Thursday, August 09, 2007

Marty's New Mantra: 'Let's Do Lunch;' Tries To Make Peace With Balky Council, Plus: Politicos Talk Ethics Reform, But Will They Walk The Walk? We Ask 

With open hostility threatening to cast a pall over his fledgling campaign for governor as well as stopping city legislation in its tracks, ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez moved Wednesday to make the peace with an increasingly combative and restive city council. The Mayor has asked the nine councilors to meet with him-- three at a time--over a weekly lunch. Initial reaction from Council Prez Debbie O'Malley was subdued. The problem, she argued, is Chavez's predilection to want to run everything, not his openness.

But the Democratic Mayor, haunted by a losing 1998 bid for Guv against Republican Gary Johnson, does not want to see the dream slip away again. He faces a formidable opponent for the Dem nomination in Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish. And there could be more candidates to come. If his relationship with the council stays rocky, it will be argued that Chavez lacks the executive skills to lead the state, even as he criticizes Denish for her lack of executive experience.

My insiders say the animosity of several councilors toward Chavez has never been greater. "It is the way he has treated them behind the scenes, basically telling them 'my way or the highway.' It has enraged them, and there is major repair work to be done," said one source at city hall.

Chavez sympathizers argue the council critics, more liberal than those in the recent past, are frustrated by the poularity of the more conservative Chavez.

His Honor's not so quiet support of the October 2nd election foes of of Councilors O'Malley and Winter has added fuel to the fire. The flames jumped high at Monday's council meeting over a relatively innocuous piece of environmental legislation. That came on the heels of a rare override of a mayoral veto over jail funding that showed the council can, if pressed, muster the six votes to block what has been a powerful Mayor.

The public often sides with the executive in disputes with a legislative body because he is the known quantity, has the bully pulpit and commands media attention. While Chavez, 55, has been called every name in the book behind his back, his image with the public has been largely untainted. But that may be about to change, thus the mayor's new slogan, "let's do lunch."

A final thought. When he sits down for caviar and crackers with Republican Winter and green chile chicken enchiladas with Democrat O'Malley, will Chavez offer to lay low in their re-election bids? That might go farther than a fine luncheon in healing the open wounds in city government that have the red stuff trickling and the Alligators circling.

Don Harris
The best chance for Chavez to tip the council balance of power back in his favor is the recall election facing Republican Don Harris. Incumbents O'Malley and Winter look safe. (O'Malley safer as Winter won by just five points four years ago.)If voters toss Harris out, Chavez would get to name a replacement, but Councilor Harris received some good news Tuesday, perhaps giving his campaign to keep his far NE Heights seat a bit of a boost.

The city's ethics board on a 4 to 1 vote rejected having a hearing on one of the allegations leveled against Harris by the group seeking his recall. The board must still consider other charges filed against the freshman councilor.

Upset citizens collected enough petition signatures to force a recall of Harris, only the second in city history, and it will take place in District Nine along with the regular city election October 2nd. Another ethics allegation Harris faces is faulty campaign finance reporting. He said he has made "mistakes" but "it was noting intentional." He told me he has hired fellow councilor Ken Sanchez who has an accounting business to handle the funds for his recall campaign. "That should stop me from making the same mistake twice," chuckled the lawyer lawmaker. Whether voters will be pacified by such explanations remains to be seen.


Would a proposed $2300 limit on NM campaign contributions, modeled after federal limits, have any unintended consequences?

"Legislators get few campaign contributions in the $2300 range. If the limit is put there, it could push them to have donors give the maximum allowed. That would mean more big money in legislative races, not less, " reasoned on veteran analyst.

Interesting point. The big statewide races like Governor and Attorney General do attract many donations over $2300, and limits where there currently are none would have a tangible impact. But legislators hang more with the below the thousand dollar a pop crowd. Shouldn't the ethics panel deal with that discrepancy?

The task force is asking for a special session of the Legislature to consider a myriad of proposals, some of them downright silly, like having lobbyists wear name tags.

"Hi, My Name is Tim and I am Here to bribe you..."


If the Guv and Legislature agree to a special, how about having it immediately following the 30 day 2008 legislative session? That would save taxpayers boatload of money. The chairman of the task force, former Guv Carruthers, agrees. Besides, Big Bill is off campaigning for Prez and way too distracted to preside over a special session that could quickly get out of hand.

And as the mainstream media has tirelessly pointed out, the system for disclosing NM campaign contributions and expenditures over the Internet via the secretary of state's office remains in shambles. If they can't enforce current ethics rules, how are we going to enforce a fresh batch?


The politicos talk a good game when it comes to ethics, but when we asked for just one of them to step forward last year and voluntarily limit the size of their campaign contributions, the answer was the "Sounds of Silence." Diane Denish and Marty Chavez are already on the way to raising millions for the 2010 Governor's race. Denish is a member of the ethics task force. Could she and Marty lead by example and set a limit--even a high one---on how much they will accept from one contributor? OK. You can stop laughing now.

Other elected officials on that ethics task force are Dem Sate Treasurer James Lewis, GOP State Senator Ryan and Dem Senator Feldman; Dem State Reps Kenny Martinez and Jeff Steinborn and R State Rep. Don Tripp.

Will any of them announce that they will voluntarily limit the size of contributions they will accept?

The politicos argue that if they did a limit and their opponents didn't, they would be at a disadvantage. Voters might ask whatever happened to putting your money where your mouth is?


As expected, Rio Rancho Deputy Mayor and City Councilor Mike Williams was chosen by the council Wednesday night to fill out a portion of the unexpired term of ex-Mayor Kevin Jackson who resigned in disgrace over ethical and legal violations over the use of his city credit card. Willams' term runs until March of 2008 when city voters will select a mayor to fill out the final two years of Jackson's term. Williams could run for election then. Insiders say if former Dem Mayor and State Rep. Swisstack enters the race, as he is indicating he will, Williams might not.

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