Monday, February 18, 2013

Berry Enters Race As Storm Clouds Hover; Weekend Begins To Shape '13 ABQ Mayoral Race; Our Coverage And Analysis, Plus: Large Swath of Votes In City Special Election Being Disqualified By City; Court Challenge To Come? 

Mayor Berry
A nice guy public personality, a quiescent city council and a very friendly press have taken ABQ Mayor Richard Berry a long way up the public opinion rankings, but there are so many storm clouds hovering over his administration it's hard to see how he doesn't at least get wet in the campaign for re-election that he officially started Saturday.

That being said, that friendly press did a big stretch to put a positive spin on the Republican Mayor's tenure, saying in their story of his announcement:

 . . .The. . . economy in ABQ. . . doesn't seem to be enjoying the same level of recovery experienced by some cities in the West...

What "recovery?" We're bleeding jobs at a level not seen in the lifetimes of most folks who hang their hats around here:

The Albuquerque metropolitan area lost 2,300 jobs in the 12 months that ended Dec. 31, marking 13 consecutive months of year-over-year negative job growth rates, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions said.

That's not a recovery. That's a recession. More facts:

The four-county area (Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia and Torrance) has been in near-constant recession for four years and now has as many jobs as it did in 2004, according to the department’s monthly newsletter...

And then there's the news that really hit everyone in the gut--that NM ranks in the top five places people are moving away from.

These will be two key emotional triggers that will give life to the coming campaign. (The third being the epic mess at the police department which is under federal investigation as well as the dispute over the city's crime rate under Berry).

These are developments that are changing the fundamental nature of our city and a warm smile and a nice write-up on the front-page can only keep them at bay for so long.


What the kids these days call "the optics" were a mixed bag for Berry's announcement. He put up a well-produced 60 second spot and his web site is attractive and easy to use. They use a picture of Berry from '09 with the Sandia Mountains as the backdrop. The campaign slogan is "Common Sense Leadership for ABQ."

The Mayor, a good conversationalist, also did a series of sit down media interviews at a local restaurant. They were of the mild-mannered variety as they often are when a singular reporter faces a political figure. Things can get tougher and riskier in a news conference format.

But you can't control reality. On the very day Berry made his announcement the front page of the paper splashed the news of a city cop who was involved in a an accident that claimed the life of a 21 year old woman. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the tragedy and the story was accompanied by an editorial questioning the handling of the incident.

It was one in a long series of police mishaps that will haunt Berry in the campaign--even after Chief Ray Schultz departs as he is expected to.

It calls into question the competency of that easy-going personality that Berry presented on the opening day of his campaign. Is it too easy going? You can say you love the city, but you still have to lead it.


Berry & McCleskey
The elephant in the room in the 2013 mayoral race started moving over the weekend and soon the mainstream media will be chasing after it. It is Berry's decision to privately finance his campaign rather than try to qualify for public financing for his bid.

Our analysts say that opens the door to big money coming in for this mayoral campaign--money like we've never seen before.

They expect Berry's campaign to raise a decent amount of cash--certainly more than the $362,000 he would get if he publicly financed--but they say the big money will likely come in as it did in the recent legislative races--via a Super PAC.

Jay McCleskey, who is the main political operative for both Governor Martinez and Mayor Berry, ran the legislative Super PAC Reform NM Now against the Dems, spending some $2 million. Expect him to do the same in the mayoral race.

The wife of Jay buddy and political consultant Adam Feldman held the title of campaign manager for Berry's 2009 run. If Adam manages the campaign this time, you have Feldman handling the mayor's campaign money and Jay running the Super PAC. The law says a Super PAC can't coordinate its messaging or spending with a campaign (Hey, stop laughing...).

Donors can give as much as they like to a Super PAC. One selling point McCleskey could use in raising money for Berry--if you give to the mayor you are also helping the Governor, so pony it up. It gores without saying that all this would mean another big payday for McCleskey.

(Oh, go ahead Jay. Start shopping to the press and public again that bizarre list of alleged infractions of bias and faulty analysis we've committed over the years. Don't worry. We'll get it all right for you when we become Governor Martinez's press secretary--even if we do have to replace Heath Haussamen. Anyone remember him?).


There's really only one other big shoe to drop in this '13 mayoral race. Will former Lt. Governor Diane Denish get in? Newsman Peter St. Cyr reports that if she does take the plunge she will follow Berry in bypassing the city's public finance system and raise money privately. She is also a Democratic candidate--perhaps the only one--who could see a Super PAC formed on her behalf to combat the one we anticipate for Berry.

(Could Dem consultants Dave Contarino and Amanda Cooper --the "anti-Jays" who performed well against him in the 2012 legislative races--be back again? )


The first casualty of the mayoral campaign is the aforementioned public finance system. It is too restrictive and perhaps an anachronism in the era of the Super PACs which were let loose by a controversial US Supreme Court ruling.

Even attorney Jason Marks, a longtime advocate for publicly financed campaigns, says ABQ's system is broken. He agrees that requiring over 3,600 individual $5 donations to qualify for public financing is too onerous:

Joe, Your analysis that the number of $5 qualifying contributions needed to get public financing for the Albuquerque Mayor's race is "a very high hurdle" is correct.  On a proportional basis, it takes far fewer $5 contributions for campaigns run pursuant to the state's publicly financed election statute. 

Public Regulation Commission races take approximately 280 contributions and statewide judicial races took 1,166 in 2012.  Also, the state allows a much longer period to collect the contributions... It's time to reduce the Albuquerque municipal requirements to a more reasonable level.  The current excessive requirements are preventing otherwise viable candidacies for both Mayor and council.  You could cut Albuquerque's requirements in half and still have a tough threshold that would keep frivolous candidates out. And give them another couple of months to collect their contributions.  

Think you pretty much nailed it, Jason.

Candidates have an easier time of making the ballot than qualifying for public financing. They have until April 28 to get 3,000 petition signatures from registered voters to be placed on the ballot, but only until Apri1 to get the 3,600 $5 donations necessary to win public financing.


Margaret Aragon de Chavez
Berry announcing over the weekend sucked up most of the media oxygen, but previously announced candidates Democrat Pete Dinelli and Republican and retired APD Seargent Paul Heh picked up their petition packages and both said they will try to climb that steep mountain to qualify for public financing which would get their campaigns $362,000.

Dinelli released the first paid media of the campaign, a radio spot that  goes on the attack against Berry:

During a 20 month period, Albuquerque had 27 police officer involved shootings with 17 fatalities.  The Albuquerque police department is now being investigated by the Department of Justice. Albuquerque had a zero job growth for the last 3 years, and unemployment amongst Hispanics was twelve percent. We need a new direction and we can do better.

Former ABQ first lady Margaret Argon de Chavez picked up petitions and tells us she will see if she can create some momentum for a serious run. She is the ex-wife of former three term ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez who Berry beat in 2009. She works for the state's Children Youth and Families Department as a development trainer and has been there eight years. She has worked in real estate and says the city is dead when it comes to business development.

Because Margaret is thus far the only woman and Hispanic surnamed candidate in the race, her progress will be closely monitored by potential supporters of Denish.

Jay Flowers is a 30 year old who works in office support for a law firm. He also picked up petitions at the city clerk's office Saturday.


Someone get Sam Bregman on the phone. There's a court case waiting for him. A real humdinger. The ABQ City Clerk says so far over 13 percent of the ballots in the city's special March 11 mail-in election have been disqualified. You read it right--a whopping 13% of voters are being disenfranchised only because they forgot to sign the envelope.

The clerk says she has no plans to try to rectify the situation, other than responding to voters who call in to check to see if they signed their ballots.

Mayor Berry and the asleep-at-the-wheel city council need to protect the rights of everyone to cast a ballot. If they don't, that's why we have lawyers like Bregman and the like. (Bregman is currently running for chairman of the state Dem party).

The election is over a measure that would increase the percentage of votes needs to elect the Mayor and city councilors without a run-off from 40% to 50%. Berry and the Republicans are against it. The Dem Party is for it.

Can't we have a fair fight, Mr. Mayor? How about getting those ballots counted and avoid running up a big city legal tab to fight against our own citizens whose precious right to vote is being taken away from them on a technicality.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)    
Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here. 

Not for reproduction without permission of the author      
website design by limwebdesign