Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Manny Moves In: Dems Tap Gonzales For Sheriff's Post; Can He Keep It? Plus: How Marty Mattered, Heinrich Plants Valley Flag And Weh's Burning Bus 

Sheriff Gonzales and wife Elaine
Republicans took the ABQ mayor's office in '09, but Democrats are hoping they will get a consolation prize in 2010--the Bernalillo County sheriff's office. They think they took a nice step in that direction Monday when the five member Bernalillo County Commission named veteran Sheriff's Captain Manuel "Manny" Gonzales to fill out the remainder of the term of Republican Darren White. White is now the city's public safety director under new GOP Mayor Richard "RJ" Berry.

Gonzales, who has a bachelors degree in management, will not be a placeholder. He is off and running for the '10 Dem nomination and a four year term of his own. The appointment will give him a head start, but there's no guarantee. Some of the 20 other applicants for the sheriff's job are now expected to get in the Dem nomination race, including ABQ police commander Conrad Candelaria who appeared to be knocked out of the running for the appointment because of controversy over his military record. Gonzales
served in the US Marine Corps and received an honorable discharge. Also preparing a run is retired APD officer Marie Miranda. We could get a half dozen or more before its over.

And Republicans are not going to throw in the towel on the office they've controlled since White took it in 2002. Retired APD officer William Kurth, who was supported for the appointment last night by the commission's two Republicans, is saying he will run for the GOP nomination. He could be joined by others.

It's not the $68,000 annual pay that attracts the bodies for this job. But you instantly become one of the best known law enforcement officials in the state and have under your command a department of 300 deputies.

Republicans have done a good job owning the law and order issue. The sheriff's office is the only elected county wide post they control. There has been no Hispanic--Democrat or Republican--elected sheriff in recent memory.

By avoiding appointing a placeholder, the commission gives Gonzales, a father of three, a chance to establish himself as the incumbent. He might even appeal to a few Republicans. GOP Commissioner Michael Wiener described Gonzales as "very well-liked and well-respected." Wiener and fellow R Commissioner Michael Brasher voted to make Manny's appointment unanimous after they cast their initial votes for Kurth.


Darren White is not going to lose any money in his new gig. In fact, his starting salary of $125,000 will be nearly double his sheriff's salary and be
one of the highest at City Hall. His predecessor in the public safety post, Pete Dinelli, pulled down $122,000 a year, but that was after years on the job. And remember, Darren also gets his own public information officer--former ABQ Journal cop reporter T.J. Wilham--at a cost of $75,000 a year.

Mayor Berry is not going to fill the chief operating officer position--at least not for now. We await word on whether he will keep the chief of staff position in the mayor's office, a post that was added by Chavez and criticized as unnecessary as was the COO post. Then there's the deputy CAO for finance (I know, the list seems endless). It's another one that is seen as redundant as you already have a Dept. of Finance director. Berry could make it go away and no one would notice. Why doesn't he?

New chief administrative officer David Campbell will start at $159,000 a year. That won't raise as many eyebrows as White's starting salary because the city charter acknowledges the CAO as the most important position in city government. (We notice Campbell is now making more than the Bernalillo County manager who recently crossed the $150,000 mark with a lot fewer employees under him than Campbell).

White's salary is a special plum in another way. He is eligible for government retirement at about 80 percent of the average of his final three years of service. If he can last those three years at $125K, he would be eligible for a retirement check of $100,000 a year.

Berry has taken a gamble on White who insiders think is either going to deliver big or crash and burn. For sure, it won't be boring.

Rep. Heinrich
There's one other angle on the White departure and the Manny Gonzales appointment we need to cover. In 2008, White lost the ABQ congressional race to Dem Martin Heinrich, but now in an indirect way White could be helping Heinrich. Here's how.

If Gonzales proves popular and takes the Democratic nomination, he should help attract Hispanic Dem voters to the polls, many of whom might stay away in an off-year election. That would help Heinrich in the Valley areas where he needs help. Republican Jon Barela is already targeting Hispanics. However, we don't think Martin will be sending any thank you notes to Darren. If his old rival is resurrected in his new job, he could someday again train his sights on Martin.

And more now on the Valley angle and Heinrich. We mentioned a few weeks ago that he planned a major initiative there. That initiative he is announcing today is a new South Valley office located near Coors and Rio Bravo SW. Heinrich will hire a new staffer for the office and send two of his downtown staffers to the new locale which will be open full-time beginning Wednesday. His office says all three of the South Valley office staff are fluent in both English and Spanish. A grand opening is planned for Dec. 12.

Heinrich says he wants to beef up his constituent service, traditionally a strong suit for the ABQ congressional representative. The Valley is a natural place to do it where many low-income residents reside and who need help navigating the federal bureaucracy. And it doesn't hurt politically, does it?


You can drop the "mayor-elect" after today. Richard "RJ" Berry will take the oath of office today at 6 p.m. at the ABQ Convention Center Ballroom downtown and become the city's first Republican mayor since Harry Kinney finished his last term in 1985. There will be a reception following the ceremony. The events are open to the public. Berry officially became mayor midnight Tuesday when Chavez's term expired.

We doubt if you will ever see Marty Chavez's name again on a New Mexico ballot. As they say, Marty gave it "the college try"
when it came to seeking higher office. His attempts at becoming Governor and US Senator were both turned back.

But his legacy in public service is secure. Like most chief executives, his last term was his weakest. But, in 1993, when he was elected to his first term at age 41, he came on strong, giving the city a new energy and vitality. In 2001, he took a second term and in 2005 he made history by scoring a third with the largest percentage of votes in history--47.28 percent in a four man field.

Much ado was made about Marty signing a last minute agreement with labor unions that gives them binding arbitration on matters other than pay, for modifying the DWI policy for the ABQ fire department, and for giving pay raises to favorite employees.

They would have you think these are mortal sins, but if you've been around any length of time you know they aren't. While unpleasant to behold, such actions are typical for most politicians headed for the exits for the final time.

It's hard to believe that any ABQ mayor would ever care about the city as much as Harry Kinney, but Chavez did. As you know, his mistakes were numerous and his hubris at times was insufferable, but history will be kind to Chavez because while he cared, he was never a caretaker.

Years from now Chavez may spend hours in his rocking chair wondering what might have been if he had been able to go beyond the mayor's office. But he won't have to wonder about his years as mayor. They mattered and so did he.


The GOP Guv campaign of Allen Weh is really catching fire--or at least the bus he was leasing has. His campaign reports the bus, nicknamed "Freedom1" by the retired Marine colonel, was engulfed in flames while parked at its Belen storage facility late Friday night. No one was hurt in the blaze that also destroyed several other vehicles. The bus, owned by Tom Greer, who works for the Weh campaign, was insured. But Weh was using the bus, decked out in a red, white and blue patriotic motif, as a mobile campaign headquarters and will miss "his home away from home."

Arson investigators are on the case. Be assured that the rumor that GOP Guv candidate Susana Martinez was seen in the vicinity of the bus just before it burst into flames has no foundation in reality. Maybe Janice Arnold-Jones, but definitely not Susana.

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