Friday, March 10, 2017

Mayoral Mechanics: 14 At The Start But Far Fewer At The Finish  

This column is also running in the ABQ Free Press.

There are 14 candidates registered to run for the 2017 Albuquerque mayoral race but political pros have already narrowed the field to three or four candidates who they see as having a realistic chance at replacing Mayor Richard Berry who in December will finish his final term in office.

The open seat has drawn a diverse batch of candidates but most are not positioned to either qualify for the ballot and/or raise the necessary funds to conduct a professional campaign. It's easy to toss your hat into the ring but to actually get in there and duke it out takes much more than that.

The first hurdle to cross for the would-be mayors is collecting 3,000 valid signatures from registered city voters. The key word is valid. Many of the signatures collected will be from persons not registered. Consultants say a candidate will need to get about 5,000 signatures to make sure they get the 3,000 valid ones that will guarantee them a place on the October 3 ballot.

The signatures are due April 28th and although the hopefuls would have had over two months to get them, it is a sure bet that multiple candidates will fail. That field of 14 will shrink dramatically. If more than five or six manage to qualify, it will be a surprise.

Now of that half dozen that might get enough signatures the next obstacle is getting the money to run an effective campaign. Mayor Berry spent nearly $1 million in 2013 in his successful re-election effort. A candidate for this open seat won't need that much, but if you're not raising in the neighborhood of $450,000 you risk being outspent and drowned out.

What about public financing, you might ask? It may not be widely known but qualifying for such financing under city rules is extremely difficult and practically impossible for a person without a large and efficient organization. In order to qualify for $379,000 in public financing (about a dollar per registered city voter) mayoral wannabes must collect qualifying donations. Those are $5 contributions from 3,802 registered voters due April 1. Can you imagine doing that and having to rely on mostly complete strangers?

It seems a safe prediction that State Auditor Tim Keller will be the only candidate seeking public financing who will manage the feat. The other 7 who are trying have little experience and organization. Their chances of qualifying are about as good as the Lobos making the Final Four. They will have to make a decision on whether to stay in the race and that assumes they will be able to get those petition signatures.

Who are the handful of candidates who will likely dominate the stage after April 28 when the mayoral petitions are due? In no particular order they are the aforementioned Keller, former NM Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón and Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis. Not only should Keller qualify for public financing but expect a political action committee (PAC) to form on his behalf that could raise significant money and enable him to match the financial muscle that Lewis and Colon are expected to flex.

Lewis is backed by the majority of the Republican establishment, with GOP Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson playing the role of thorn in his side. Lewis can be expected to raise north of $500,000, given the expected support of the oil industry and other Republican interest groups. Colón is an accomplished fundraiser and has to be eyeing that same amount, if not more. Former Democratic Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta was the first to announce a mayoral bid. Her fund-raising totals will be closely watched to see if she can break into the first tier of candidates.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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