Friday, October 02, 2009

An Up In The Air Weekend For Final Week Of Election '09; Mayor's Race Captivates, Plus: Action On The Trail 

As we headed toward the final weekend of Campaign 2009 opinion was all over the place as to where we'll end up Tuesday night when the votes for mayor of ABQ are finally tallied. Democrats grew increasingly worried--or were trying to make fellow Dems worried--that somehow Republican RJ Berry will be able to break through and manage to get to 40 percent of the vote and take the top leadership position of the state's largest city without a runoff election. That probability may seem slim, given that Berry was polling at 31 percent Sept. 22-24, but the increasingly nasty battle between Democrats Richard Romero and Mayor Marty Chavez had Dems concerned that both of their candidates could be held back just enough to let Berry slip in. In addition, the R's are excited because they finally have a chance to win something after having had the door slammed in their faces the past two election cycles.

But R's had plenty to worry about as well. Berry is a newcomer who only caught fire late in the game and then mainly with R's. Can the R's turn out the vote to get him to that magic 40 percent? If R ardor is not passionate enough they fear their man won't move a whole lot above where he was in that ABQ Journal poll. They do not look forward to a runoff election in a Dem leaning city.


Romero continued to slam Chavez in the mail, releasing a piece that pinned a "for sale" sign on a photo of Marty and cited a seven year old reprimand the mayor received from the city board of ethics in the ABQPAC scandal. And Chavez continued to hit both Romero and Berry. He reminded Dems again of Romero's contributions to Republicans when Romero was a lobbyist. (Flyer posted here). And he hit Berry in a new radio ad that says Berry's claim that he was the victim of "random" crime is not quite on the mark. The ad also rehashes Berry's refusal to release his tax return and for failing to register his consulting biz with the city.

Democratic State Treasurer James Lewis, who ran for ABQ mayor in 2001, and Dem Secretary of State Mary Herrera, a former Bernalillo County Clerk, both cut automatic phone calls for the mayor, but some of his supporters were hoping for bigger things---like a call going out from someone like ex-President Clinton who Chavez chummed with during his first mayoral term in the mid-90's.

Chavez did get former national Dem chairman Howard Dean to hit the phone lines this week, but Romero's camp seemed to stop any bleeding that Dean caused among Romero's progressive supporters. Eric Griego, who ran for mayor as a progressive Dem in 2005, garnered 25 percent of the vote. It's hard to see Romero falling below that Election Night. How much he grows is, of course, among the big questions du jour.

Berry and the R's were working the turn out beat, with reports of GOP get-out-the-vote robo calls circulating. To further pump up his base, he announced the endorsement of his candidacy by Republican city councilors Brad Winter, Trudy Jones and Sally Mayer. R Councilor Don Harris was not on the list.


The mail bombs continue to fall in the Cadigan-Lewis contest. Yesterday we posted a Lewis hit piece. Here's one (click to enlarge) from Cadigan in which he strikes at Lewis for wanting to "waive impact fees so taxpayers bear the cost of new roads and parks." He also jabs Lewis for his voting record saying the Republican "did not bother to vote in the city bond election when Paseo and Unser were funded and has not voted in a city election since 2001."

Cadigan has been getting hammered by a committee backed by land developer SunCal and Wal-Mart. SunCal put up $10,000 to take out Cadigan who has opposed the company's TIDD plan.

Cadigan started the year running for mayor but was unable to get the required petitions and donations to qualify for the race. He is seeking a third term on the council. Lewis is making his first run for elective office.


We asked readers for some Alan Armijo mail after posting some from his opponent Ike Benton. Armijo, a Bernalillo County Commissioner who is term-limited, is trying to reclaim a seat on the council on which he once served for several terms. Benton, an architect and current council president, is seeking a second four year term. District Three includes downtown, Barelas and areas around the University of New Mexico.


Big Bill continues to up his national (and international) profile. Here he is writing for CNN about US Middle East policy. The Guv has been more noticeable on the foreign policy front since the feds decided not to indict him or his top aides in a pay-to-play probe.
We know the Guv is counting his lucky stars, but it seems he also needs to be counting closely the money coming in to state coffers--or not coming in. The projected shortfall for the current budget year could rise to an astounding $700 million, according to Senate leader Jennings. Just incredible. We will hit that big story harder as soon as we finish up with electing a new mayor.


Join me Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on KOB-TV when I sit down with veteran political reporter Stuart Dyson and Eyewitness News anchor Nicole Brady to cover all the angles of the 2009 mayoral election.

On Monday at 5 p.m. join me on KANW 89.1 FM for our traditional pre-game show. We'll run down the mayor and council races, as well as the charter amendments. Helping us do that will be John Wertheim, former chairman of the NM Democratic Party, GOP State Rep. Larry Larranaga, ABQ State Senator and 2005 mayoral candidate Eric Griego and maybe a straggler or two.

Then on Tuesday, Oct. 6 be sure to tune in for our wall-to-wall Election Night coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. on 89.1 FM and at www.kanw.com We'll have exclusive early results to give you an early indication of where the mayor and key council races are headed, plus candidate interviews and expert analysis. That's 6: 30 Election Night. Thanks to Coca-Cola, DW Turner, Ladera Golf and Serrano and Sons, Constructors for making the KANW program possible.

And thanks to you for being with us this week. Check back here over the weekend as we track any major, late-breaking developments in ABQ Election '09.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Our Continuing Wall-To-Wall Coverage of ABQ Election '09; We've Got All The Action, Plus: A New Guv Candidate? And: State Budget Chaos Escalates 

The hits keep coming in the 2009 race for ABQ mayor, but an old enemy of all politicians--the clock--has begun to tick louder, signaling that this battle is peaking and soon we'll be writing election history, not election news. But the trio of hopefuls are in the bubble for a few more days and they're furiously making the rounds at senior centers, factory gates, the radio airwaves and just about anywhere else where there isn't a "No Solicitor" or "No Politician" sign posted.

Judging from the latest hit piece posted here from Republican RJ Berry, Mayor Marty Chavez is conducting his final hours of campaigning from a trolley car, but there is no trolley, only the imaginary dollars discussed for one and RJ's imagination to make conservative voters fear four more years of Chavez steering city government. Berry seems to have nailed down a good deal of that conservative vote--if he can get them to the polls. That's one reason one R insider said RJ showed up on TV news Wednesday casting his vote early.

RJ voted early to drive the turnout message home to Republicans. His lead in the Journal poll will evaporate if Republicans get trounced in turnout...

The ABQ Journal duo of Dan McKay and Sean Olson tells us the early vote so far totals 12,000. That's way ahead of 2005, but not necessarily a sign of more interest or a higher turnout. We talked up Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff on the topic and we both agreed that early voting has become so popular in the last few years that many of those voting early in this election are not new voters, but ones who in the past would have cast their votes on Election Day. Sanderoff does not have a specific forecast for turnout, but does not expect it to be high.

Sen. Feldman
If anything is gong to induce sleepless nights and an overindulgence in comfort food for an ABQ liberal, it is the thought of Republican RJ Berry becoming the city's first GOP mayor since Harry Kinney ended his final term in 1985. But Chavez is keeping the buzz going that a vote for fellow Democrat Richard Romero is a vote that could get RJ closer to the 11th floor of city hall.

That Howard Dean robo call on behalf of Marty by his old friend, a noted progressive and ex-chairman of the national Dem Party, sent the fur flying. Some of the Flying Star crowd is now split over whether to go with Chavez, who does not have a progressive record on such issues as urban growth. But they want to ensure that Berry does not get to 40 percent next Tuesday night and capture the prize without a runoff election. The hair-pulling and sleep deprivation among our progressive friends will continue right up until Election Day.

But you've got to give points to Romero. Unlike his two runs for Congress, he seems to be finding his voice in the final hours of this campaign. The Dean call sent him hustling and he trotted out a long list of prominent progressives who are not going to follow Dean. One of them was ABQ State Senator Dede Feldman who recorded an automatic phone call Wednesday night and said of her former state Senate colleague:

"He's' a good Democrat...he's the only Democrat in this race who can win and change this city's future."

Other prominent city progressives who remain in Romero's corner were listed in his e-mail:

City Councilor Debbie O'Malley, City Councilor Rey Garduñdo, City Councilor Michael Cadigan, State Rep. Mimi Stewart, State Rep. Danice Picraux, State Rep. Eleanor Chavez, State Sen. Dede Feldman, State Sen. Eric Griego, State Sen. Cisco McSorley, State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, State Sen. Tim Keller and Judy Espinoza, former NM Environment Secretary.

Romero, 62, has big ups and downs in his lengthy political career. He is showing no signs of backing down, insisting everywhere he goes that Chavez is finished, that there just isn't blood in the water, but a full-fledged carcass floating around. The mayor delivered a sharp upper cut with that Dean phone call, but Romero came with a partial block. This game is on and going the distance.


No endorsement in the ABQ mayor's race from V.B Price, one of the state's most respected liberal voices. The writer and poet has covered every ABQ mayoral race since we started the modern form of government in 1974, and he is not finding this one to his liking:

The October 6 mayoral election will result, I’m pretty sure, in a ho-hum run off. No one will get the 40 percent of the vote needed to win. But who wins and loses won’t matter very much as far as the city’s future is concerned. Their campaigns are as relevant to the environmental and economic realities of the moment as phony non-partisan elections are relevant to the party warfare of post-Bush, Obama America.

Still, the sometimes pessimistic Price calls ABQ "a great city" and credits citizen volunteers and professionals, not the politicians, for successes like preserving open space and the bosque, nurturing the "magnificent" museums, the zoo, library system and for having adequate services for the homeless and medically indigent.


As all hell broke out within its ranks, they were playing it as cool as a cucumber at the NM Democratic Party. They are not getting anywhere near that liberal squabble over Romero and Chavez. Instead, the party issued a statement urging the election of a Dem mayor--either Richard or Marty--even as they acknowledge that the race is officially nonpartisan. But the R's have already come with help for RJ, so there's not much point of hiding their interest. New Dem Party Chairman Javier Gonzales is getting his first look at what he faces as he works to unite the party for 2010. He could get an early workout if Berry gets into a runoff with Chavez or Romero. Fired up Dems are going to expect him to hold the Dem fort in New Mexico's major metro.


With the mayor's race breaking out into a free-for-all, the two city council races that feature some action have been virtually ignored. City Council President Ike Benton is being challenged by former city councilor and current Bernalillo County Commissioner Alan Armijo. Analysts have been talking about how this is a heavy Hispanic district that Benton won four years ago in a race that featured no Hispanic Dem. They wonder if Dem Armijo can pull the upset based on ethnic voting and his long record of public service. But as you see in the mail pieces we posted, Benton, an architect, is fighting for another four years. He is out with a negative as well as a positive piece. We'd post Armijo mail, but haven't seen any yet. The district includes the downtown and Barelas neighborhoods as well as areas around UNM


This is the other council race drawing attention as political newcomer and R Dan Lewis continues a stiff challenge to two term incumbent and Democrat Michael Cadigan. Lewis has flooded the Westside district with a lot of negative mail on Cadigan who has widespread name ID. An independent group calling itself "abqcc5" has cut radio ads attacking Cadigan. SunCal, the land development company, has also weighed in against the councilor. He has opposed their pursuit of a TIDD, a tax break vehicle. You can see the gist of what Lewis is coming with by clicking on the mailer we posted here.

The district can lean conservative. Cadigan found that out after he was first elected and a recall effort was launched against him, but failed. Cadigan, an attorney, did win the endorsement of the ABQ Journal, despite some controversy over zoning cases Cadigan was embroiled in. Lewis has just picked up the nod of the Animal Protection Voters who say Cadigan hasn't been supportive of the Animal Welfare Department. R's like Lewis and think that, win or lose, he has a future in elective politics.


Today is the first day candidates for statewide office can begin circulating their nominating petitions for the 2010 election. That makes this election cycle officially underway. Candidates will have until February to gather those signatures.


An independent candidate for Governor? We haven't been able to confirm, but our reliable Alligators say former Public Regulation Commission Tony Schaefer, who just last week told us he would not seek the PRC seat being vacated by Sandy Jones who is running for land commissioner, is calling friends telling them he is looking at an indy run. Schaefer, is now a Dem, but started off s an R. He is from Las Cruces. It would take thousands of petition signatures for him to qualify for next year's ballot, but the prospect of an indy candidacy adds to the list of fun things to watch.


The ABQ Journal poll in mid-September had Big Bill just over the crucial 50% approval level--he was at 51%--but SurveyUSA, in a poll just completed for KOB-TV, has the Guv a shade lower, but still on the rebound. The survey said Bill scores a 48% approval rating and 47% disapprove with 5% not sure. MOE is + or - 4.1%. Richardson bottomed out in SurveyUSA earlier this year at 42%.


Rep. Rodefer
Maybe the state Senate is amenable to cutting public education against the wishes of Big Bill, but let's not forget the House. The cuts would have to win approval there as well. From an e-mail sent to state school superintendents by Dem ABQ Westside state Rep. Ben Rodefer:

I already have a substantial number of votes in the House against any budget agreement that includes cuts to public school funding. I want to further promise you personally that I will fight with every political breath I have to kill in the House of Representatives any public school cuts whatsoever, whether they be statewide or specific to your district.

Well, maybe Ben does have the votes, but he will want to double check with that other Ben--House Speaker Ben Lujan. Rodefer is a first-term lawmaker who took the seat from R Eric Youngberg. Now the R's are talking about trying to take it back next year.


We're almost as shocked over the continued increase in the projections for the state budget shortfall as we were over that ABQ Journal mayoral poll showing Marty Chavez in second place. Estimates for the shortfall for the current budget year are simply exploding as the state struggles with the worst recession since the Depression. The AP's Barrey Massey has a piece for all us budget watchers and the latest gloomy outlook. Big Bill will call a special session of the 112 legislators for later this month where they will grapple with the state's money woes.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Marty's Survival Kit: Negative Mail, Positive TV And A Howard Dean Robo Call; Embattled Mayor Mounts Final Push, Plus: Latest From The Two Richards 

ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, fighting for his political life in a race that suddenly morphed from lackluster to compelling, is coming with a blend of negative and positive messages in the final hours as he works to slow opponents Richard Romero and RJ Berry and avoid the ignominious end that has been the fate of so many other ABQ mayors.

And Chavez showed an ace in this high-stakes political poker game Tuesday night. Former national Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, a darling of Dem progressives, many of whom are backing Romero, was enlisted by Chavez to record a robo call in support of the mayor that was piped into Dem households across the Duke City. For Chavez, it could not have come at a better time.

Dean, who was the mayor's first choice for the 2004 Dem presidential nomination, has been front and center in the media debate over the public option for health care, the issue that tops the charts for progressives. Dean's call could help halt any Dem momentum for Romero. There is real fear among liberals that Republican Berry could be elected mayor because of the Dem split between Chavez and Romero. The Dean phone call did not attack Romero, but it didn't have to. Just having the former Vermont governor pick up the phone for Chavez said it all.


The political intelligentsia is now signing on to the theory that the most likely outcome next week will be a Berry-Chavez runoff, but that was the same crowd that lulled the mayor into believing the race was his to lose. Chavez is now a reformed Pollyanna and is taking a surgical and measured approach during these, the most critical days of his career.

As you see from the pic posted at the top, Chavez is in the mailboxes with a heavy hit piece against fellow Dem Richard Romero. The former state senator was performing at 24 percent to Chavez's 26 percent and Berry's 31 percent in last week's ABQ Journal poll. Like the Dean phone call, this is a Chavez play to get Dems to move away from Romero, but it's much more direct, ripping Richard for having once been a registered Republican.

"Richard Romero was an R who switched parties to gain a personal advantage," the hit piece declares. Romero was indeed a Republican years ago, but has always sought elective office as a Democrat.

Romero's lobbying is also slammed:

As a special interest lobbyist, former Republican Richard Romero gained special favors for this big money clients, while ignoring working class Democrats.

Romero was a top lobbyist for the University of New Mexico and Isleta Pueblo, among others. But they don't seem to be groups that would be offensive to "working class" Dems.

Chavez is also up on radio with an attack against Berry for not releasing his tax return and for failing to register a business he owns. And there's this Chavez TV spot playing that promotes Chavez's work putting a tough sex offender law on the books. Berry is hitting hard on the crime issue in a TV ad that began Monday.


Romero did not take the mayor's attacks in stride. He scratched back at His Honor in an e-mail to supporters:

Let's not forget, Mr. Chavez is the man who claimed Sen. Tom Udall is "so far to the left, I'd rather not have him in the race," for U.S. Senate. From my perspective, I'm proud to have Tom Udall representing me in Washington...

And Berry backers stayed busy preaching the conservative mantra they hope that next Tuesday will advance their man to at least a runoff, if not the mayoralty. In an e-mail circulating that could have impact on Catholic Hispanic Dems, Berry was lauded for his stance on abortion and marriage. The e-mail said Berry is "the only pro life mayoral candidate; the only pro traditional marriage candidate. It also calls Berry "pro small business--RJ and wife Maria Medina run family owned construction business..."

We haven't seen any Spanish language media by Chavez or Romero. In years past there has been some. In past city campaigns we've also seen negative campaign lit placed on the windshield wipers of cars parked at church services on the Sunday before the Tuesday election.


Chavez is also taking another bite out of Berry via the US mail. That piece, like the radio ad, smacks the NE Heights representative for not releasing his tax return while Chavez and Romero have agreed to. A pic of the lit is posted here. In his final TV, in which he will address the most voters, Chavez's campaign says he will take a positive tack.

Chavez already has high negatives and going negative on TV wouldn't help matters. One analyst said the mayor is walking a fine line in hitting back at Romero and Berry, but not appearing desperate. That's especially true since the stuff Chavez is slamming Berry and Romero with is not high-octane enough to move big numbers, but plays best in the mail and radio for cherry picking votes. Chavez is likely to add negative robo calls to the mix and God knows what all the campaigns will hit with this weekend when no one is watching and there is no time to respond before Tuesday.


But it's not all negative in the mail. Chavez played nice when he went after independent voters with this piece. Many indys have peeled off Chavez this time, but many are still in the undecided column. As for the outright undecided, many won't vote, but all the campaigns are working to get those that will. We talked with KRQE-TV about that angle.

Team Chavez says the hits on Romero are necessary after weeks of unanswered Richard attacks on Marty. They seem to have a well thought out blend, if voters are still listening.


The get-out-the-vote drive is really where Chavez needs a big payoff. He's done it more than the other guys, and with all these organizations endorsing him he has plenty of shoe leather at the ready. One question that may gnaw at him is whether the rank and file membership of all the groups that are endorsing him will follow the recommendation of their leaders, or split apart. But then this is a mayor who has much to worry about in the wee hours of the morning when he is not out battling for his future.


Tuesday was another day of what appears to most analysts as all or maybe nothing at all campaigning by Republican Berry. He trotted out GOP Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White to hit Chavez over the "sanctuary city" wedge issue. White cut radio to boost Berry, in part because he is mad at Marty for saying during a TV debate that White's sanctuary policy on immigrants has done nothing to lower crime in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County. White's endorsement of Berry is wrapped into Berry's sanctuary city spot. Marty and Darren have long been friends, but tribal loyalties are calling loudly now as the fight for control of the state's largest city gets up close and personal.

Berry knows that winning a runoff against Chavez or Romero in a Dem leaning city may be about as likely as Paul Krebs getting the UNM Athletic Department straightened out. So he is betting big on rallying the conservatives in hopes of reaching the magic 40 percent and avoiding a second round when the wrath of the state and national Democratic establishments comes down on him.


If none of the mayor candidates reaches 40 percent next Tuesday,
the Alligators think the most unlikely runoff combination is the two Dems--Chavez and Romero. Most see Berry securing a spot in any run-off because of the strength of his base Republican vote. But what if Berry falls short and Romero and Chavez are the top two vote-getters but stuck below 40? What could we expect in the Nov. 24 run-off?

Well, the last time two Hispanic Democrats faced off for the mayor's chair was in the 1989 mayoral runoff when educator Louis Saavedra handily defeated City Councilor Pat Baca. Saavedra picked up the Republican vote in the NE Heights and combined it with conservative Dems to take the title. Would a Chavez-Romero race have a similar outcome? Without Berry, Chavez would likely take the R vote as Saavedra did, combine it with his Westside support and perhaps take the win. Romero, however, would not be out of it. If Chavez is forced into a runoff it could be seen as a major upset and give Romero momentum.


If you live in the ABQ area you've seen the enthusiastic brigades waving Mayor Marty and Richard Romero signs from bridge overpasses and street corners (Maybe a couple of RJ ones, too). It's a time honored tradition and one that we trace to Big Bill and his 1980 ABQ campaign for the US House against GOP US Rep. Manuel Lujan.

Back then youngsters popped up all over the place on Election Day happily waving their Richardson signs in the hopes of influencing voters as they made their way to the polls. Now the kids are out days ahead of the main event as early voting has become a mainstay. The downside is that it can be a bit distracting for motorists. But for many of those waving the signs, it is their first introduction to politics. A little infectious enthusiasm can't be all bad.


So the negative hit pieces are mud in your eye and on your computer screen? Go ahead and click here for a free wash job. It's our election gift just for you.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Berry Stays On Right; Renews Sanctuary City Wedge Issue In New Ads, Chavez Opens Counteroffensive; Romero Energized & Still Mailing; Details Up Next 

Republican RJ Berry came with new TV and radio Monday, again using the controversial "sanctuary city" policy to energize and extend his conservative base as he looks to lock in a spot in a run-off, even while nursing hope for a long shot first-round knockout in next Tuesday's ABQ mayoral election. Meanwhile, Mayor Marty Chavez opened a two pronged front against Berry and Democrat Richard Romero. And Romero counted on more mailed hit pieces against Chavez to knock the embattled mayor down further.

But all eyes were on Berry, the far NE Heights state representative who struck like a bolt out the blue and landed in first place in he ABQ Journal poll Sunday, scoring 31 percent to Chavez's 26 percent and Romero's 24 percent. Nineteen percent were undecided in the Sept. 22-24 survey.

With a hard-hitting radio spot on the sanctuary issue and a TV ad on property crime that weaves the issue in, Berry signaled that he will work to preserve his current standing and also give himself a chance to eke out 40 percent of the vote for a first-round win. If no one gets to 40, we have a run-off election between the two top vote-getters Nov. 24. But relying on a wedge issue sensitive to Hispanics and Dems exposes him to criticism that he is toying with the race card. That's a charge already being tossed about by the Chavez camp as they digest Berry's latest move.

In the TV ad, Berry, 46, points out that his own truck was stolen. He claims "property crime is out of control" here, but is down in the border area cities of Phoenix, El Paso and San Diego. He promises a crackdown on gangs, a pawn shop patrol and an "end the mayor's sanctuary city policy for criminals."

He also doesn't forget what lies at the heart of his candidacy, concluding his spot hitting Chavez this way: "After 12 years, it's time for something new."

As we said, the Berry radio ad is harder and goes for Marty's jugular:

...We'll tell you the facts about ABQ's sanctuary city policy...criminals who should be deported are never turned over to immigration officials. It's made ABQ a sanctuary city. Chavez doesn't like that term but newspapers have said it. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has said it. It is a fact. And it attracts criminals. Richard Berry thinks that's wrong...

The TV ad attempts to cast a wider net, but this is still an uphill fight for Berry to secure 40% of the vote when the percent of registered ABQ Republican voters is way below that. However, Democratic pollster Harry Pavlides says if turnout collapsed to around 70,0000 to 75,000 the GOP vote would probably comprise about 42 percent of the overall vote because R's vote more reliably. That would make the 40 percent more realistic. But it would be a whale of a collapse in turnout, considering about 87,000 ballots were cast in the mayoral contest four years ago.


Some R's fretted that if Berry can't pull the upset and put the race away with a first-round knockout, he will be faced with defending his sanctuary city policy in a run-off. That could make the run-off racially tinged and rally the Democratic base, making it even more difficult than it already is for an R to take the city's top job. Berry's camp knows that, but the GOP is not a big tent anymore. It's a small, red-meat party and demands to be well-fed before it marches to the polls. One R experienced in such matters put it this way:

The run-off is definitely unwinnable if we’re not in it. If we take our foot off the gas and start looking at the run-off, we can very easily wind up in third place, or Chavez can hit 40%.

In other words, staying in the game is the first order of business. Worries over a run-off or whether there is one will have to wait their turn.


Fear, terror, panic. All are emotions that seized top city employees Monday as they looked aghast at the Journal poll showing their boss in danger of losing power and they in danger of losing their fat paychecks. They looked on anxiously as Chavez, seeking a third term in a row and a fourth overall, launched some of his counteroffensive against Berry and Romero who have been beating the daylights out of him.

Chavez slammed Berry on "transparency," criticizing him anew for not releasing his tax returns, for using an office building he owns as a campaign headquarters and paying himself rent (the Berry campaign says the rent was donated to charity) and knocking the R for failing to register his consulting business with the city. (Berry recently registered that business after failing to do so.)

The mayor also used longtime ally and Democratic City Councilor Ken Sanchez to take a bite out of the other Richard. In an e-mail message sent by Sanchez, who is running unopposed for his Westside council seat, Romero was painted as a friend of the R's:

Over the last five years, Santa Fe Lobbyist Richard Romero has given or funneled $21,300 to Republican politicians. Why did a self described "progressive" Democrat become a Santa Fe lobbyist and use his position to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to right wing Republicans that they use to bash Democrats and advance their right wing agenda? That's not principled and it's certainly not courageous.


Romero, clearly energized by coming in only two points behind Chavez in the Journal survey, was confident enough to write Chavez's obituary in his TV interviews. He continues to spin that a mayor with "99 percent name ID" and 26 percent voter support "is done." His campaign said his final week mail will continue to assail Chavez.

Romero, who himself was the subject of political obituaries after two failed bids for the ABQ US House seat, was saying the exact opposite of Chavez--that Dems who don't want to see the city's first GOP mayor since the 80's need to come to him now that fellow Dem Chavez is down in the dumps.

Chavez did not hit with new TV, but the political community is expecting it as soon as today. Marty's strategists huddled and cell-phoned throughout the day, some of them unable to accept that their man had actually sunk to 26 percent, a number not seen since he first sought the mayor's office in 1993. In TV interviews (here and here) the mayor seemed less buoyant than usual as he somberly assessed the polling that has turned this race upside down and threatens to end his long dominance of city politics.


The firefighters union, the police union and the big union kahuna--AFSCME--are all hitting the mailboxes to prop up Mayor Marty. AFSCME, which represents some 3,500 city employees, will be in the mail slots this week.

When Chavez won the AFSCME endorsement this summer it was almost as shocking as the poll now showing him behind Berry. AFSCME's usual liberalism went by the wayside as they thought Chavez was a sure winner who would protect the membership against layoffs and job cuts as the city struggles financially. Now with Chavez on the ropes the union can be expected to call out the troops. Vacation and sick days could be used en masse to get union members to the frontlines to turn out the vote for Chavez. It is a potent weapon for the mayor, even if one of the local unions that make up AFSCME tried to break away and endorse Romero.


The state GOP has openly supported Berry, registering a finance committee with the city. Without their support Berry would never have been able to collect the necessary signatures and donations to qualify for the ballot and to get public financing. So will the state GOP be going all in during these final, climatic days? Not really, responds GOP acting executive director Ryan Cangliosi. He says the party is mailing out a piece urging voters to reject renewing the quarter cent transit tax for another ten years, but nothing directly in favor of Berry. But voters prone to vote against the tax will also be prone to vote for Berry. This way the GOP avoids triggering the matching funds provision for Chavez and Romero by not directly spending money on RJ.


It appears the R's are going to have to mail a lot to stop the transit tax from being renewed next Tuesday. Our insiders tipped us off to a poll conducted by a pro-tax group earlier this month that showed the tax winning. Now the ABQ Journal comes with its poll that says 57 percent approve of the tax. Add on to that the pro-tax TV ads that are on the air, and the R's can kiss goodbye any chance of killing the levy which brings in some $36 million a year.


It was the 1993 mayoral run-off when the political landscape last changed as dramatically in a city contest, not the 2001 mayoral election. We blogged otherwise Monday. In '93, Chavez was in a run-off with former GOP Governor Dave Cargo and initial polling showed Chavez ahead by more than 20 points. Cargo closed rapidly in the final days and lost by under 600 votes, the closest ABQ mayoral race ever. We should not have made the mistake. We handled Cargo's media in that '93 run-off and in 2001 we did the same for Chavez....

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Madcap Mayor's Race: Contest Reshapes As Poll Stunner Is Absorbed; Only One Week To Win; Pressure Builds On Trio Of Hopefuls, Complete Blog Coverage 

What was to have been a mayoral race that was nearly a foregone conclusion jumped to life this weekend as the ABQ Journal dropped a bombshell poll showing incumbent Mayor Marty Chavez sharing space on the endangered species list with the silvery minnow, and causing the denizens of affluent areas of Albuquerque to rattle their jewelry in unison as Republican Richard "RJ" Berry charged into the lead. Meanwhile, ABQ liberals surprised themselves by vaulting Democrat Richard Romero into a solid third place showing, just two points behind the near-legendary Chavez, sometimes called--either with derision on delight--"Mayor for Life."

So what's next? Well, the short answer is everything. There are now so may possible combinations to victory for this trio that Willie Sutton would have a hard time figuring them out. But there is something that separates Berry from his brethren--his best chance to take the prize appears to be right here, right now. But before we get to that, let's point out one of the defining features of this race and why Chavez is in deeper trouble than might be expected. We have two candidates with strong support among Hispanics--and one Anglo. Hispanics are splitting between Chavez and Romero. Berry is by far the top choice among Anglos. Ethnic politics lives.


If Berry, 46, doesn't score 40 percent next Tuesday night and is thrown into a run-off with either Chavez or Romero, the Democratic nature of the city could make his quest more difficult than Sisyphus. The Journal poll says he has 31 percent in the bank. That's nine more to go, but it has the analysts, pundits, and Alligators---you know, the ones who were so spot-on in saying this thing was in the bag for Chavez (Not)!)--scratching their collective hides in bewilderment. Berry has successfully consolidated much of the Republican base--about a third of the vote--but what does he do from here? Probably more of the same--cultivating more R's and continued jabs at Marty.


Berry did a slick job tying together loose ends left from that attack piece from Chavez that questioned his credentials as a "successful businessman." None other than Heather Wilson was trotted out via the US mail to help extinguish that blaze that may have actually sent flames back on the face of Mayor Marty. (Part of that response featuring Marty as Pinocchio is posted here. Will Marty now go after RJ's moustache?) Well, there's nothing like a Dem like Chavez attacking an R to reawaken tribal loyalties. And pulling out the fire extinguishers to help the state's newest GOP star, isn't going to do any damage to Heather if she decides to seek the 2010 GOP Guv nomination.

Campaign insiders say Berry will close out the week with heavy radio and mail. He has been hitting the same TV spot since the beginning and its been working--at least with R's and many independents.

For RJ, a run-off appears to be a done deal. The R's and assorted conservatives appear to have guaranteed that. He will not try to make a turn to the center now, preserving that option for any run-off. For the Oct. 6 round he will run the get-out-the-vote play and hope for a low-turnout election in which Republican votes are magnified, thereby eking out the 40 percent. Many of the undecided voters (19 percent) are in the conservative far NE Heights. An outright win with mainly R's and indys can be done, but if it isn't, Berry's chances of becoming mayor become more complicated in a one-on-one against an Hispanic Dem.

RJ has himself in the thick of the action, but instead of clarity, things look murkier. That's what tends to happen as the keys to City Hall and the brightly lit stage of statewide La Politica are about to handed out. No one is giving them away.


Marty Chavez has had those keys in his possession for three mayoral terms. Maybe they are a little tarnished after his 26 percent, second place showing in the Journal poll taken Sept. 22 to 24, but they are still his. Can he keep them?

Chavez, never one to waste time, was already working the circuit Sunday night, only hours after the survey's release. He saw what you saw--he is getting clobbered with independent voters--and he reacted by hitting Berry for failing to release his tax return while he and Romero have both agreed. It is an issue sensitive for independent voters and one of many Chavez hits to expect on Berry-and probably Romero--in the final week of this campaign.

Historical side note: The Journal survey marks the most precipitous change in an ABQ mayoral election since the 1993 mayoral run-off. That's when Dave Cargo caught fire and closed to within 600 votes of Chavez, giving us the closest city hall contest in history.

Chavez still has money left from the $328,000 kitty in public financing each candidate qualified for. That will give him some extra ammo to fire at his newly muscular foes. Chavez, to his detriment, has thus far decided to completely ignore the repeated mail attacks from Romero.

Another of those hits hit the mailboxes this weekend, asking if it isn't time "we make ethics a priority at city hall." It's just what the liberals, progressives--or whatever moniker is in vogue this week--love. That lib vote is gone for Chavez, but analysts inform us there there is a bevy of undecided Democrats--usually ones in Chavez's corner--who have been put in the undecided column because of the hit pieces. Chavez needs to reclaim them and the independents that have been bleeding to RJ if he is to get back to his traditional base of support of around 35%. That would likely place him in a run-off, assuming Romero is capped at below 30 percent.


The Alligators say Chavez needs to reclaim the center in his fight for survival. The election, they analyze, has become polarized between left and right with Chavez sagging in the middle. His campaign, said one, "needs vitality." Chavez would probably agree. His media is largely stay the course and has done little to inoculate him against "Chavez Fatigue"--that's the ailment a portion of the electorate has caught after 20 years of exposure to Marty, starting with his state senate career in 1989.

Chavez's plight is made explicit by the Journal's survey showing that 58 percent of the city--despite some serious economic woes--say the city is headed in the right direction. But the guy who heads the city isn't headed in the right direction? Therein lies the impact of Chavez Fatigue, the Chavez personality and the Chavez dark side explored in those Bode surveillance tapes spread on the Net.


In the final week, Chavez may want to remind voters that much of what they like about ABQ, he built. He started on that tack Sunday night by e-mailing supporters the Journal's endorsement of his candidacy, also made Sunday, but diluted by the news making power of the mayoral poll. He may also think about that "trolley" that isn't built but is becoming a yoke around his neck thanks to RJ's TV spot. There may be populist resentment building around it that is keeping those independent and conservative Dems from coming home to the mayor's camp.

Chavez will likely rework his personal message to voters with new TV and media, but with everything now on the line, he will also bring out the cannons and fire repeatedly. He is playing for the run-off now. The 40 percent is out there, but you need a pair of glasses with lenses as thick as Coke bottles to spot it.


He's been the least talked about candidate in this race, in part because he has not been on television, and in modern politics you don't seem to exist unless you are on the tube. We've been among the doubters of the no-TV strategy, but Romero, 62, has gained admittance to the contest without it, so more power to him. And he won't be forgotten now--not by Marty Chavez.

His drumbeat of negative mail against Chavez on topics ranging from a downtown arena to the mayor's foreign travels have garnered him 24 percent of the vote and third place in the Journal poll. But he needs first or second to make the run-off. His best bet, say our analysts, may not rest solely with growing his base vote--like Berry he has much of it harvested--but in continuing to hammer Chavez and keeping the mayor from growing much.

Romero's get out the vote drive is critical because his voters may tend to be younger. He shook up his campaign earlier this year and questions remained about his GOTV. They are about to be answered.

Romero will now be accused of pulling a Manny Aragon redux. In 2001, as an ABQ state senator, he ousted fellow Democrat Manny from the top leadership post of the senate and formed a coalition with R's that put him in power. Now, the Chavez camp is already blasting that Romero is putting the city on a path to getting its first Republican mayor since Harry Kinney was elected in 1981. But it's Romero's job to win, not to play footsie over intra-party politics. Besides, according to him, with 99 percent name ID and only 26 percent support in the poll, Chavez "is done."

Top Dems can be expected to stay clear of this contest in the final days. If and when it is a Dem vs. a Republican in a run-off, the race will quickly become partisan. But for now Romero can argue that he is the real Dem in the race, not out chasing R votes as Chavez has throughout his political career. Maybe he turns that into a rallying cry in the final days as he tries to pull undecided Dems off the fence and push him into a run-off.


With the animal sprits released by this poll, will there be "third party" spending popping up in the final hours? The ethics watchdogs will be looking for it. Third party spending against or for a candidate is supposed to result in matching funds for the other candidate, but if the hit comes over the weekend, those matching funds are about as good as monopoly money. It's one of the loopholes in the public financing system. We'll see if anyone tries to jump through it.


Sen. Griego
ABQ Dem state Senator Eric Griego who ran second behind Chavez in the 2005 mayoral contest gave the universal response when we asked how he reacted to the mayoral poll. "Surprised, very surprised," he declared. He called the race a "free-for-all" and noted the psychology has changed which could prompt some of the mayor's supporters to look for a different horse to ride.

Griego a former city councilor, agreed with the majority of analysts that Chavez is still in the game despite being in second. He said independents are key to Chavez's comeback. And Griego, who will guest with us Monday at 5 p.m. on our election pre-game show on KANW 89.1 FM FM, predicted there "will absolutely be a run-off" election. If he is right, that contest would be held Tuesday, November 24.

Former ABQ Mayor Jim Baca, another longtime political foe of Chavez, was also thrown for a loop by pollster Brian Sanderoff's survey and agreed with Sanderoff that Chavez getting slammed from both the left and right is what has slowed him.

Jim says forget about final week strategy--(What? And ignore this entire column?) He says it is now about getting out the vote, that Chavez is not going to change many minds, but that he has a formidable organization that he is going to have to ignite in order to save his career. (We still think there is time for much issue shaping. A week is a lifetime in politics.) Baca also says a run-off is very likely. We will line up Baca for Election Night comments on KANW 89.1 FM. That coverage, with Dem analyst John Wertheim and R analyst and State Rep. Larry Larranaga, kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Do you think those fellas will have anything to talk about?


Former ABQ mayor and land commissioner Baca reports ex-Attorney General Patricia Madrid is not running for the Dem nomination for land commissioner. He said that news came in a recent phone call he had with Patsy. So far, Dems Sandy Jones and Ray Powell are the two declared candidates. Insiders say Española Mayor Joe Maestas and Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya are also weighing bids. On the R side, GOP activist Bob Cornelius and retired DEA agent Errol Chavez are the two announced contenders.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Journal Mayor Poll: It's Berry, Berry Good; RJ Surprises Marty 31% to 26%; Romero In With 24%; Undecided is 19% 

An old-fashioned surprise has lifted the ABQ mayor's race to must-viewing status for the final week. The ABQ Journal poll hit the streets Sunday, catching just about all the pundits and prognosticators with their pants down, but injecting a level of excitement not previously seen in the race that ends October 6. At least the first round ends then. The odds that no candidate will reach the required 40%, forcing a November 24 run-off election between the top two contenders is high, if the September 22-24 survey of 406 likely voters has it right.

RJ Berry tops the poll with 31 percent, the result of strength among Republicans and independents. Mayor Marty Chavez came with a number that simply stunned the political community--26 percent. That is well below the 35 percent considered the three term mayor's base vote. The other Dem in the race, Richard Romero, is just two points behind the mayor, garnering 24 percent and undecided is at 19 percent. The margin of error for the survey is + or - 5 percent.

Veteran pollster Brian Sanderoff says the battering Chavez, 57, has been getting on the right from Berry and on the left from Romero has taken its toll. But this was one of the most surprising surveys in Sanderoff's decades-long career. From the paper:

Berry's advantage over an incumbent mayor who seemed to have satisfied most voters over the past four years was surprising, Sanderoff said. "I don't think anyone doubted Martin Chávez had a large lead a month ago," Sanderoff said. "What it comes down to is Richard Berry and Richard Romero have focused their criticism on Chávez and this has taken its toll."

No one is out of this one. Get ready for a wild and wacky week of ABQ politics and for an exciting night of election returns Oct. 6 when we take to the airwaves of KANW 89.1 FM. Meanwhile, take a look at that poll and join us for more on Monday.

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