Monday, April 12, 2010

The New Calm At ABQ City Hall, Plus: Budget Battle Update; Which Way Out? And: Allen Weh's Odd Highway 

Mayor Berry
Whether by serendipity or design, ABQ voters seem to pick their leaders to match the times. When the city was booming and the coffers were overflowing with cash, Democratic activist leader Marty Chavez fit the bill. For eight years he unveiled initiative after initiative. Today, with the city facing its worst budget crisis in its history, the times call for a more low-key and collaborative personality and we appear to be getting it with R.J. Berry.

The new mayor sat for a half-hour KOB-TV interview, and despite the mounting tension over his proposed budget cuts, he maintained his cool, refusing, as he put it, to "draw a line in the sand."

This isn't a line in the sand process for me. This is a dialogue with labor, the administration and city council.

The first Republican mayor in nearly a quarter century also passed on the chance to do some old fashioned union bashing:

(The unions) have a job to do...They have membership they have to take care of...It doesn't surprise me that they would come with tax increases...We have a negotiating process...We''ll conduct ourselves in a professional manner..

That's a far cry from the yelling and name-calling (one councilor once called the sitting mayor "a turd") that have marked city politics in recent years. Perhaps as the crisis wears on, we'll revert to form and have city councilors, union leaders and the mayor all publicly dumping on one another, but for now Mr. and Mrs. Albuquerque are enjoying the reprieve.


Style is the superficial if not insignificant aspect of governing, but in the end it's policy that matters. In that regard, Berry, governing with a five member GOP majority on the council, seems headed toward getting most of what he wants as he takes his first of what will be many stabs at addressing the new long-term economic reality.

This is because there are few alternatives. Most of the expense of running a modern city is payroll. With a projected deficit of $66 million for the budget year starting July 1st, it will have to be trimmed. Berry's proposal to shave 3 percent from all city salaries is headed for passage. But if he and the council really want to score points and apply this proposal fairly, they will exempt the lowest paid employees and make sure the cuts are deeper at the top of the pay scale.

City unions arguing for tax hikes to keep the party going are whistling in the wind. Unlike dozens of other cities, Berry is coming with a plan that avoids layoffs. City unemployment is at a modern day record--9 percent--and the public is not about to support tax increases so city workers can keep full-sized paychecks while unemployment and food stamp lines back up.

The police and fire departments, sacrosanct for so many years, will also find a resistant public if they try to cling to unrealistic 6 percent pay raises promised by former Mayor Chavez. Ditto for their desire to avoid shrinking their salaries like other city workers.

With lost jobs, foreclosed homes and heavy debt weighing on thousands of city households, the cops and firemen are going to take a hit. That it is being administered by a Republican mayor and council, not Democrats who could be accused of being soft on crime, is another reason the cops will have to bite their bullets, not just shoot them.

However, City Hall Alligators say Berry may want to settle for nixing the pay raise and applying the salary cut, rather than opening up the entire police and fire contracts to go after more savings. That could upset what so far is a political equilibrium that gives Berry the benefit of the doubt. Besides, by the time this economic debacle plays out, everything will eventually be thrown on the table.


Repercussions from the bursting of the ABQ west side real estate bubble continue, with the bankruptcy filing of land developer SunCal being the latest news. The company bought the huge SunCal Atrisco land grant and then tried to convince the legislature to give it a special tax break known as a TIDD to assist it in developing nearly 40,000 residential lots there.. It never happened. A Senior Alligator comes with this analysis:

There are only four caretakers left to deal with the re-organization as SunCal's California staff deal with the repercussions. The Californians have been running the operation for some time.

The SunCal approach to lobbying and advertising really has to be called into question. They probably spent well over a million dollars on their failed efforts to get the legislature to approve their TIDD. Contrast the SunCal effort at getting their TIDD to the successful Mesa del Sol effort and one sees that one has to target an effort with the legislature and not throw money at the wall hoping some of it will stick.

SunCal's lobbying raised eyebrows and caused resentment among the many who didn't get a piece of the action. With the economy in the ditch and successful efforts like Mesa del Sol in hibernation, it is hard to see how SunCal will emerge successfully from this reorganization. One only hopes that the shareholders and heirs of the Atrisco land grant can salvage their heritage from this fiasco.


From Santa Fe, Secretary of State Mary Herrera writes to us of the charges from A.J. Salazar, her former Bureau of Election's director, who claims she ordered office employees to gather petition signatures for her re-election campaign on office time:

I do not understand why the media never asked (Salazar) did you collect the 1,000 signatures? February 9th was filing date. Everyone knows I was out every night and every weekend collecting my own signatures. I collected over 10,000 with help from friends, family, campaign help, and I mailed out sheets to over 200 people in the party who I thought might help and received quite a few back in the mail. I collected close to 7,000 by myself from October to February 9th. I am a worker...

No doubt Mary is a worker. She won two terms as Bernalillo County clerk and is going for a second four year term as SOS this year. As for collecting 7,000 signatures on her own from October thru Feb. 9, that would mean she collected an average of 55 signatures a day.

In light of the recent troubles of Sec. Herrera, we pointed out that no Republican has been elected SOS since the 1920's. But why, when other state offices have, on occasion, flipped to the R's? Perhaps New Mexico Hispanics are particularly attuned to the Dems and this office because it administers election and voting rules and discrimination against Hispanics in that regard was of a serious nature not long ago.


We are back to a three way GOP primary for the ABQ west side and Corrales area state House seat held by Dem Ben Rodefer. Candidate Tom Molitor says he is back on the ballot as is David Doyle. The pair were ruled off the ballot by the Secretary of State for not following rules regarding the gathering of petition signatures, but Molitor says a Sandoval County judge reversed that ruling. The two join retired ABQ police officer Paul Pacheco on the ballot. Rodefer is seen as one of the more vulnerable House Dems in the 2010 cycle.

Meanwhile, the AP comes with this wrap on the outlook for the state House campaigns. All 70 seats are up for election this year. The GOP has done a pretty good job getting more candidates on the field, but Dems say they are ready to defend.


The City of Roswell isn't going to be shy about defending itself from a lawsuit filed against the cops by former State Rep. Dan Foley who was arrested in 2007 for interfering with his son's basketball game and allegedly spitting at the police. Charges were eventually dismissed, but Foley's suit says his civil rights were violated. The city is now asking that Foley's suit be dismissed.

These defendants acted out of necessity to protect their safety and the safety of others,” reads the court documents. “(Their) actions were privileged on the basis that they may use reasonable force to effect an arrest.

Republican Foley has since moved out of Roswell and to Rio Rancho. But his political career has never recovered from a 2008 primary defeat. He currently sells insurance.


This Allen Weh campaign billboard near Farmington has some odd company for a self-described "famIly values" candidate. The building in back of of the billboard sports the title, "Couples Megastore." Weh's sign appears to be on the same property as the sex biz. Maybe the suliminal message from the GOP Guv contender is that it takes more than praying together for a couple to stay together?


In our first draft of Friday's blog we said that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish took issue with the latest TV ad from GOP Guv contender Allen Weh. The criticism actually came in a news release from the state Dem party, not Denish, but her campaign says she agrees with the party.

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