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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Behind Berry's Blow-Out; We Peel The Onion On His Huge Win, Ponder Its Impact On The '14 Cycle And Analyze The State Of The City; It's All Next From New Mexico's #1 

Mayor Richard Berry (RosalesABQ Journal)
Call it Berry's blow-out or Dinelli's debacle. Whatever the superlative, it was an historic night.

The obvious plus side for Mayor Richard Berry was his startling victory margin in a Democratic city. He garnered 67.91% of the vote to Democrat Pete Dinelli's 28.65%. Republican Paul Heh eked out 3.13%.

Before now, no ABQ mayoral candidate had ever exceeded 50% of the vote in first-round balloting since we adopted the modern form of government in 1974.

(Complete election results here.)

The not so pleasant side for Berry was the crash in voter turnout. It dropped to 71,000 from 83,000 when he won his first term in 2009.

 It was the lowest number of votes cast for ABQ Mayor since 1977, according to our records, and was less than 20% of the 364,000 registered ABQ voters.

UNM political scientist Gabe Sanchez was joined by our analyst and pollster Bruce Donisthorpe in pointing out that such a low turnout means the electorate was older, more conservative, more affluent and more Anglo than the average Duke City resident. And that's a recipe for GOP success.

Be that as it may, there was no denying the rout, even if former Lt. Governor Diane Denish and 2010 Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish told our KANW 89.1 FM audience that she doesn't see the election as signifying trouble for the Dems in 2014 when Governor Martinez will seek re-election.

But that was a minority view. Former Democratic City Councilor Miguel Gomez warned that the huge Berry victory is only the prelude to bigger Republican plans to not only re-elect Susana but to take over the state House. In the aftermath of Berry's sweeping victory, that did not seem like an idle threat.

Gomez and other analysts said the crash in turnout played right into the mayor's hands and that the same strategy is on tap for the '14 cycle. Declared Gomez:

The Republicans are taking a pass on fielding strong candidates against Senator Udall and ABQ Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham because they want to keep the turnout down among Democrats. We got a very clear picture in this ABQ mayor's race on what that could mean for Governor Martinez and the key state House races.

In losing, Dinelli rightly cited the turnout collapse as a chief reason for his landslide loss, but his overall strategy was criticised by veteran politico Steve Cabiedes:

The Dinelli campaign tried to cover too many bases at one time. It was difficult for people to latch on to the candidacy. Also, he spent way too much on TV and should have spent more on field operations.

Former BernCo County Commissioner Lenton Malry said Dinelli should have loosened the purse strings earlier and bought some TV time over the summer to let voters know about him. He argued that it could have shrunk Berry's winning margin. Dinelli did not start his media buy until September.

PRELUDE TO '14?

Like Berry, Governor Susana has a big early lead in the polls and Democrats are already discouraged about their chances, just as they were at the start of this mayor's race.

Former ABQ City Councilor Greg Payne, who nailed the outcome of this election with his prediction that Berry would get 67% of the vote, gave credit where credit is due--to Berry's mostly sure-footed campaign presence and to the strategy devised and implemented by his political consultant Jay McCleskey, also known as the "Shadow Governor." Payne opined:

Jay has intimidated and bullied the Democrats. The huge drop off in Democratic turnout in the city election says it all. Until the Dems answer him with a political hit man of their own, they are wandering in the wilderness. Berry, Susana and Jay also have a lot of friendly media behind them. If Democrats don't take a lesson from this disaster for the '14 cycle, then they are brain-dead and the state House will be next to fall into Republican hands.

The recriminations will continue in the weeks ahead, with Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman among those taking hits and perhaps feeling heat to professionalize the Dem operation to make it competitive with the R's.

The Berry blow-out may never be repeated again, but for a beleaguered Democratic Party once is more than enough.

BEING BERRY

Don't underestimate the likability factor. President Obama had it in 2012 when he faced an economy in trouble but managed to capture the win. Now Berry, also faced with a troubling economic picture, was able to keep it from blemishing his own nice guy, approachable image.

History will remember the Berry win for its totality, but will it remember his first-term mayoralty? Not really. He is a caretaker, taking no bold steps but putting a friendly face on troubled times. As Lenton Malry on KANW put it last night: "There is a large swath of the electorate who want a Mayor who does little. Berry is their man."

An often obsequious press and a disemboweled opposition are other key factors in Berry's political success.

INCUMBENT POWER

We've re-elected our last two Governors by big margins and Marty Chavez was easily re-elected Mayor of ABQ in 2005. Now Berry has also easily secured a second term. The fund-raising advantage and name ID of the incumbent can't be underestimated. It is harder than ever to oust them. Chavez was seeking a third term in 2009 and that was too much, but second terms? NM and ABQ voters seem more prone to go along.

OUR MOJO

Joe Monahan on the air (Bralley)
Mayor Berry won a huge victory not only because  of the Democratic forfeit but also because he told people what they wanted to hear--not necessarily what is happening.

We think that even Jay McCleskey would agree with that.

The city has lost its mojo. There are multiple reasons for that and most of tbem can't be blamed on the Mayor.

The chipping away at our federal funding, the failure to diversify our economy, the flight of our bright, young people to greener pastures and the rough-edged city we've become as exemplified by the TV series "Breaking Bad" all remind us that 21st century ABQ is on a much different course than yesteryear.

Berry's optimistic '"the glass is half full" message and his constant encouragement that we believe "things are getting better" is welcome to the sliver of the electorate that showed up Tuesday. And we're sure McCleskey honed in on that in the focus groups he used to craft the Berry message for a low turnout election.

Diane Denish maintained on KANW that we have become victims of our own low expectations, that we rejoice over a call center announcement, even as the city is depopulated of high-paying jobs.

But what's to be done? The national and global forces at play seem to demand too much of anyone--even the most determined. It makes Berry's world view that past glory is soon to return seem as welcome as the return of spring after an especially bitter winter.

Berry's Pollyannish poise and McCleskey's unapologetic, bad-guy anti-intellectualism give desperately needed cover to the shrinking ABQ business and media aristocracy. "We're not Detroit," they exclaim, as if the avoidance of disaster is the definition of success.

The Mayor opted out of an interview with us last night, as did GOP State Rep. Larry Larranaga and GOP City Councilor Brad Winter. Is this a case of puppets not wanting to offend their puppeteer? Or a disdain for honest inquiry? Or both?

DEM SUNSHINE

Diane Gibson (l) with supporter
There was a glimmer of sunshine for the Dems Election Night. Dem Diane Gibson forced a November 19 election with Republican City Councilor Janice Arnold Jones in District 7 in the mid NE Heights.

Arnold-Jones, appointed by Mayor Berry to fill a council vacancy, slipped just below the magic 50% mark that would have seen her elected. The bean counters said she failed to take the outright win by about 75 votes.

Complicating the picture for her is the proposed referendum on restricting late term abortions. It appears that it will now be an in-person election--not a mail-in--and held the same day as the council run-off.

Pro-choice groups in the Dem dominated district can be expected to put on a full court press--as will anti-abortion activists. That muddles the turnout outlook for Arnold-Jones.

Some wondered out loud if there will be GOP machinations to move that abortion vote to another day or delay it. They noted that GOP Councilor Trudy Jones is already trying to stop the abortion referendum from going on the run-off ballot.

That Gibson was able to hold Arnold-Jones below 50% was largely a result of the ABQ firefighters union and other Dem interest groups choosing to stand and fight.

Analysts Payne and Cabiedes noted that at some District 7 polling places lines formed in the afternoon rush hour--a testament to their devotion. What if that had happened in the Mayor's race? They wondered.

THE MEDIA

Then there was the tiresome ass kissing of Chris Sanchez, Mayor Berry's flack, congratulating reporters on Twitter (KRQE's Alex Goldsmith, KOAT-TV's Tanya Mendis and the ABQ Journal's Dan McKay among them) on the "thorough" job they had done covering the campaign.

That would have been taken as an insult back in our days on the beat--or at least hidden from public view. Hopefully, this new generation realizes the game being played. If not....

Here's the deal. If you want to be a real reporter and not a star or starlet, you are into ass kicking--not getting your ass kissed.

(Yeah, Chris, nothing personal. Call me for coffee if Jay says it's okay).

SECOND TERM OUTLOOK

Mayor Berry outlined no grand strategy for his second four year term that will commence December 1. Speculation immediately started about his future political plans, but it seemed premature. Meantime, he faces some immediate challenges:

Berry enters a second term in office to face mounting criticism from the city’s police and fire unions. Leaders of both unions campaigned on street corners on Tuesday claiming that public safety is at risk under Berry’s administration. “We haven’t had the leadership in place to say we’re going to take care of public safety first, to its full extent,” Diego Arencon, President of the Albuquerque Area Fighters union said.By next June, he said cost of living allowances will change, which could cause Albuquerque firefighters to seek employment elsewhere.Leaders of the police union said Mayor Berry has failed to adequately address recruitment and retention of officers.

But even more than that there is the outcome of the federal Department of Justice civil rights probe of the ABQ police force and the still anemic ABQ economy. What surprises will they deliver?

Mayor Berry, Governor Martinez and McCleskey were spotted hanging out at the ABQ Uptown Sheraton well after the election results were in and the hoopla had died down. They had reason not to relinquish the moment--they had scaled the peak in grand style.

Will there be an effective challenge to their ownership of that land or are there even more mountains for them to conquer in the face of a muted opposition?

ELECTION NOTES

Dem City Councilor Ike Benton easily defeated Republican Councilor Roxanna Myers last night in the ABQ North Valley council race. That means the council is now controlled by the R's 5 to 4. If Arnold-Jones were to lose to Gibson the Dems would take control on a 5 to 4...

All 10 bond issues on the ballot passed easily--especially the one for storm sewers. Do you think the wild and wet summer weather season may have had something to do with that?..

Dem consultant Harry Pavlides wins the prediction contest on turnout. He nailed it--nearly exactly--as he predicted 71,000 votes would be cast...

Congratulations to Mayor Berry and the victorious city council candidates. We wish them well as they lead our beloved city into the next four years.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013. Not for reproduction without permission of the author
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