Friday, May 29, 2009

Mayor Race Stunner: AFSCME Union Endorses Chavez, Not Romero; My Experts Exclusive Analysis, Plus: The Reader Mailbag, And: Some Love For Las Cruces 

Mayor Chavez
It's not a first round knock out, but it is a first round knock down and a potentially game changing event in the 2009 race for ABQ Mayor. AFSCME, the largest and most powerful city employees union, will for the first time endorse ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez as he embarks on his quest for an unprecedented fourth term. Word of the political stunner came to us late Thursday and was confirmed by Chavez foe Richard Romero. Many thought Romero, as the favorite of Democratic liberals, stood to gain the union nod which four years ago went to liberal and Chavez arch-rival Eric Griego, now a state senator.

My analysts said the endorsement, which will come with manpower and organization for Democrat Chavez, is a serious body blow to the Romero campaign. The union represents about 3,500 city workers.

Dem Harry Pavlides, a veteran pollster and consultant who worked for Chavez in 2001, called it "a stunner" and immediately speculated that Chavez's recent action to protect city employee pay raises for the budget year starting July 1st was a key reason for the endorsement. Union members confirmed that was indeed a chief reason the AFSCME PAC sided with the Mayor.


Romero seemed surprised by the turn of events and had a warning for the union: "If the union made a deal with the mayor to do this, they better get it out to the public because Mayor Chavez has been known to renege on his deals," asserted the former Senate President Pro Tem.

Romero also told me he was especially taken aback by the AFSCME endorsement because of a recent city council meeting at which Transit Director Greg Payne caused a stir by showing the councilors video of union bus drivers slacking on the job.

"You would have thought after that last city council meeting and the way Greg Payne embarrassed the unions with those videos, the union would have learned how the Mayor operates, but they went ahead and endorsed him anyway," declared Romero in a late night cell phone call as we worked the exclusive news.

Payne, a political lightning rod if there ever was one, fired a volley back at Romero as the AFSCME endorsement began to crystalize this battle for the power to lead the state's largest city.

"Romero may want to take a chunk out of me, but I'm not the story. His lackluster campaign got him where he is today. Richard has no one to blame but himself for losing the AFSCME endorsement," blasted the transit chief, former city councilor and onetime political consultant in a near-Midnight e-mail missive.


We bring in only the political heavyweights for you for the big election developments. Among them is veteran GOP analyst Bruce Donisthorpe. He said he believes there is "an air of inevitably" about Chavez's re-election and "the union bowed to that reality."

"They see the polling numbers; they see what we see," analyzed the longtime federal lobbyist and former top Congressional aide, referring to the conventional political wisdom that this is Chavez's race to lose.


The Chavez camp was not shouting the news from the rooftops. An aide to the mayor confirmed that the 11th Floor had learned of the endorsement, but Chavez remains popular among Republicans and a union endorsement does not cut his way in GOP precincts. But it will be of exceptional help in Valley areas of the city where Chavez has been weak in the past and where many city workers reside.

AFSCME has not yet publicly announced the Chavez endorsement, but has informed the candidates of their decision.

Chavez has won major points with city workers for avoiding layoffs or furloughs, even as the city struggles with a deficit that experts say could reach $68 million. He was ridiculed by his foes when he announced that about $1.3 million in the workmen's compensation fund was not needed and could be used to award more employees three percent pay raises starting July 1st, avoiding a six month delay in the pay hikes for blue-collar, clerical, security and transit employees.

"That's amazing! Mayor Chavez found $1.3 million to pass out as raises. Somebody please explain...Last I checked the city was looking at huge budget shortfalls," scored conservative GOP activist Mario Burgos.

But Chavez, whether fiscally prudent or not, delivered for the workers. Also, he has avoided any tax increases in his latest term, pacifying conservatives who have been so instrumental to this Mayor's city election success. The 57 year old, who scored his first mayoral win in 1993, came back and won in 2001 and did it again in 2005. But voters have put a glass ceiling on the ABQ native, repeatedly rejecting him when he sought to become Governor or US Senator.

RJ Berry
The AFSCME endorsement cracks the progressive support so vital to Romero and which was organized on behalf of President Obama last year. Chavez need only get 40 percent of the vote in the October 6 election to avoid a run-off with the other top vote-getter. In 2005, he went well over the magic 40 percent and that was a four way race.

Pollster Pavlides says AFSCME will enlarge Chavez's traditional base of Republicans, independents and conservative to moderate Democrats. "Romero needs a plan B, and he needs it quickly," said the 35 year veteran of La Politica.

Analysts Donisthorpe and Pavlides did not see any direct impact of the AFSCME endorsement on the campaign of Republican Richard "RJ" Berry, other than saying it reinforces how difficult it will be to take out the entrenched mayor.

Chavez hasn't even officially announced his candidacy yet, opting to delay it as long as possible to avoid looking like a candidate, rather than a Mayor. The endorsement of his "non-candidacy" gives him more time to dally. With four months of campaigning to go, Chavez is sitting at the pool under an umbrella, enjoying the weather, but the heat is on Romero and Berry--and it's only getting hotter.


We'll slip into the weekend by picking up some clippings from our newsroom floor and cleaning out our e-mail box. First up is Michael Padilla of ABQ's South Valley who bemoans the bizarre discovery of an unaccounted for $16 million at the ABQ Public Schools that has been there for ten years:

Folks that live in the South Valley and on the Southwest Mesa that have heard about the recently ‘found’ $16M over at APS are very disappointed...Edward Gonzales Elementary school was built for 400 kids, but now has over 1,300. It sure would have been nice to put that money to work years ago…when the children in our area could have been in actual buildings, instead of a sea of army barracks!


Reader David Oegard sounds like he supports building a NM dental school, an idea pushed again this week by Big Bill and Senator Bingaman and one we wrote of favorably, but Odegard worries about doing it right:

..Two years ago that the Governor was trying to shoehorn a Dental School into the budget, with little support from UNM. There's room on North Campus, and I'm all for it, but I think there are already plenty of programs that are half-funded, half-built, and/or half-baked. Can we focus instead on the undergraduate education we've already promised to tens of thousands of New Mexicans?

Well said, David, but why can't we do both?

ABQ Metro Court Judge Frank Sedillo has a simple, but powerful idea on this topic:

Why not use the College of Santa Fe for the Dental School?

The College is failing, but the buildings and campus will still be there if there is no bail out for the school. Food for thought.


We called it "little Las Cruces" Thursday in referring to the hometown of possible ABQ GOP Congressional candidate Jon Barela. We should have said "little media market" because for New Mexico, Las Cruces, as we were reminded by e-mails from the City of Crosses, is not considered little. The city now has a population of nearly 90,000. However, it is served by El Paso TV and is not a media market unto itself. Our story was, in part, about playing the NM media power game. To the e-mail and Ron Camunez:

This is typical of the attitude of "north vs south" mindset of our communities north of Truth or Consequences...Perhaps...a visit to the City of the Crosses would serve you well and you could see the rapid growth and expansion...Too much breathing of the Albuquerque air is perhaps contributing to your blurred vision of your friends in the south. I am a blogger in Las Cruces and perhaps you would like to read what I have to say.

Ron, you buy me lunch at Chope's and I'm in Cruces in three hours.

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