Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Street Bond Defeat: Tale of Two Cities; Heinrich, O'Malley Blow The Doors Off; Winter Ices CGA; Cops Cash In; Now what?  

About 120 years ago Albuquerque split into Old Town and "New Town." New Town was next to the new railroad tracks where hyper-growth was soon to occur. Is history going to repeat? Last night's rejection of the $52 million street bond package, heavily weighted to today's booming West Side and also containing money for the controversial Paseo Del Norte extension, opens the door for the West Side to look for a way out. The rest of the city turned its collective back on the bond package, leaving District Five a lonely island across the river choking in its traffic. The West Side with its young families and suburban lifestyles stoked by a seemingly never ending housing boom is devastated by the defeat and extremely isolated politically. Sections of the West Side may look for a way out. Already the 12 thousand acre Quail Ranch land is going into Rio Rancho and that city is hungrily eyeing more. The street bond defeat may hasten the process. Developers, contractors and realtors have little hope of changing the political mind-set in the short-term after the stunning rebuke of their Citizens for a Greater ABQ Committee (CGA), which spent over $125,00 only to see all its pro-growth candidates go down in flames, along with the street bonds. The possibility of a separate political entity out West is only a mumble now, but Gov. Richardson took power way from ABQ earlier this year when he signed over vital zoning and water authority to Bernalillo County because of fear that the present city council was thwarting the economy. And you can look for more pressure from pro-growth area governments, perhaps with the help of the business community, to grab for more in light of this election. It was the first time a city bond issue was defeated since 1985.


You look at the roster of Citizens for Greater ABQ and you see some of this area's top quality people; brilliant businessmen and women, some so successful they give a lot of their money away. That makes it all the sadder that they were duped, yes duped, by a few of their members into sanctioning a fear-based, slash and burn campaign, all out of proportion to the perceived threat. It was a classic fight or flight response. CGA was a huge loser last night, winning nothing, but setting unnecessary records for spending. The hard right-wing elements that hijacked CGA have given the business community a black eye and the need to look in the mirror. The Chamber of Commerce, long involved in ill-fated and losing political efforts, took this one down the primrose path as well, turning power over to whatever 20 something political operatives were running this thing. And what did they get? An empty cup and maybe something real to fear from the new power alignment they unintentionally helped give birth to. In other times guys like George Maloof and Chuck Lanier advanced business interests in a moderate and calm manner. They had perspective. Maybe the go-go days we live in make that approach antiquated, but the business leaders who have legitimate concerns need to contribute leaders to the community who know the art of compromise. On the other side, hopefully O'Malley and Heinrich will be the type of personalities who know you can't have it all. The all or nothing approach on growth, roads and bridges has torn the town apart. CGA further shredded the body politic. If a public safety tax can be approved with a coalition of liberals and conservatives, as it was last night, you know we can have compromise. No one should have to vote with their feet. There's room enough in this town for everyone, including a reconstituted CGA serving as a bridge between business and the community at large. Just lose the initials guys. I'm afraid they had their run.


West Side Councilor Michael Cadigan and Abq Mayor Martin Chavez will take major hits for Tuesday's bond defeat. They campaigned hard for the issue and it failed. They will be blamed. That is the brutal political reality. Cadigan already survived a recall attempt earlier in his term, set off partly by his support of the Planned Growth Strategy, which many West Sider's see as an attack on them. Cadigan left the PGS nest to support the street bonds and Paseo. His Jekyll and Hyde approach on growth issues make him vulnerable. Maybe he can convince his fellow councilor's they should throw the beaten down West Side a bone and make him council president. But don't count on it. Meanwhile, humiliated West Sider's may take out their revenge on him.

Mayor Marty loves his job. No one will accuse him of not having his heart in it. But the old fight was not in him last night and his subdued rejoinder that the "people have spoken' had "give-up" written all over it. The repudiation of the street bond on his watch is going to be manna from heaven for his critics. His political base is the West Side, and like Cadigan he will be scored for not delivering. Also, the extreme division of the vote cries out for leaders who can bring the sides together. Can the mayor pull his dog from the fight long enough to do that? It's asking a lot from anyone. The election results opens the floodgate for a bevy of candidates who claim the leadership skills they will fault Chavez for lacking. Some in the Bond Advocacy Group he worked with are already pointing fingers at him for the defeat saying he made it a referendum on his administration, and that's why it was defeated. At least for the near future the city council holds the high cards. The mayor, like the rest of us, will be watching to see how they play them.

ABQ's longest serving Councilor, Vince Griego, passed the torch to winner Debbie O'Malley last night. Having endorsed her he leaves the scene a winner after 29 years. Enter stage right a new Griego. Eric. The District Three councilor elected two years ago claimed big victories Tuesday. He sponsored the quarter cent public safety tax on the council and it won solid approval citywide last night. He also has been associated with Soltari Consulting which engineered the defeat of the street bonds. Clearly, Eric Griego has the mayor's job clearly in his sights now. His next move may be for the council presidency, either in 04' or 05'. In any event, the race is now on for title of "Chief Progressive" and Griego wants the title. His vision may not include olive branches to the West Side because under the no run-off rule in a mayor's race he, like Jim Baca before him, would target the old liberal areas of the city to capture the top job. Griego's plan to refloat a street bond issue excluding Paseo in a special election (another election!?) appears unlikely at this writing. He is brash and tough but is he big enough in victory to look for a way to build togetherness, or is the plan to continue the divide that leads to electoral success, but governmental gridlock? Stay tuned

Even their foes bow to their political skills. The blow-out victories of Debbie O'Malley in District Two (she received a whopping 45% in a four way race)--and Martin Heinrich in District Six (39.9% in a six way face-off) had political junkies effusive and giddy. Hey, weren't those races supposed to be a at least a little bit closer? Both campaigned for nearly a year, fielded good get-out-the-vote organizations and had the issues in their districts nailed. And they worked their butts off. They also don't come across as professional politicians, rather seeing the job as a community service. Let's hope the TV exposure doesn't change them.

How about that. Those political experts, the cops and the firemen, put on the winningest campaign of them all last night, easily securing an additional quarter cent sales tax for their departments as well as for corrections and crime prevention programs. Their simple down-home TV asking voters in a nice, humble tone for support shows that sugar still works. Of course, this was an issue, not candidates. But it was still refreshing to see the electorate treated with respect. Treating the voters with respect; that's a novel concept.

He has the soul of Hamlet; ever doubting the decision to be made, but Winter's personality is the winner. CGA embarrassed themselves with the overdone attacks on Winter, a moderate Republican who looks for compromise on the council. The heavy-handed CGA attacks backfired and Winter beat out Patrick Milligan by 5 points or about 350 votes. Winter rightly complained about the attacks, but his opponents pointed out that in 1999 Winter beat incumbent Sam Bregman with the help of a Republican Party hit campaign that, like the CGA attack, was widely complained about. Winter now is the senior member of the council with only four years under his belt. His bridge building services will be more in demand than ever. Winter withdrew a bit after being stung by intra-council fights and an ethics charge that was thrown out the window. Observers say he needs to step up to the plate now in light of the West Side versus the world vote last night. Winter could find himself council president again if Cadigan and Griego fight over it. CGA candidate and Winter opponent Patrick Milligan is a community leader who campaigned earnestly and with some good intentions. But his campaign sold its soul to the big money, big attacks that work in larger campaigns, but not in contests where many voters know and personally like a candidate as they did Winter. Still, Milligan is a bright bulb and we can hope that our elections attract more of his kind, but without thee alter ego committees.

The ghost that haunts Government Center on Election Nights apparently keeps on the County side of the building because once again the City of Albuquerque pulled off the vote-count without a hitch. New City Clerk Judy Chavez was nervous, but she and her staff had the election put to bed by 10:30 p.m. Who said it can't be done? Of course, the city is not deluged with absentee ballots (about six thousand) while the county battles absenteeitis regularly and comes up lacking. (New Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera seems to be breaking the jinx) Still, Judy deserves credit for giving democracy a good face last night. I have worked with city clerks dating back to 1974. Every one of them has given us good elections. Ironically, the county staff gives them a great deal of help, but is never recognized for it, just the disasters that have befallen them when they are in charge.

For a small election it got big coverage. All the major networks and major papers covered the election issues and candidates well. Voters had plenty of opportunity to be informed. Turnout came in at 23% of registered voters, not a historic low, but on the low end of the scale. The media can't be blamed. The negative campaigning continues to turn people away from the voting booths. Read all the results here http://www.bernco.gov/clerk/city2003/results.htm

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