Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Marty Cleared For A Fourth Four Years; Court Overturns Term Limits; Will He Run Yet Again? Complete Coverage & Analysis, Plus: Heather Still Hammering 

Mayor for Life?
The downtown crowd often jokes about Marty Chavez being "Mayor for Life." But it isn't much of a joke now that an ABQ District Court Judge Linda Vanzi has cleared the way for the 56 year old incumbent to seek yet another four years at the helm of New Mexico's largest city. It would be the Albuquerque native's fourth four year term, and the odds seem to be leaning in favor of him going for it. The odds of him winning it are better than even money.

No one was surprised Monday when the judge overturned the section of the City Charter that limits the mayor to two consecutive four year terms. The courts had already thrown out similar limits on the nine member ABQ city council. Still, the ruling gave the insiders, the Alligators and the hangers-on reason to focus on the October 2009 ABQ election when Chavez might be seeking a fourth term.

The mayor kicked off the speculation, telling the 10 p.m. TV news that "it's possible" he'll go for three in a row. "Let's see what happens a year from now," he told viewers. But the man who has already served longer than anyone under the city's modern form of government founded in 1974 confessed to still loving "the heck out of this job" and sounded ready and willing. If he runs and wins, his terms would stretch into three decades--1993-'97; 2001-'05; 2005-'09 and 2009-'13.

Is the public ready for four more years, or is "Chavez fatigue" finally setting in? "I think the city feels it has been well-served by this mayor. When we did polling for his run for the Democratic nomination for US Senate, there were people who were not supporting him for that job, but still said they felt he was a good mayor," analyzed Chavez political advisor Mark Fleisher of Butch Maki's Santa Fe "Victory Group."

Chavez suffered a humiliating slap-down when earlier this year he backed out of the race for the US Senate because polling numbers showed him unpopular with liberal Democrats and that he could not beat Tom Udall. Before the Senate bid, he had a short-lived run for the 2010 Dem nod for Governor, but again polling showed his chief rival, Diane Denish, would trounce him. Many voters seem to have put a glass ceiling over Chavez; they like him as mayor, but not for higher office.


There is no recent citywide public polling on the Mayor. One of my Alligators reported recently that select polling in one section of the city's NE Heights showed Chavez's favorability rating as mayor well above 60%. He recently announced a big pay increase for many of the city's police and firemen, signaling that if he does run his top issue will be, as it always has been, public safety.

"The race would not be so much about the issues as a referendum on the Mayor. Anytime he runs for re-election, the election is about whether he has done a good job or not," said Fleisher in a late night cell phone call.

A fourth run offers an intriguing scenario. A new public financing law takes effect next year which limits mayoral candidates to spending about $280,000, a dollar for each registered voter. Chavez raised a record $1 million plus in his successful 2005 re-election bid, but in 2009 he could opt to take public financing. That could hurt his opponents. How? If Chavez declined public financing, his foes would receive matching funds up to three times that $280,000. That makes it easy for them to get well-known for free. But if Chavez abides by the limits, his foes would have to drop public financing and go out on their own and raise big money to get better known. Raising big money for a mayor's race is not easy. Chavez has name ID over 90%. He doesn't need a lot of money. His much lesser known opponents do. It seems the first publicly financed city election could give the incumbent a decided advantage.


There have been variety of names tossed about as possible mayoral candidates, but most are waiting for Marty's decision. The mayor will be in no hurry to make it, probably waiting until the spring of next year. The only thing that will probably stop him from running is if the city's fiscal condition becomes a total wreck and his popularity shrinks as a result, or if Hillary Clinton is elected President and offers Chavez a high-level Washington job.

The only one who has signaled that he may seek the job regardless of what Chavez does is Democratic West Side City Councilor Michael Cadigan. Other names you hear are former ABQ State Senator Richard Romero and City Councilor Ken Sanchez, an ally of Chavez who will probably not go if Chavez does. City Councilors O'Malley, Winter and Mayer are also mentioned when the topic pops up at the cocktail hour. And with devilish intrigue, the mayor's ex-wife, Margaret Aragon de Chavez, says she is toying with a run.

The list of well-known possibles outside of city government is not as long as the old days. The personal nature of modern negative campaigns has chased many civic leaders away from city politics. While serving as mayor, Chavez has gone through an ugly divorce, a campaign finance scandal, an uproar over unpopular red-light cameras, the two aforementioned and ill-fated statewide political campaigns and a relationship with the nine member city council that has often scraped along at rock-bottom. Still, he survives because he is a professional politician whose late lawyer-father implanted in him the love and desire of La Politica.


ABQ doesn't expect too much from their mayor--keep the criminals off the streets and keep those streets clean. Also, don't raise our taxes unless absolutely necessary. Chavez has given voters much more than that and the citizenry, for the most part, has given their approval. Importantly, there has been no major ethics scandals at city hall since the 2001 campaign finance boondoggle known as "ABQPAC." That incident nearly crippled the mayor and led to him becoming the first chief executive to be reprimanded by the City Ethics Board.

The animosity for Chavez among his foes has never been greater, but it does not seem to have infected the general body politic because Chavez delivers. As long as that is the case, the city hall squabbling seems personality driven to Mr. & Mrs. Albuquerque, not something they need to pay much attention to. (We need fresh polling to tell us whether Chavez's red-light camera program has damaged his overall standing.)

Chavez was re-elected with nearly half the vote (47%) in a four-way race in 2005. He needed just 40% to avoid a run-off. If history is any guide, an incumbent should gradually lose support the longer he stays in office. Chavez's opponents know that. The trouble is Marty Chavez has a long way to drop before he comes into their sights, and maybe longer to go as the Duke City's mayor than even he ever imagined.

Wilson by Bralley
Heather Wilson's campaign is still trying to get some ballast from her claim that her rival and the frontrunner for the GOP US Senate nomination, Rep. Steve Pearce, voted to close down Cannon Air Force Base. Here is the AP version. The key points:

--Pearce says he voted for base closings after assurances from Defense Department officials that a new mission would be found for Cannon, which in 2005 housed three F-16 fighter squadrons.

--Wilson contended Cannon's future was not so clear cut at the time of the vote. Had the New Mexico delegation not been able to nail down another mission for Cannon, thousands of people would have lost their jobs and the communities of Clovis and Portales would have been devastated, says Wilson.

Pearce talked about the controversy with KKOB-AM radio's Jim Villanucci last week. He and morning host Bob Clark have been conducting numerous interviews with the Senate contenders. Monday, Villanucci invited callers to voice their opinions. Most phoning in to the afternnon gab fest said they did not believe that Pearce was out to harm Cannon.

This is pretty nuanced stuff for a US Senate campaign but as we blogged Monday it has not been easy for Wilson to come up with a statewide issue to change the complexion of the race. If Wilson is to win, it will probably be by a razor thin margin. If she could make the Cannon issue stick in the military community, it could make a difference. It won't be easy, given Pearce's military record and unswerving support of Bush's Iraq policy and the Pentagon in general. But it's not the first time a campaign has tried to make their opponent's biggest strength also his biggest weakness.


We garbled a background line on Heather Wilson Monday. Lance Grace of the US Air Force Academy Class of '75 e-mailed in to set the record straight:

...Wilson was in the third class that included women (1982) to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy...She is the first USAF Academy grad (male or female) to be elected to the Congress and currently the only female veteran serving in Congress. She was most definitely not “the first female graduate of the Air Force Academy” as you wrote....By the way, I am a Pearce supporter..Although Heather would be extremely high on my list when compared to all the other members of Congress, she does not match Pearce when it comes to “Supporting Our Troops."

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