Monday, October 05, 2009

Final Hours: We're On The Trail; Election Pre-Game Show At 5 On 89.1 FM, Plus: Schaefer Go For Indy Guv Run, And: Fierro's Fall; Our Observations 

With Republicans hanging onto newfound hope RJ Berry like a coat rack, ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez continues his two front battle to stop Berry from removing him from power by capturing 40 percent of the vote Tuesday night and avoiding a runoff election. Meanwhile, Democrat Richard Romero, who has been preaching that fellow Dem Chavez was collapsing and he is the alternative, had to deal with a double dose of heavy hitter robo calls on behalf of the mayor.

Former President Bill Clinton, who got to know Chavez when he was serving his first mayoral term in the early 90's, was piped into households across the city, giving a final hours jolt of energy to this unpredictable race. The ex-Prez's call came on the heels of a robo call from Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Saturday that also urged Duke City residents to give Chavez a fourth term.

(Clinton's 60 second call is here. Mayor Villaraigosa's call here. Clinton's written message to Chavez campaign supporters is here. Sunday TV trail coverage here. ABQ Journal coverage here.)

In a written message to Chavez's e-mail list, the former President opened up a theme you will be hearing a lot more if we have a runoff between Chavez and Berry as the insider betting indicates. Said Clinton:

Albuquerque can not afford a far right wing Mayor. The Republican Party is more determined than ever to stymie the progressive agenda in Albuquerque and across the nation.

That Sunday night appeal is meant to shake progressive voters from Romero. Clinton has intrinsic appeal to Hispanic and working class Dems and independent voters. But are enough voters listening this late in the game? R’s immediately claimed the Clinton call was not a life preserver for Chavez but a sign of a sinking ship.

But the party of the elephant was not predicting a trouncing of the mayor nor a big Berry win. A GOP insider close to the action framed the race this way:

Marty had a huge lead in early and absentee vote in 2005...Republicans should feel good about Berry's current position...Early voting looks like a draw and the absentee vote should tilt a hair Republican...It's going to be close.

Sounds like the R's are also expecting a runoff.


The Clinton phone call, and one earlier for Chavez by former Democratic national chairman Howard Dean, are the first indications that a mayoral runoff featuring Berry and either Democrats Chavez or Romero will become nationalized. Clinton's reference to the progressive agenda "across the nation" was a shot across the bow, one we have no doubt the national Republicans will be glad to answer if Berry enters the second round. And you thought the new public financing law was going to put a lid on things?


That was the first front for Chavez--the Democrats. The second one was the R's and indys that have previously rewarded the moderate to conservative mayor a healthy chunk of their votes. He campaigned door-to-door in the far NE heights--home of the GOP--working to keep down what will be big Berry totals. If Chavez completely loses sight of Berry with R's, the two term state representative could threaten to pull away and score the 40 percent.

Berry has had front runner status ever since that Sept. 22-24 ABQ Journal poll showed him leading the mayor 31 percent to 26 percent with Romero at 24. Chavez has mounted an aggressive comeback since, and most of the Alligators and pundits think he has avoided a collapse. They see Berry touching the mid-30's and Chavez keeping him company there. They see Romero lagging.


The turnout model is key. Our consensus number is about 85,000, about two thousand less than 2005. But remember our consensus number on Chavez's re-elect was over 42 percent and that was swept away in one poll. Still, no one is expecting a big turnout spike. City Clerk Autio expects "about the same" as 2005. Public financing has limited voter outreach, but more important, turnout for city elections has been trending down.


There is still danger for the Dems with that turnout number. It means Berry would need about 34,000 votes to put it away. The pollsters say his GOP and independent vote is around 32,000. And Berry has it easy. It's like he is running in an unopposed GOP primary. All he has to do is get his vote out, not fight for it. The downside for him is his name ID. Not many Republicans know much about him and he does not have the political pedigree that comes with years of public service and TV appearances.


Berry also campaigned in the far Heights this weekend, and he made a trip across the river to Taylor Ranch on the Westside, home to many independent voters, a group that was breaking his way in that Journal poll. Romero did his door-to-door in the South Valley and Westgate Heights, heavy Hispanic areas, but ones with low voter turnout.

Berry and Chavez have been up with heavy TV the past week. Romero has had none. For those getting their info from the tube, this looks like a two way race. Romero's handlers say not to worry. They are sticking to their story that Chavez is sunk and that Romero will rise to the second position when it's all over late Tuesday.


Make sure to join us on the radio today for all the latest city election action, analysis and predictions. We kick off at at 5 p.m. on KANW 89.1 FM. Appearing on the live broadcast will be former NM Dem Party Chairman John Wertheim and ABQ State Senator Eric Griego who ran for mayor in '05. ABQ Republican State Rep. Larry Larranaga, a longtime fixture on our KANW broadcasts, is back for 2009. For those out of the listening area, you an catch the program at www.kanw.com where it and our Election Night coverage will be streamed live.


Thanks to our sponsors--Coca Cola, DW Turner, Ladera Golf and Banquet Facilities and Serrano and Sons for making possible the pre-game show and our KANW Election Night coverage which begins at 6: 30 p.m. Tuesday and continues until all the votes are counted. We'll have attorney Wertheim with us for the duration, Griego for an hour and former Mayor Jim Baca will be on hand. Rep. Larranaga will be joined by former Bernalillo County GOP executive director Bob Cornelius who will be stationed at Government Center for the official vote count. Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Lenton Malry will be back for his 21st year of giving us early and exclusive results from select voting precincts. And Steve Cabiedes will again be with us to coordinate even more early results. And, of course, we'll hear from all the candidates.


Let's do a round of analysis of the final TV spot to go up on the air in this campaign. It's from Mayor Chavez and emphasizes themes aimed at the middle of the electorate, but it does rely on an Hispanic woman business owner to drive his point home.

The mayor opens the spot touting his endorsements from the ABQ Journal and the police and fire unions. Then comes Tina Cordova, president of Queston Construction. (Which is where we pause and wonder: Isn't RJ Berry's wife, Maria (Medina) Berry, also a Hispanic woman who owns a construction company--Cumbre Construction? Geez, Joe, I think you're getting pretty good at this.) Anyway, Tina says Marty works hard for "small businesses like mine."

Mayor for Life Marty, who has seemed curiously out of step with the economic realities facing the city in this, his fourth mayoral bid, closes the 30 second ad:

"We've made great progress, but there's still work to do. I'll keep fighting for high paying jobs and better schools. With your vote we'll keep ABQ moving in the right direction.

And what more can he say? The electorate, in the middle of a severe economic downturn, is looking to preserve the good things we have, not start writing a wish list for the next four years.

Like one of those medical ads on TV, we have a question we want to whisper: Can we talk about incumbent fatigue and its many symptoms?

Chavez is seeking his third term in a row and his fourth overall. And while New Mexicans like to keep their congressmen and senators around year after year, they have not always been prone to extend the same courtesy to officials who work more closely with them--officials like mayors and governors. It's like that elsewhere, too. In Seattle recently, the mayor was denied a third consecutive term. He said voters "decided it was time for a new generation." In Chicago, where they do like to keep their mayors around a long time, veteran Richard Daly is plunging in popularity.

Chavez broke the mold on ABQ mayoral re-elections. He can win again because he is a politician of exceptional skill, works diligently and knows how to handle executive power. If a voter were interviewing the three candidates for mayor solely on their job skills, Chavez would win. But it's the variable factors--his length of service, personality issues and the many enemies incumbents make when they make decisions. It's also about the very American issue of too much power for too long.

Does it strike you that if Chavez were seeking one final term that was for two years, not four, there would not be as much ambivalence about him? The electorate may want a little more of Marty, but perhaps not four years more. If Chavez does not make the 40 percent and is forced into a runoff, it will be his opportunity to show that he not only can dazzle with intellectual and governing skills, but that he can eat his share of humble pie and finish his tenure with amity not acrimony and, ultimately, prepare the city for his successor.


Don't know where to vote in the ABQ election? Find out here.


He says he's in. Former Public Regulation Commissioner Tony Schaefer confirms to me that he will launch an independent run for governor. Schaefer, an R turned D, will need about 17,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot and will have until June 2 to collect them. He says to get 17,000 valid signatures, he will aim to collect around 20,000. That's no small order, but, Schaefer says, if need be he will use personal resources to finance the effort.

"Santa Fe is in a do nothing mode. Jobs and education are both suffering and nothing is being done. I am worried about the future of the state,' He said in a recent phone call.

Schaefer also cited ethics as an issue, saying the front runner for the Democratic Guv nod, Lt. Governor Diane Denish, "has sat on her hands" as an array of ethical infractions occurred in the Big Bill administration.

The 61 year old served one term on the PRC in the 90's from a southern district. He said the time is ripe for an independent run, citing discontent with state government across the board. No independent has qualified for the ballot in recent memory. That petition requirement is steep and Schaefer may need even more than 20,000 signatures considering how many may be rejected as invalid.

If he did make the ballot, would that help the R's or the D's? Probably the Dems. Schaefer is from the south and will be mining the same anti-government vote as the R's.

Tony's wife, Annette, is distantly related to former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez. Annette's mother is Raymond's cousin. Raymond is the brother of State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. Michael has toyed with a run for Guv, but is not expected to go. The connections of La Politica run deep, as we're sure the Denish camp notices.


What could have been. That's the sad political epitaph for the talented lawyer- lobbyist Carlos Fierro, found guilty Friday in Santa Fe for driving his car into William Tenorio and killing him outside of a capital city bar. This poignant photograph from the New Mexican's Luis Sanchez-Saturno tells the sorry tale.

Both Tenorio and Fierro were drunk as skunks that fateful night. Hours after the incident Carlos registered a .21 blood level, nearly three times the legal limit.

So why didn't Fierro just stand up and take his medicine, admit his error and plead guilty to vehicular homicide and perhaps get the DA to drop the additional charge of leaving the scene of an accident? He probably could have counted on doing less than the maximum six years a vehicular homicide charge carries and spared himself, his family and that of Tenorio's the needless legal parrying over what happened.

Fierro's lawyers are the class of their field and no one can argue with their vigorous and expensive defense of their client--they're doing their jobs. But this trial diminished Fierro, cast as he was in the press as a privileged member of the Santa Fe upper crust using everything in his power to escape responsibility.

Carlos was responsible. He was drunk. He killed a man. Simple truths. But there seem to be no simple verities in this modern era of legal and political spin rooms. It's all about "not taking the hit."

Fierro still has a shot at personal and public redemption. He could drop his request for a new trial and immediately present himself for sentencing. He could apologize for his actions. He could tell his nine year old daughter that this is what it means to be a man.

Carlos never got to pursue that political career he dreamed of, but with this one action he could accomplish more than anything he could have hoped to in a lifetime of public service.

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