Tuesday, December 04, 2007

City Hall Coup Sets Off Implosion; Councilors Boycott Meeting As Winter Elected Council Prez; Breakdown Raises Question; Can Mayor & Council Lead? 

Winter & Benton by Bralley
The spirit of the season has yet to reach Albuquerque City Hall where a political implosion last night had four of the nine city councilors staging an unprecedented boycott of a council meeting, accusing Brad Winter of winning the council presidency through "dishonesty, duplicity and a serious lack of integrity." The breakdown in comity in the governing body of the state's largest city not only highlighted the intense personal animosity that has plagued the panel, but also the policy divisions that have created perhaps the most polarized council since the modern form of government was adopted in 1974.

The breakdown began when it became clear that Councilor Debbie O'Malley could not muster the five votes necessary to retain the council presidency for another year. Republican Councilor Brad Winter was the swing vote as O'Malley and Dem Councilor Ken Sanchez had each lined up four votes. Winter, according to Sanchez, told him earlier Monday that he would be getting his vote. But council "liberals"- Michael Cadigan, Ike Benton, 'O'Malley and new Councilor Rey Garduño--made a play for Winter to take the post. They hoped to thwart Sanchez and in turn Mayor Martin Chavez, a close ally of the West side councilor. It worked. Winter dumped Sanchez, joined forces with the four Dems and became council president on a 5 to 0 vote.

The four councilors who boycotted the meeting, saying they were enraged by Winter's backpedaling, were Sanchez, Republican Councilors Sally Mayer, Don Harris, and newly elected GOP Councilor Trudy Jones. It was to be Jones's first council meeting since being elected in October, but it never happened.

"The public was not harmed by this. I did it to send a message about Brad Winter's serious lack of integrity; his duplicity and dishonestly. I think it's important that the public know when a politician isn't telling the truth," Councilor Mayer told me.

A politician not telling the truth? Who would think such a thing! A strange aside: The four boycotting councilors retreated to Capo's, a downtown Italian restaurant, where they contemplated their lot before conducting a news conference. Capo is the term used for a Mob boss. The City Hall council coup, like a Mafia war, did feature betrayal and intrigue, but no bloodshed--at least not yet.


It was hard to see how the public was going to grasp the political minutia surrounding the events. What they did see was four empty council chairs of people they elected to serve and who they pay to do a job. Why could they not have given "Bad Brad" his black eye from the public podium? "That would not have made our point," Councilor Sally retorted.

The boycotting councilors said Winter, a Republican reelected in a landslide to a third council term in October, had sold out to the liberals. Sanchez went further and told reporters that Winter had told him he could not vote for him because if he did "his wife would divorce him." Winter is married to attorney Nan Winter who works for the powerful water utility board. Sanchez said she should not be involved in the presidency battle. Winter said she wasn't and said the councilors upset with him should have attended the meeting and debated the matter.

That water board is a big point of contention. The council president, now Winter, gets to name four members. Mayer said Winter would reward the "liberal Democrats" for their support by naming them to the panel, forsaking conservatives who fear the authority has turned into an anti-growth mechanism.

As with everything at City Hall there is a Chavez factor. The ABQ Mayor is running for the Dem nod for US Senate. If he goes all the way and wins the Senate seat in November 2008, he could resign as mayor and the council president would become Mayor to fill out the remainder of Chavez's term. No doubt Winter, whose personal relationship with Chavez is about as warm as a Chama winter, could not stomach placing Marty's key ally in line for the mayoralty, no matter if it was a long shot.

There were no winners in last night's council chaos, with Winter renewing his reputation as indecisive, or duplicitous, if you believe his council critics. The councilors who walked out will be scored for acting childish and acting like sore losers. Councilor Sanchez's possible 2009 mayoral bid was especially hard hit. The walk out, coming after it became clear he would lose the presidency, could mark him as ineffective. Councilor Trudy Jones, in her first act as a councilor, failed to show up and do the job. Not good. Mayor Chavez's Senate bid takes a hit as people question why there is so much upheaval in ABQ government as he criticizes Washington for its infighting.


Winter now has the council presidency and the opportunity to lead, but the public's patience is short. We need more than power plays; we need results and a semblance of unity to move the city forward. Winter needs to make peace with the boycotting councilors who in turn need to recognize that all is fair in love, war and politics and acknowledge Winter's presidency. Winter and Chavez need to bury the hatchet, once and for all. Is there any political feud in the state more tiresome and more damaging to how people perceive this wonderful place? And that powerful water board needs to be examined. Do we need a legislative makeover?

How about some unlikely alliances to restore civility and confidence in City Hall? For example, what if new councilors Republican Trudy Jones and Democrat Rey Garduño--as opposite as you can get--worked together on an initiative?

While the mayor is running for Senate, he needs to empower the city's chief administrative officer. The position has been downplayed, but the City Charter envisions a strong CAO. Frank Kleinhenz, Lawrence Rael and Art Blumenfeld are names that come to mind. City Hall needs some depersonalization and some policy wonkery. The CAO needs to step up, or just say it's the mayor's show.

The cows have broken out of the corral and its time to round them up. If the current set of too partisan personalities at City Hall can't get the job done, the bedroom communities of ABQ will fill the void, attracting the jobs and the "smart" development our Mayor and councilors say they so badly want.

Busy days on the TV news beat with anchors coming and going. Monday KOB-TV announced Nicole Brady, the station's morning news anchor will join Tom Joles for the main action at night. She will replace Carla Aragon who left last week. Brady will co-anchor of the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts. Brady has been with the NBC affiliate for three years, coming from Redding, CA. She grew up in Denver. There will be some pressure on the twentysomething anchor as KOB slipped to third place in the latest 10 p.m. news ratings.

Not that any of the local TV stations face a dismal 2008. Can you imagine how much money they are going to make in '08 from paid politicals and national interest group ads? Will we get the Big Three producing prime time primary and general election debates for the three open US House seats and the open US Senate seat? It's the least we can expect from the federally licensed outlets that benefit lopsidedly from the current election process.


Was Hill putting the chill on Big Bill when over the weekend she brought up the Veep slot and which we blogged for you on Monday?

Don't you think governors make good Presidents?" Richardson asked. Clinton replied, "Well, Bill, I think they also make good vice presidents."

One Alligator e-mails: "Hillary's comment to Bill has the effect of arresting any possible rise for him in Iowa and New Hampshire, which most likely would come at her expense. It cost her not even a thin dime to blow the wheels off of Bill's campaign."

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