insiders burned up the phone lines over the holiday weekend analyzing a likely major change in the political dynamic of the state's largest city. It comes in the wake of Mayor Marty Chavez's abrupt and controversial removal of the head of the city's animal control division. The removal so enraged City Councilor Sally Mayer, a longtime animal rights advocate and a key mayoral ally, that she warned Chavez that he can no longer count on her vote on issues that come before the nine member council.

"I am not going to engage in spite voting. There are philosophical issues on which the Mayor and I agree, but on issues which I am not directly invested, he is not going to get my vote," the Republican councilor told me in a Labor Day phone exchange.

With that statement Mayer, 56, aimed both barrels directly at any major Chavez initiatives in his remaining two years in office. The Mayor has already faced a veto proof council, recently losing several issues on 6 to 3 votes. Mayer has been one of his three reliable votes along with Councilors Sanchez and Loy. He must currently work for one additional vote to halt a six councilor override coalition, but finding one vote is a lot easier than finding two. The loss of Mayer could decisively tip power away from the 11th floor and to an increasingly liberal city council.

Mayer was easily re-elected to a second four year term from District 7 in the NE Heights in 2005. Like Chavez, she has been supportive of development and real estate interests, so it's hard to see her breaking with the mayor on those issues, but there are plenty of others where she could demonstrate a new found independence, effectively killing any mayoral legislation and giving the council a consistent super-majority to enact bills to its liking.

Chavez's removal of Denise Wilcox won some support from animal rights groups, but it wasn't overwhelming as the career city worker was generally well-liked, and given credit for making strides in improving animal control. Most important, she had earned the support of Mayer who along with Chavez authored the city's major animal protection legislation.

In a brutally frank conversation, the kind usually classified as "off-the-record," Mayer told me she had specifically asked the Mayor not to remove Wilcox, and she described her conversation with him following Wilcox's dismissal.

"I said to him, 'You told me a week ago you would not fire her, but now she is gone.' You know what he said back to me? 'That was last week,' a still angry Mayer relayed. A friend of the councilor's told us the mayoral phone call ended with Mayer hanging up on Chavez.

SALLY DOES DEBBIE
Deborah James
The councilor, hotter than Hatch's best green chile, also unloaded on Chavez press aide Deborah James. She called James a "media manipulator" who has pushed her own animal rights agenda with the mayor and has had undue influence beyond her station as a PR flack.

James released a mayoral statement saying Wilcox's removal was justified because "rescue groups have not received cooperation. Volunteers have not been well utilized." But Mayer says James wants "zero" animals euthanized which may be ideal, but "is unrealistic." Wilcox is a career city employee who will be offered another job or opt to retire.

As another example of James' influence, Mayer pointed to the hiring of former ABQ Journal city hall reporter Jim Ludwick to a $70,000 a year job as an animal program analyst. He was hired to reach the goal of having no animals euthanized. "We've already done that research. The position is a waste of money that could be used to increase the salaries of animal control officers, " blasted Council Vice-President Mayer.

Insiders recently reported here that Ludwick had taken a job with a local animal protection group, but it turns out he actually went to work two weeks ago for the government he covered for the paper. The former reporter never returned calls seeking confirmation of his job status. Now we know why. His city job was only revealed this weekend in the Tribune piece on the Wilcox firing. Prior to his newsroom departure, Chavez critics were lambasting Ludwick for being "too soft" in his coverage of the mayor, charges the ex-journalist denied.

This political dog fight doesn't need Michael Vick to garner attention. If the Mayor has permanently damaged his friendship with Mayer by ceding his power to a mayoral aide, the doghouse he is already in with a majority of the council could become much more confining.

THE HARRIS FACTOR

If Mayer bolts from the Mayor's side, the recall election of GOP Councilor Don Harris, who has gone against Chavez on key votes, becomes less critical to citywide policy. If Harris loses the recall, Chavez would get to appoint a replacement, but if he is already down 7 to 2 as a result of the Mayer defection, the replacement councilor would only get him back to 6 to 3. Two incumbent anti-Chavez councilors--Winter and O'Malley-- are expected to survive election challenges backed by the mayor. The election is October 2nd.

MENDING THOSE FENCES

Playing in the background is the way-too-early music of the 2010 campaign for the Dem nomination for Governor in which Light Guv Diane Denish is an announced candidate and Mayor Marty has formed an "exploratory committee." Chavez needs to get a handle on the council, but Denish also has work to do.

Her relationship with Hispanic Democrats was injured early in her political career, particularly when the Denish forces crushed the lieutenant governor campaign of ABQ State Senator Linda Lopez. So it was with more than passing interest that we noted an op-ed piece co-authored by none other than Diane and Linda. The topic was the state's new child helmet law sponsored by Senator Lopez.

"Just as we make sure our kids are properly using a car seat or booster seat or seat belt, let’s make sure they’re wearing their helmets when they climb aboard their bikes, tricycles, skateboards and scooters or when they strap on their skates." Said Denish and Lopez.

The Alligators say wearing a crash helmet is a good idea if you are running a three year campaign for Governor. Accidents are bound to happen.

PETE ON PETE

Our Friday reminisce about the 1984 US senate campaign featuring Republican Senator Domenici and Democrat Judy Pratt noted that there was only one one televised debate between the pair. Pete, far ahead in the polls, fended off Judy's demands for more. However, ABQ assistant city attorney and former City Councilor Pete Dinelli recalls there was another debate between the pair, although non-televised.

"Domenici did debate Pratt before the Albuquerque Kiwanis club in front of...about 300 people at the old Four Seasons Motel. The debate turned out to be on Halloween, which was a good opening for a number of cheap shots. The Senator was appearing before a heavily Republican crowd. He was and still is a member of the club. Judy held her own, but the audience was a Domenici's." Remembered Democrat Dinelli who moderated the debate.

If serious opposition to Domenici develops in '08, the matter of televised debates will be critical as Dems think they will have the advantage over the 75 year old. But if they are not threatening him in the polls, there is little chance they will meet the senior senator in prime time.

JUSTICE PAMELA MINZNER

Death claimed NM Supreme Court Justice Pamela Minzner much too early. She was only 63 when she succumbed to cancer Friday, but she made her mark in the time allotted. The tributes to the Harvard grad who came to the court in '94 and was its first woman to serve as Chief Justice were notable for their unabashed praise.

I interviewed here only once. It was on KANW-89.1 FM on our Election Night broadcast. She had probably just won a retention election, but all I recall was her reticence to tout herself and her desire to end that interview quickly. This was a self-effacing public servant not given to calling attention to herself. She did, however, grab the attention of several governors during her 13 year stint on the high court.

Minzner's 1995 opinion requiring Republican Governor Johnson to seek legislative approval for compacts legalizing gambling on Indian land was one example. Another came this year when she argued against requiring a state commission to give Democratic Governor Richardson more choices when he filled a judicial vacancy.

NM Court of Appeals Judge Roderick Kennedy gives blog readers this poignant account of Justice Minzner's final official action.

"The last order I know of that she put her name to was on August 28th. The court made Mary Walters, our state's first female Supreme Court justice, an honorary Chief Justice posthumously so Mary's portrait could be hung in the Hall of Chief Justices. Doing for someone else up to the last would be her way. She set an example of collegiality and scholarship for all of us judges that's damn near impossible to meet."


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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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