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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

White Hot Stories: Lobo Coach Alford Scored For Backing White, And: Darren Disses Bill; Draws Return Fire, Also: City Hall News & NM Prez Update 

Coach Steve Alford
Lobo fans love controversy on the basketball court, but now they're getting some off the court as University of New Mexico basketball coach Steve Alford lends his name and fundraising power to the campaign of ABQ GOP congressional hopeful Darren White.

The invitation for the White fundraiser says it's "An Evening with Coach Steve Alford." It also features two UNM Regents as major sponsors--Don Chalmers and Jack Fortner. The July 16th event will be held at the home of UNM lobbyist Joe Thompson. A VIP photo op with Alford is being peddled for $1000 a pop. Other tickets are priced at $250 each.

Alford is a private citizen and can support whomever he wants, but he's also pulling down a million bucks a year to enhance the Lobo basketball program and the image of UNM. His high-profile foray into local politics is drawing fire as seen in this e-mail from a Senior Alligator

This is a terrible mistake for UNM...Alford is now pushing his politics on fans by supporting the Republican candidate. Steve should have better judgment than to be involved in this and so should Chalmers and Fortner. Joe Thompson is doing what one would expect from a lobbyist...Does the president approve of the politicization of the basketball program? If coaches are going to be used for fundraising it should be for the UNM not politicians. We already have the problem of a micromanaging group of regents and now this.

Alford's involvement in La Politica isn't limited to Darren White and the R's. In May, he attended a fundraising event for southern NM Dem congressional candidate Harry Teague that was headlined by Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Observers note that the UNM regents have been top-heavy with political players since Big Bill began naming the panel. Republican Fortner is a former San Juan county commissioner who has talked about ruining for governor. Regents president Jamie Koch is a longtime Dem party fundraiser and former NM Dem chairman. Democrat Raymond Sanchez is the former speaker of the NM House of Representatives. UNM President David Schmidly gave $2300 to Gov. Bill Richardson’s presidential campaign less than a month after Schmidly was announced as the new president.

Against that backdrop Alford's' political involvement seems mundane. Still, like some of the refs calls you see in the Pit, this is a close one. Thoughts? E-mail them in. Are the sports talk radio guys talking about this?

BILL'S WORLD

Don't tease the gorilla is the moral of this next story. Governor Big Bill, seemingly in no rush to bang the drum for ABQ Dem congressional hopeful Martin Heinrich, was stirred from his Cape Cod vacation by a New York Times quote that could, a Guv associate says, give him reason to get busy on the campaign trail for Heinrich.

The Times described the heat Bill took for not getting fully behind a cockfighting ban and how when he did, in 2007, he was accused of dong so only because he was running for president. Here's the money quote from White:

“You can’t go on the national stage and have people find out you have no problem with a bloody sport,” said Sheriff Darren White...

That shot from White drew some-behind the-scenes return fire, with the Guv's sympathizer wondering aloud about the use of federal DWI funds by the sheriff's office and a number of other issues that could be quickly interjected onto the campaign trail.

When Richardson took office in 2003, White was a frequent public critic, but soon fell quiet. Why rattle the cage now when you are the frontrunner for a US House seat?

McCAIN'S MEETING

Visits by the prez candidates to our key swing state this year are going to be as routine as a Marty Chavez news conference. GOP contender John McCain is making his second one of the season soon. His campaign says he will hold a town hall meeting in ABQ the morning of July 15th. That will come on the heels of a big-league fundraiser he will have the night before at the home of his NM fundraising chief--car dealer Ken Zangara. We gave you the exclusive details on that last month.

McCain is competitive in New Mexico. Obama is ahead in the polls, but still in sight. The Arizona senator has particular appeal among the many military veterans here. He also has appeal among the fastest growing segment of the electorate--independents. Obama will try to overpower him by bringing aboard new voters in the cities of ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. McCain could surprise by holding Obama's totals down in the Hispanic north where Obama could run into some headwinds. Obama is the frontrunner, but the state should stay in play if McCain does not veer too far right.

SENATE CHASE

Can Steve Pearce get the US Senate race in play? He will need plenty of money to do so. Dem nominee Tom Udall Monday announced he raised $2.1 million in the April-June quarter. The campaign did not say how much cash it has on hand, but it is spending plenty. Udall continues to come with new TV spots like this one.

Pearce has had to regroup after his hot GOP primary contest with Rep. Heather Wilson, but insiders expect the southern NM congressman to be up on TV before the month is out. Letting Udall have the airwaves alone any longer is seen as too dangerous.

Udall is polling solidly above the magic 50% mark. Ironically, his polling success could make the financial road a bit bumpy. Why will national Dems want to give him money when he is so far ahead? But the burden is all on underdog Pearce. He has plenty of time to get the race in play and he will come up with the money, but does he have the message? Stay tuned.

CHAVEZ'S NEW TEAM
Pete Dinelli
He's earned the nickname "Demoliton Dinelli" for all the tear downs of eyesore ABQ properties he has supervised, but now assistant city attorney Pete Dinelli has been kicked upstairs, leaving the wrecking ball to someone else. Dinelli has been named by Mayor Chavez as chief public safety officer, overseeing the police and fire departments. His Honor also named Irene Garcia as the city's chief operating officer, replacing Ed Adams who moves up to replace Bruce Perlman who resigned as chief administrative officer. Anna Lamberson has been named chief financial officer.

Chavez says the new team will help him deal with today's "economic challenges." They are quite able, but if they get on the "higher taxes for a downtown arena bandwagon" during this recession, he and his team are going to be stepping into a deep hole. Also, the mayor's traditional soft spot for the police and fire departments has been showing of late and the headlines have been reflecting it. Can Marty look the other way and let Dinelli send a message?

Dinelli has said he would run for mayor in 2009 if Chavez did not seek another term. But all signs point to a re-elect drive by Chavez unless Obama gets elected and offers the mayor a job. Chavez still commands wide, if sometimes begrudging support. However, a third consecutive term is not going to be a no-brainer. If the new team falters, it could encourage a political heavyweight or two to come off the bench and get in the game.

SUMMER SLUMMIN'

ABQ's recently opened Nob Hill Bar & Grill is a welcome addition to the scene. It's actually more grill than bar, with an array of booths and tables that provide plenty of elbow room between you and your neighbor. That's good for political types who don't need anyone listening in as they do their dissing. The place also has a decent sized outdoor patio, where you can enjoy the traditional Albuquerque al fresco pastime of breathing Central Avenue generated carbon monoxide. Service, always a hit or miss proposition in our village, was a hit during our visit. Best of all, they pipe in jazz vocals from Frank and other notables. Second best is that the place is new which means clean. (Can't someone spruce up Kelly's up the street?)

The chef for this joint is well-known and knows all the tricks, so I won't get into the menu, but if you like French onion soup, you'll want to try theirs.

The metro area is headed towards a million population in the not too distant future. It's nice to see a restaurant or two starting to act like it.

E-mail your political news and comments.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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