Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chavez Era Ends As ABQ Picks A Berry; GOP Candidate Coasts To Mayoral Win; Low Dem Turnout & R Unity Key To Win; City Council Goes R; Cadigan Ousted 

ABQ Mayor-elect Richard "RJ" Berry
He came to Albuquerque from Nebraska in the early 80's to run track at the University of New Mexico and Tuesday night he showed the state he also knows how to run around the political oval. Republican State Representative Richard "RJ" Berry, 46, captured the mayor's office by several lengths, collecting 43.82 percent of the vote in a three way race and easily eclipsing the 40 percent mark necessary to avoid a runoff election. He will be the first GOP mayor of the state's largest city since Harry Kinney left office in 1985 and he will govern with a new Republican majority--five to four--on the nine member city council.

(Complete election results here. ABQ Journal here. NMI here. TV here and here. Pollster Sanderoff analysis here.)

The affable construction company executive sent a message early in the evening by immediately going over 40 percent when over 10,000 early votes were released just after the polls closed at 7 p.m. He hardly looked back, dipping briefly below the magic number a time or two as downtown and Valley Democratic precincts posted results, but he went quickly back above 40 percent and stayed there. It was a firm rejection of three term incumbent Martin Chavez, 57, who pushed the envelope when he went to court and won the right to seek a third term in a row, but nevertheless will henceforth be regarded as one of the city's major historical figures.

But it was Berry making all the history Election Night, taking advantage of a bitter split in the city's majority Democratic party and coasting to a win built on rock-solid wins in ABQ's heavy GOP NE Heights precincts, surpassing Chavez in his political birthplace on the city's Westside and even raiding Democratic strongholds in the city's center where turned off Dems stayed home in droves or even voted for Berry.


Unofficial results put turnout at about 83,000 or 25 percent of the registered voters, below the nearly 87,000 who cast ballots in 2005. That gave Berry a boost as reliable R voters made up a larger percentage of the total vote than normal.

Chavez could only manage 35.02 percent for his swan song performance. Fellow Dem Richard Romero sank to 20.98 percent. Between them they had a majority of the vote, but the Dems were left out in the cold. They were denied a runoff between Republican Berry and one of their own who they were certain could carry the day in a one-on-one race.

The race turned on characteristics unique to ABQ, said my veteran political analysts on our KANW 89.1 FM Election Night broadcast. The key one being "Chavez fatigue." Republican State Rep. Larry Larranaga said the Berry win carried no significance for the party beyond the state, but he and former Bernalillo County GOP executive director Bob Cornelius pointed out that Berry will be the highest ranking Republican in the state and one with access to its major media market. Democrat Lenton Malry analyzed that Berry, if he moves to the center, could expand the R's narrow base similar to the way Pete Domenici did back in the day.

But for Berry, it is first things first. Former ABQ Mayor Jim Baca told our radio audience that Berry will tread cautiously in forming a new government, saying RJ will be bombarded with resumes and decisions about his transition team in the weeks ahead. Berry will be inaugurated into office December 1. No immediate names surfaced as to who might be his chief administrative officer--his most important appointment.


The mayor-elect was terse in his victory speech, not given until nearly 11 p.m. as he awaited late returns (Complete video here). He seemed conscious that while nearly 44 percent of the vote is a strong showing in a three way race, it still falls well short of a majority. He told the crowd at the Sheraton Uptown Hotel:

I look forward to being a mayor of all of Albuquerque. I look for the opportunity to work with each and every council person and move all of our nine council districts forward.

Berry, who ran on a tough on crime platform and who used the emotional "sanctuary city" wedge issue to unite his conservative base, did not venture further into policy or put out any singular message. He appeared pleased, but not exuberant in his first appearance as mayor-elect. He is not yet familiar with the inner workings of city government and will use the next two months to get up to speed.


Mayor Chavez went out with grace, offering a smooth transition to Berry and saying he will have lunch today with the mayor-to-be. He did not offer any speculation on why he was defeated in his quest for an unprecedented fourth term. (He served his first from '93 to '97). A top aide to Chavez said he told the mayor on Monday, that based on tracking polls, it appeared there would be no run-off and that he would lose outright to Berry. The aide said Chavez did not buy into the prediction, continuing to believe that he would come in second, but keep Berry below 40 percent.

Chavez, an attorney, told a media gaggle (video here) and our radio audience he will now look to improve his personal finances and spend more time with his two children.

Mayor Marty, as he had come to be known, appeared to be on his way to yet another victory for most of the year, but it turned out he had a glass jaw and succumbed to attacks on the right from Berry and on the left from Romero. The late September ABQ Journal poll showing him at 26 percent and lagging Berry by five points turned out to be the beginning of the end, even though he fought valiantly to finish nine points above that low-water mark, mounting a counteroffensive that proved too little too late.


Former NM Dem Party Chairman John Wertheim told the radio audience the city's new public financing law had the unintended consequence of helping Berry. He said a lack of campaign ads and overall buzz hurt Democratic turnout. Republican voters are more reliable when it comes to voting and easier to turn out. Dems need to be prodded and you need money to prod them, he analyzed.

The three candidates all accepted public financing and spending was capped at $328,000 each. Dem Richard Romero opted not to air TV ads and instead used his money mainly for attack mail. Berry, however, made a noticeable TV buy and continuously hammered home one crime spot in the final week. Chavez came with two ads, but he could not heal the initial wounds caused by the negative drumbeat initiated weeks earlier.


Berry will resign his legislative seat before he takes office Dec. 1. The mayor's job is a full-time post and you can't hold both. His replacement would be named by the Bernalillo County Commission, not the Governor, because his district lies all within one county. The appointed term will run through 2010. There is a special session of the Legislature Oct. 17. Berry might be expected to attend that session, but official word is awaited. Who will replace him? And will there be competition among R's to get the nod?


Chavez wasn't the only incumbent to bite the dust Tuesday. In District 5 on the city's Westside, two term Democratic City Councilor Michael Cadigan fell to businessman and pastor Dan Lewis.

Republican Lewis ran a heavy negative mail campaign against the incumbent, backed up by intensive door-to-door campaigning. He also had help from the city and state GOP organizations. His 56 percent victory means there will now be a majority of five Republicans on the nine member council. We'll have to check the record books to see when that last happened.

That's significant because Berry will have a veto-proof council. It takes six votes to override a mayoral veto, and even though ex-Mayor Baca pointed out the tool is only occasionally used, it is still a valuable one for any chief executive.

Another longtime ABQ politico saw his political career ended Tuesday night. Bernalillo County Commissioner Alan Armijo, term-limited on the commission and hoping to get back on the city council on which he once served, fell to incumbent Democratic City Councilor Ike Benton. Benton dispatched Armijo and earned a second four year term by garnering 59 percent of the vote. The district is heavy Hispanic, but Benton won it four years ago, made his bones with the voters and Tuesday they judged him on the job he had done, not ethnicity.

GOP City Councilor Dan Harris had token opposition and was handily re-elected as he defended his far NE Heights seat. He will be a key swing vote on the council, Financial planner Mike Cook takes the council seat held by fellow R Sally Mayer who decided not to seek-re-election.


Wouldn't you know it, we swore off predicting races with candidates, but stuck our neck out Monday on our pre-game radio show and said that a proposal to get city councilors a pay raise would get defeated. After all, such proposals always are rejected. Turns out almost always. The measure to form an independent salary commission which is likely to lead to a pay raise for the councilors who currently make 10 percent of the mayor's salary, made it through with 53 percent of the vote. The Journal poll said it was doomed. Go figure. The other nine amendments to the city charter were also approved by voters.

As expected, the proposal to renew a quarter cent tax for transit won handily (58 percent) and all the bond issues also passed. There may have been an anti-incumbent sentiment Tuesday, but not an anti-tax sentiment.


Mayor-elect Berry wins high praise from those who have worked with him. They say he is keen on financial issues and has a laid-back personality which should serve him well in the often contentious pond that is city politics. He comes to the office at a time of severe economic restrictions. In many ways, he and the council will be caretakers of what we have, not what we will build. His business sense should be helpful in making the cuts to government here that seem inevitable.

A Mayor Berry will need to resist pressure from conservatives to wade into social matters like school prayer, abortion and gay marriage and, yes, the sanctuary city issue over illegal immigrants. That is a red flag for many in the Hispanic community. Berry's wife, Maria, (Medina) is a native Hispanic who was on stage with her husband last night. The couple represent the diversity the city prizes and that was on full display among ABQ residents who went to the polls Tuesday.

RJ Berry won with 44 percent of the vote, but 100 percent of ABQ can agree with him that this is a "wonderful city" and wish him well in keeping it that way.


We don't call it "New Mexico's Best Political Broadcast" for nothing. Outstanding work from my panel of experts on KANW nailed the mayor's race and the key trends early. Our early vote reporters--coordinated by Steve Cabiedes and pollster Harry Pavlides kept the city informed and were spot on. Thanks to all who made our public radio broadcast possible--too many of you to mention here, but be assured we are deeply appreciative to you all. A final tip of the hat to our generous sponsors--DW Turner Public Relations, Coca-Cola, Dan Serrano and Sons and Ladera Golf and Banquet.

We finished up on the air after midnight and I am writing to you at 3:30 a.m. so we may be light around here for the next day or so.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

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