Tuesday, October 06, 2015

ABQ Election '15 Is Today: Vote Watchers Ponder Turnout, Two Contested Council Races, A BioPark Tax Hike, Bonds And Charter Amendments 

State political watchers will be watching today's Albuquerque election closely and not necessarily for the results, but for how many of the city's registered voters actually turn out.

After watching a historic crash in turnout in the 2013 ABQ election followed by another turnout plunge in the '14 gubernatorial race, the vote watchers are pondering whether we have entered a long-term period of low voter participation. The City Clerk is predicting turnout today will fail to match the 12 percent of registered voters who cast ballots  in the 2011 city election. In fact a plunge into single digits is quite possible. That would mean a turnout of less than 35,000 of the city's nearly 350,000 registered voters.

The trend is disturbing. Some blame it on noncompetitive contests (Martinez Vs. King for Guv and Berry vs. Dinelli for ABQ mayor) and that a robust political competition featuring strong personalities will bring the voters back. Others point out that voting is a habit and if citizens aren't forming one, voter turnout could stay in the cellar.

That the meteoric rise of state Republicans has coincided with the turnout crash is no coincidence. GOP voters are the most reliable. Democrats point out that Hispanic Dems have been harder to get to the polls for recent elections exacerbating the GOP edge.

As for the outcome today, it appears that progressive activist Pat Davis will take the city council seat being vacated by Rey Garduño. He faces two opponents including Hessito Yntema, a Republican who initially drew attention from the Governor's political machine. He faded as it became clear to operatives that the liberal UNM area district was not up for grabs and the Guv's PAC did not come with a media blitz that some Dems feared. The GOP still nurtures hope that with another Dem in the race--Sam Kerwin--that Davis could be held below the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a run-off.

With longtime GOP Councilor Brad Winter positioned to win another term against Dem Israel Chavez in a conservative NE Heights district, when all is said and done tonight the council is likely to stay where it is--with a 5 to 4 Dem majority, one vote shy needed to override any vetoes from GOP Mayor Berry.


That one eighth cent increase in the city's gross receipts tax proposed to finance improvements at the BioPark--which includes the zoo and aquarium--attracted no paid media opposition so it should pass. But there is natural opposition so the percentage it wins by will be closely watched.

The tax hike is forecast to raise at least $17 million a year for 15 years. It takes Mayor Berry and the city council off the hook to fund the improvements by the traditional method of issuing bonds. In fact, Berry has refused to take a public stance on the tax hike, even as many Republicans vote against it. That could be used against him if he takes a stab at the '18 GOP Guv nomination.

There are $119 million in bond issues on today's ballot. We voted for all of them as well as the proposal to have the city council confirm the police and fire chiefs and several other charter amendments.

Our sole "against" vote was on the BioPark tax. We joined with conservatives in opposing it. The tax is regressive and hurts lower income residents and is a detriment to local business. Another reason is the aforementioned failure of the Mayor and City Council to finance BioPark capital improvements through bonds--not by raising taxes.

And one more: the ability of future councils and mayors to raid that BioPark tax for other uses. Over $250 million over 15 years is a temptation the politicians could find hard to resist, especially if the economy here remains stagnant.


With the myriad economic and crime problems the city faces, former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez came in for criticism because of his concern over the graveyard shift being cut from the 311 phone service provided by the city for information about services. He responded with this:

If it were just about cutting an information line in lean economic times, that would be fine. But 311 was always much much more than that. First, it was an opportunity to capture data --how long does it take to dispatch a service, e.g. graffiti removal. Which employees were fastest and most efficient? How could each department be changed to operate more efficiently. Fundamentally, if you can't measure it, you can't change it.

Second, all of the data is captured in an open data format which is a huge economic development tool and the basis for all things Smart City. Entrepreneurs can access the data, reconfigure it and develop apps and solutions.

Check out Cityzenith.com to get a better sense of what we were doing. 311 was all about open source data which over time becomes richer and more deeply textured. It ultimately becomes a fabulous tool for policy makers and citizens alike replete with actionable data across the full spectrum of city services.

So it was never about a call service but rather how Albuquerque leaps to the front in the Smart City realm. There's plenty to cut without whacking the practices that can actually make Albuquerque a national leader in something truly visionary. So we've once again stepped backward.

Join me on Twitter and Facebook at 7 tonight for some city election coverage and on the blog Wednesday.

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