Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Impending Liberal Split Seen Helping Chavez Re-elect; Debbie O'Malley Ready To Play, Plus: Updates On Bill And Di, Also: Yates Seen Taking GOP Chair 

Romero & O'Malley
An impending split in the ranks of ABQ liberals could bolster the re-election chances of ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez. City Councilor Debbie O'Malley checks in with the blog to announce that she is getting ready to hire staff and launch a mayoral bid, threatening to split ABQ's liberal voters with former State Senator Richard Romero who has formed an exploratory committee and is lining up support from progressive interest groups. And while West Side Councilor Michael Cadigan will announce his mayoral bid today with a tilt toward moderate and conservative voters, that Democrat is also seen attracting liberal votes. If no major Republican gets in the race, Chavez could claim the lion's share of conservatives and moderates, making it that much easier for him to attract 40% of the vote and avoid a run-off election.

O'Malley told me she wants to be listed as a "serious" candidate for the October election along with Cadigan, Chavez and Romero. When I asked her if she and Romero would not kill each other off by splitting the liberals, she said "things could change," indicating she thought only one of them would be around for the duration. She added: "I will have a strong group of supporters."

Romero, 64, is working to get Obama backers to his candidacy. He is expected to get third-party financial support from nonprofit groups that have been active in area politics and drawn controversy because they don't fully disclose who donates to them. The NM attorney general is challenging them.

Rather than try to convert Chavez voters, friends of Romero say he will attempt to attract new voters to the polls, a difficult task for a low-turnout city election. But O'Malley, a popular North Valley politico, will make Romero's task of consolidating the progressive vote difficult. Will one of them blink before the campaign begins in earnest? Stay tuned.


Meantime, beleaguered R's, hammered at the polls in November, have few players to turn to for the mayoral battle. City Councilor Brand Winter carried their banner four years ago, but was trounced. Does he have the heart for another battle? Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, beaten handily by Dem Martin Heinrich for the ABQ congressional seat, is saying he is a no-go for the mayoral derby.

I ran into Mayor Chavez at my local Starbucks Monday afternoon. He was meeting with one of his consultants and indicated all systems are go for his effort to secure another four years. He chuckled over reports circulating that he could be the next Commerce Secretary to replace Big Bill. He was not an original Obama backer.

Chavez and the rest of the mayoral field will rely on the new public financing system. A new city law basically makes it impossible to not to go that route. It says a candidate for city office can take no contributions from anyone who does business with the city. Candidates who qualify will each receive about $325,000.

If liberals can't settle on one standard bearer and no major GOP contender emerges in the next month or so, Mayor Chavez could find the path to a fourth four year term may be strewn with pebbles, but no boulders.


Supporters of Big Bill were relieved not to see him in a subdued and affable mood at his first news conference since announcing Sunday he is withdrawing his nomination to become Obama's Commerce Secretary. (Raw video here.)He read a statement essentially repeating the written statement he sent out Sunday that emphasized his belief that there was no wrongdoing in the awarding of a state contract that is the subject of a federal grand jury. That investigation prompted Bill to get out--some say he was pushed--and return to his Governor duties. He told reporters he "was hurting" over the weekend. He adopted a more conciliatory tone than the one he had at a mid-December news conference where reporters shouted out questions at him about the FBI investigation.

Meantime, the AP confirmed our December 17 blog report about Bill hiring high-powered ABQ defense attorney Peter Schoenburg to represent him in the case. Richardson is not known to be a target of the grand jury.

The Washington Post takes us behind the scenes to the dueling staff messages on whether Richardson was forthcoming enough about the grand jury probe while being vetted. This kind of infighting is going to do nothing to get the Guv back on the national stage.

And Bill is absolutely manhandled in the liberal Huffington Post--another downside of national politics--they kick when you are down.

Here's a five minute interview we did with KRQE-TV and anchor Kim Vallez on the latest with Big Bill.

The Guv now awaits what we all await--the report of the grand jury and any indictments. Until then, the Big Guy appears more vulnerable and weaker than usual. Putting on a smile amid that new atmosphere was not a bad idea.


Lt. Governor Denish plans to keep her transition advisory teams intact until they give reports later this month. Those involved are citizen volunteers, but there are two highly paid transition staffers. Both of them have solid reputations, but several e-mailers point out that Denish only recently questioned the fat salaries of the hundreds of "exempt" employees on the state payroll. What happens to Chris Cervini, her communications transition director and Kathy Keith, her transition chief of staff? Both are drawing salaries of over $90,000. Cervini gave up his job at Lovelace Health to join Denish for what he thought would be a full time gig. Will Cervini and Keith join the ranks of state exempt employees, even though they were hired for a transition that no longer exists? We'll watch for an answer.


Oilman Harvey Yates has secured the support of former US Senator Pete Domenici, former US Reps Steve Pearce, Heather Wilson and Manuel Lujan and will likely secure enough votes at Saturday's ABQ meeting of the NM GOP Central Committee to win a two year term as the party's new chairman. That's from party insiders who admit that putting an oilman at the top of the party hierarchy may prove controversial, but it could also put the down and out minority party on steady financial footing. Getting Pearce and Wilson to agree on something might also be a good omen. Farmington's Allen McCulloch has also been campaigning for the post and making a positive impression by floating some new approaches for the party. But it may be Yates' promise to bring in the cash that will make the difference in this one.

The Yates family has major oil interests in SE NM and has been a target of enviros for its plans to drill on Otero Mesa in the south. Harvey Yates has a home in and lives in ABQ. He took part in the '08 election by financially backing a group of GOP legislative candidates, but had little success. Like the current chairman, Allen Weh, he is not experienced in politics. Party analysts suggest he will look to hire a strong executive director to manage the nitty gritty details while he concentrates on raising cash and recruiting candidates.

The GOP in '08 suffered one of its worst defeats in state history. Its losses in 2006 were nearly as devastating. (Sorry, Chairman Weh, but this is a no-spin zone.) Reformers are calling for new faces, but they are apparently in short supply. Yates, who is so low-key there are no photos of him posted anywhere on the Web, is already taking heat for hiring Roswell GOP State Senator "Lightning" Rod Adair as a consultant for the legislative candidates he backed. The reformers worry that Yates will continue to rely on Adair and others who have steered the party organization the past four years. They say if he does, the GOP will wander in the wilderness even longer than it is now destined to.

If Yates is to be successful as chairman he will have to reach out and find candidates that not only that agree with his conservative views, but match the moderate and varied make-up of the New Mexico electorate. Unlike Weh, Yates' supporters say he is not in denial about the disaster that has befallen the party locally and nationally. The promise of his leadership is that he will surround himself with fresh faces and welcome new ideas. Whether that promise is fulfilled is the question that hangs in the air.


You don't think of new ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich as the military type but he says he has been named to the House Armed Services Committee. At first glance, it may seem out of character, but this is a good appointment for the metro economy:

“I know that Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia Laboratories are of the utmost importance to our District, and this was key in my mind when seeking my committee assignments. I am proud to serve on the Armed Services Committee and I look forward to the work ahead."

Serving on armed services could boost Heinrich's standing with more conservative voters who have yet to warm to the new Dem lawmaker.

Rep. Harry Teague has been named to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a panel that is set to see a lot of action under Obama's stimulus plan. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan was named to the Homeland Security Committee.

The new Congress is sworn in today, including our three new congressmen--Martin, Harry Teague and Ben Ray Lujan. Tom Udall takes the oath as our new US Senator. We wish them all well and hope they have a healthy competition to outdo each other in protecting New Mexico's interests.


From a reader: "Bill Richardson, the hostage negotiator, now has himself for a client."

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