Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Goodbye Manny: Farewell Party Set For Senate Giant Who Fell From Grace, Plus: Feds Probe Draws More Reaction, And: Layoffs Hit Sandia 

The power is gone, but many of the friends remain and tonight they will gather for a farewell for Manny Aragon, one of the state's most dominant political figures ever who fell from grace and will begin a five and half year prison term for corruption convictions June 10th. But tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at Ben Michael's restaurant in ABQ's North Valley, it will be the good times and fond memories that friends will recall as they give a send-off to Aragon, the former state Senate leader whose bifurcated legacy will include a brilliant and productive legislative career as well as the felony convictions from the Metro Courthouse corruption scandal. One of the organizers of the Manny farewell, a former Aragon Senate aide, told us:

"We are asking that those who come by bring a card with a "Manny Memory" in it. We'll put them in a basket and give them to him."

The former aide said that friends of Aragon, an attorney who commanded loyalty--and sometimes fear--when he held sway over the storied Roundhouse, are hoping that Aragon's health is actually improved during his prison stay. Aragon suffers from diabetes, is overweight and a cigarette has always been his constant companion. Under federal rules, the Legal Beagles say Aragon will have to serve at least 80 percent of the sentence.

Aragon, 61, who mastered the rules of the Senate and the budget like few others in state history, will serve his time at the federal prison complex at Florence, Colorado. That's about a six hour drive from ABQ'S South Valley where the rise of Aragon was authored and where he hopes to eventually return.


We told you Tuesday how many of the politicos who did even minor work for Governor Richardson's political committees have had their records subpoenaed and been quizzed by FBI agents. It sure is keeping everyone guessing on the status of the investigation which is now starting to shadow the 2010 election. A Richardson sympathizer sees the quest for records from even minor players differently than the US Attorney who is leading the investigation:

Kind of makes you curious as to how much taxpayer money is being spent on this massive fishing expedition. Reinforces that panic has set in. We have to find something, anything, no matter how trivial.

Interestingly, the Santa Fe New Mexican has gone negative on the possibility of Santa Fe attorney John Pound being appointed by Obama as the next US Attorney for NM, replacing Republican Greg Fouratt. In an editorial, the paper says Pound, Obama's NM campaign co-chair, has too much baggage from his dealings with state political figures. The newspaper, a longtime ally of Richardson's, also says "it's getting time to put up or shut up" when it comes to issuing indictments.

Obama has started the process of naming new US attorneys, but legal observers do not see a new US Attorney for NM as long as the pay to play probe drags on.


Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder will be in ABQ Friday for a discussion of narcotics issues. It will be his first stop in the state since becoming attorney general. Our Legal Beagles reported here recently that Holder will have a direct say in the issuance of any federal indictments in the federal probe into state pay to play allegations. You can safely bet he will defer any inquiries he gets on that matter during his visit here. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will also be here. She will lead the discussion on strategy for dealing with narcotics and border security. It can' t be soon enough. The drug wars have meant stacking bodies like cord wood on our border with Mexico. It's a high-profile issue the public wants the Obama administration to deliver results on.


It was not a good night Tuesday for the incumbents on the Mid Rio Grande Conservancy District Board. Bill Turner, who has made his share of headlines during his tenure, lost his seat as did Jim Roberts. Turnout was much heavier than past elections--doubling in Bernalillo County to near 3,000. Results here.


Our Senior Alligators have been splashing hard over the Sandia Labs budget, warning of trouble ahead. They are right. Tuesday the Labs said 100 workers will be laid off in the next six months to a year as Sandia shutters its machine shop, costing skilled unionized machinists and others their livelihoods. These type of "blue-collar" jobs are the good ones. The median pay for a Machinist I in the USA is near $36,000. More experience pays better. Sandia will try to find other jobs for the laid off workers, but doing what?

The Sandia news continues to emphasize how the ABQ area needs to diversify its economy, but it would have been a lot easier during the good years. If the machinists hang around here, they may have few options. Retail jobs pay half of what they make, if that. ABQ's economic and political leadership is again on notice--diversify or accept a poorer community in look, feel and in reality.


There may be a day of reckoning, but the city budget ABQ Mayor Chavez signed into law Tuesday for the budget year stating July 1st delays it. Many of us are torn on this. We are concerned that shifting property taxes meant for bond projects over to the general budget to avoid layoffs of city workers is not a wise long-range practice. But how do you justify not trying to avoid layoffs during this nasty recession? Where would these people get jobs? We think Chavez is going to get the benefit of the doubt. The fact that the city's bond rating is stable helps. If this were the second or third budget year in a row that Chavez was shifting the money, the political risk would be greater. But he is looking at getting past the October election. This budget--approved by a majority of the nine member city council who also face voters in October--probably buys them the time through the election. It will be up to their opponents to make a strong case that that is not good enough.

Sean Olsen
Sean Olson will replace Jeff Jones as the new political writer for the ABQ Journal, a subject we had some fun speculating about on Tuesday's blog. For you politicos who just have to know, here's the scoop on Sean in his own words:

I've been at the Journal a little more than three years. I started as the Rio Rancho city hall reporter...but also did quite a bit with Sandoval County government..I did the paper's SunCal, deep well and water authority coverage for the last two years as well. I'm 27. Came from northern Idaho, where I worked...for papers for about six years...I'm from southeastern Idaho originally. I have also lived in Montana and England in the past decade.

Politicos report that Journal state editor John Robertson has been introducing various political players to Olsen who will have plenty to keep him busy as the 2010 contests draw ever closer.

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