Monday, July 20, 2009

ABQ Mayor Money Trail: Hopefuls Report; Their Strategy & Outlook, Plus: City Council Action; Harris Dodges Brasher Bullet & The Other Hot Contests 

Challengers to ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez have not been parsimonious in their first weeks of spending on the campaign trail, and that reinforces the conventional wisdom that the October 6 race is the Mayor's to lose. In their first finance reports filed with the city, Republican Richard "RJ" Berry and Dem Richard Romero report spending over $60,000 of the $328,000 of the public funds the mayor hopefuls are getting to run their races. By contrast, the late-starting Chavez spent only $37,000.

The pros say it appears that combined Romero and Berry will now have perhaps $400,000 for paid media for the final 75 days of the 2009 race and Chavez perhaps around $260,000. The remaining money will go to salaries and other non-media expenditures. That is not a great disparity for the incumbent. With the price of direct mail and TV spots, it is not the kind of financial firepower that can sustain much more than three or so weeks of heavy attack ads from the Romero and Berry camps.


The question remains whether third party groups will come to the aid of the challengers or Chavez. Under city rules any outside committee that does come with an attack against a candidate would trigger matching funds for the candidate being attacked. For example, if a group calling itself "Time For A Change" throws up $10,000 in attack ads against Chavez, his campaign would be eligible to receive matching funds from city campaign funds. The question of involvement by federally sanctioned nonprofit groups is unanswerable. They do not report their donations or expenditures. If it is determined by the city that one or more of them has delivered an attack message against a candidate, there would be no way of knowing how much the attack cost. How could the candidate subjected to the nonprofit attack be awarded matching funds?


Romero and Berry have spent substantially in the early rounds on paid professional help, a practice that Chavez has limited in this race as he has in his three previous mayoral bids. Romero paid Neri Holguin, his now replaced campaign manager, about $17,000 for several months service and reimbursements, according to the city report. Berry's campaign manager, Dana Feldman, has received checks for over $20,000 in salary and reimbursements. She is the wife of Adam Feldman, a GOP operative from Kentucky who came to NM to take over as executive director of the state GOP and now conducts field operations for the GOP.

In addition, Berry, a GOP state representative from the far NE Heights that includes the Four Hills area has brought back into city politics Jay McCleskey, a a GOP consultant who has played in many of the recent races. The Lincoln Strategy Group that McCleskey, a former regional coordinator for the Republican National Committee, is now associated with was paid around $23,000, according to figures we added up on the city's Web site. Apparently some of that money was spent on an early mail piece. Also, Public Opinion Strategies, a polling firm that McCleskey's wife, Nicole, is a partner with was paid $1,650 by Berry. The candidate also put up over $12,000 for those "volunteers" who blanketed the area this spring to get required donations for Berry to qualify for the ballot. In contrast, Chavez has a bench of city employees and volunteers who work for free.


Berry and Romero shelled out major bucks for consulting and staff in the early going, while Chavez paid his campaign manager Mark Fleischer $3,000. He also delayed announcing his candidacy, saving more money. And Marty conducted some $25,000 in polling and robo calls late last year with money he had raised for a statewide race he decided not to pursue. That expenditure did not count against the money given him under the public financing law. Among his city expenditures, the mayor paid $8,000 to Gold Communications, a direct mail firm out of D.C. that also numbers Big Bill among its clients. He also spent about $7,000 on BuzzMaker, an Internet specialty firm that builds Web sites for Dems.

The new campaign money law will make the mayor contest more grassroots, with the campaigns really cranking up relatively inexpensive get out the vote operations. Media is just too broad-based and too costly to do the job. Targeted mailing will be a favorite way to maximize dollars. If only 75,000 or so voters are going to go to the polls, you don't want to be talking to the majority who won't.

The "free" media---newspaper, TV and radio news coverage--is also more limited this cycle. The demise of the ABQ Tribune saw to that. Online media is relevant to the race in how it can shape perceptions (e.g. the Alligators) and help set the agenda for the mainstream media where most voters will get their unpaid campaign info. Also, the candidates may want to be careful about what they saw on their Facebook pages and in their Twitter messages. An off-hand remark could become major news from these new media sources.


The TV stations have not announced any mayoral debates as of yet. I have my media mavens checking and we do expect at least one prime time duel between the three contenders. Chavez is ahead, but it doesn't seem he can risk turning down TV debates. Besides, his long experience makes him favored to win any debate. There will also be the usual bundle of mayoral forums across the city that will likely be sparsely attended, but sometimes covered by the press.

The ABQ Journal, whose editorial pages have long supported Chavez, is expected to endorse him for his third term in a row and fourth overall. The alternative weekly, the Alibi, well-read in the university area, will likely give their editorial nod to Richard Romero. The mother of all endorsements may have been a Christmas present in June for Chavez--AFSCME--the union representing 3,500 city employees for the first time gave him their backing for the mayoral post.

The Chavez challengers have had one big media break with the sensational June 20 murder at a West Side Denny's, but the news flow in the subsequent month has been quiet and therefore favored the incumbent.


Aside from the Denny's incident and the crime issue it raised, Romero and Berry have struggled to generate issues that elicit emotion and put heat on Chavez. Their most recent foray was into term limits and how Chavez had them overturned---a process issue, but one they hope will get voters to feel tired of Chavez.

The city's troubled economy would appear to be an issue ripe for exploitation, but the pros point out that the turnout for the mayoral election will be heavy on older voters, those with long-term residency and government workers. Those are voting blocs whose economic destiny is not as much at risk as the nonvoting classes. Also, despite high-profile government failures at encouraging private sector development--Eclipse Aviation being the most notable--Chavez has avoided tax increases, employee layoffs and is friendly to the pro-growth forces that have largely held sway over city politics in the post WWII era.

Determining and hammering home an overriding reason for ousting Chavez that resonates with enough voters to keep him from amassing 40 percent and getting him in a run-off election remains the elusive challenge for the challengers. There is time, but what is that reason?


They had a news conference together earlier in the campaign to complain about Mayor Marty's use of TV public service time. Now it turns out that Dem Richard Romero and Republican Richard ""RJ" Berry go back more years than anyone thought. Records on file at the Sec. of State's office reveal that Romero's congressional campaign committee made a $250 donation to Berry's 2006 legislative race. (House District 20 Oct. 9, 2006 filing). Romero unsuccessfully sought the ABQ congressional seat in 2002 and 2004. He went on to become a Santa Fe lobbyist. Berry is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.


Another interesting tidbit from those campaign reports filed Friday. Republican Councilor Brad Winter gave $200 to Dem Councilor Michael Cadigan's re-election bid and Winter's wife, attorney Nann Winter, gave the West Side lawmaker $450. R's are making a major push against Cadigan with Dan Lewis, but will apparently have to do it without Winter, the city councilor the party backed for mayor four years ago. Dem Jeremy Toulouse is also in that West of the river contest.


Don Harris
Councilor Don Harris has dodged more bullets than a deer in hunting season, and he dodged another big one late Friday when former ABQ City Councilor and current Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Brasher announced he would abort his short-lived campaign for the far NE Heights seat that Harris first won in 2005. Brasher, a conservative Dem turned R, was and is popular in the district, but he told me that the "district's demographics" have changed substantially since he was first elected to a council seat back in 1989. His county commission seat includes GOP areas in the East Mountains which are not in the city council district. Brasher, longtime manager of ABQ Public Schools radio station KANW 89.1 FM, says he will finish his second four year term on the commission which ends at the end of 2010 and then think about his political future.

As for Republican Harris, he managed to get into a run-off with the incumbent District 9 councilor in '05. He won that race, but soon found himself the target of a rare recall election over ethics charges. But voters overwhelmingly rejected the recall.

Harris still has one more bullet to dodge--David Barbour, a computer programmer who moved here two years ago from the San Francisco area, is on the October 6 ballot. But he is much more liberal than Harris. His campaign platform includes universal health care. Also, Harris has qualified for public financing and has $32,000 to spend. Barbour has so fare collected $2,000, but it's money he loaned himself.

Harris, like several of his council colleagues, has had his ups and downs with ABQ Mayor Chavez. Most recently they have been on the same page.


Republican Dan Lewis is running a spirited campaign in an effort to unseat incumbent Dem Councilor Michael Cadigan. So far he has spent about $10,000 of the $42,000 of his public financing. Cadigan is not taking public financing and reports raising $16,400 and spending only $800. The Lewis campaign spins that Cadigan's fund-raising has fallen behind his 2005 rate, but attorney Cadigan has heavy name ID. Also, he was raising money earlier in the cycle for his '05 council bid. For much of this year he was running for mayor, not council. He decided to drop the mayoral bid when support did not materialize and go for re-election to the council. He was first elected in 2001. Dem Jeremy Toulouse is also in the race. He raised $1,000.

Cadigan must get 40 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off to stay on the nine member council where he has developed into a harsh critic of Mayor Chavez.


In the mid-ABQ NE Heights district represented by two term GOP Councilor Sally Mayer, challenger Mike Cook's campaign says Sally, like Cadigan, is running behind her fund-raising pace of four years ago. She has taken in about $5,700 so far this cycle compared to about $15,000 at this time in the '05 cycle. Like Mayer, Cook, a certified financial planner, is a Republican. He qualified for $36,000 in public financing and has spent about $7,000. Most of that went to attorney and political consultant Doug Antoon who is also consulting Republican council candidate Dan Lewis. Sally made some front-page news when it was divulged that she is being sued for a $5,600 bill to Target. But the news cuts both ways in these troubled times when many feel Mayer's pain. But what the heck was she charging at Target that sent the bill so high? Their stuff is just a notch above Wal-Mart prices. Hey, maybe financial planner Mike can help Sally figure it out.

Another closely watched council duel is between Councilor Ike Benton and challenger Alan Armijo, a former councilor who is now in his second terms as a Bernalillo County Commissioner. Armijo is not taking public financing. He raised $8,900 in the early going. $530 of it came from his old friend and longtime politico Steve Gallegos. Benton, also a Dem, is taking public financing and has spent about $3,000. The district includes parts of Downtown, Barelas and the University of New Mexico area.

The only polling we've seen on any of the council races was in Cadigan's district a few months ago and it showed him leading, but with an opening for challenger Lewis to hold him below 40 percent and force a run-off. The polling schedule of the ABQ Journal has not been released. The paper is expected to do at least one mayoral survey, but traditionally does not poll the council races.

We'll have our election night team on October 6 on 89.1 FM KANW to bring you live coverage of the city election.


If you're wandering the halls of the Roundhouse, be on the look out for a guy with a baseball bat who looks pretty angry. That would be Guv candidate Allen Weh:

“When I get to Santa Fe, I’m going to take a baseball bat, and we’re going to clean that place out."

Now Big Bill is a former ace baseball pitcher. He probably can avoid Weh's swinging bat. But we worry about the rest of the gang. Seems it may be time for universal health care if Weh is let loose...

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