Monday, July 18, 2011

Berry's Way Forward As The Yoke Of White Is Cast From His Neck; Time For Mid-Course Correction? Plus: The Political Fall-out From Days Of Darren 

Schultz, Ramirez, Perry & Berry
Now what?

The forced "retirement" of Public Safety Director Darren White frees ABQ Mayor RJ Berry to make a mid-course correction that could limit--if not absolve him--of the damage inflicted on the city and his administration during the week long scandal.

The profound shift in the character of the administration--from open and laid-back--to disturbingly defensive, arrogant and incompetent startled the public and gives Berry's foes an opportunity to further the alienation that started with an unforgettable Monday night news conference.

That's where top city leaders lost all perspective as they bashed the media relentlessly, stonewalled information and substituted rabid campaign tactics for sound and open government policy. It was a classic Nixonian/Rovian performance that flopped. The debacle permanently demolished the credibility and effectiveness of ABQ Police Chief Ray Schultz, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, the now departed White and city spokesman Chris Ramirez.

Berry, who has a reasonable amount of political capital, also suffered. But he has over two years left on his term to recover.

A fresh leadership team is needed to restore confidence because that confidence has been badly shaken with the public and is gone with the media and press.

Perry and Ramirez could be reassigned and Chief Schultz is eligible for retirement.

Berry also needs to reassess his reliance on political consulting as a substitute for governing. (Jay McCleskey consults both Berry and Gov. Martinez.) That the mild-mannered Mayor let his underlings completely off their leashes, turning them into fervent attack dogs was a major leadership failure.

Faced with taking a reasoned approach and handling the matter himself or letting his political arm run riot, he shirked and disappeared. That is not sound crisis management.

That same acquiescence to his hardened political wing led Berry to originally hire White in 2009. He was warned and warned again of the mistake--by Republicans and Democrats alike. He could not find the courage to remove White months ago when he had already turned toxic.

The Mayor has a chance now to right his ship and make a mid-course correction.

Journal (Petroski)
White clung to the curtains until the bitter end. His resignation was not announced until it was learned that the two Republican councilors on a city council committee--Don Harris and Trudy Jones--had voted with the committee Democrats to launch an outside investigation of the car accident involving White's wife that started the scandal.

The vote was 5-0. That's a majority of the nine member council and signaled that it was over for Darren.

Jones and Harris did get pressured to stay in White's corner, but the drumbeat was so loud across the city even the hard right of the GOP who never give up could not contain Jones and Harris.

White threw in the towel from his bunker, issuing a final statement devoid of even a smidgen of contriteness, but brimming with his trademark defensiveness that will now serve as the legacy of his public career.

The city council has been meek and that meekness allowed White to roam widely. There was a tepid attempt or two to rein him in, but what the council misses is a strong, credible voice that the administration fears. If they can't find it in one of their own, then they can find it as a group. Maybe this mess will put some spine in them.


The council will next meet August 1 and signs are that the committee vote sanctioning an outside probe of the White affair will be upheld there. It should be. It appears the Independent Review Officer--who Berry asked to investigate--is not authorized by city ordinance to do so. But the IRO probe is already underway and a report is expected Friday.

But the council's independent investigation is also needed to learn the entire truth, restore confidence and determine what abuses of official authority took place.

The position of public safety director--always a political plum--is very unlikely to be filled. If Berry insists on sending down a nominee, the council could and probably would refuse to confirm the candidate.

Everyone has had enough and wants the politics out of the police and fire department leadership equation.

The chief administrative officer is given the power by the City Charter to administer all of the day-to-day affairs of the city. That's not some--that's all.

A newspaper report asserted that the shift of direct authority over the police and fire departments to Public Safety Director White was a "slight change" from past policy. Not so. Previous PSO's were never--never--called "boss" by a police or fire chief.

No previous director reported solely to the mayor either, completely bypassing the Chief Administrative Officer. I was reporting from City Hall in 1975 when CAO Frank Kleinhenz ruled with an iron hand under Republican Mayor Harry Kinney. Later, Art Blumenfeld exercised similar discipline as did Bob Stover and Gene Romo. No one bypassed them and their mayors gave them a free hand, just as it was intended when we switched to the council/mayor form of government in 1974.

The dramatic power shift from the CAO to White had us urging news coverage, but it never came. Did White's newfound power contribute to his hubris and lead to this crisis? You bet it did.

The assignment of extraordinary authority by this mayor to Darren White was a violation of the City Charter and was left unchallenged by the city council. That is another leadership failure and a key lesson from the Days of Darren.


Before the White imbroglio, the speculation was that Berry was scaring off potential Dems for a 2013 challenge. But politics can turn on a dime and the disastrous week at City Hall has the Alligators back on the trail. They say if Berry stays weak, they look not only for a strong Dem to take him on, but also talk of some Republicans emerging.

Among those mentioned as possible GOP mayoral prospects are current congressional candidates Janice Arnold-Jones and Dan Lewis. PR executive and 2010 Guv candidate Doug Turner is another name you hear.


White remained defiant in defeat, insisting he was wronged by the "illegal" release of his wife's medical records. He remained oblivious to the element of intimidation when he removed his wife from the scene of the accident without having her tested for DWI. Throughout the crisis, he portrayed himself as a "husband." But he is not an ordinary husband. He was the boss of the public safety personnel at that scene.

And even as he was issuing his fighting words, KOB-TV was releasing new information that a police report last fall described White's wife as drunk when she was involved in a fight at an ABQ bar.

You've got personal problems? No problem. You make that problem a factor in setting or enforcing public policy? Then it's our problem.

It was the prospect of the abuse of police power and favoritism that was at the very core of this scandal, not some imagined political and media vendetta as Perry, White, Schultz and Ramirez so shamefully and wrongly posited. That the administration was so impervious or even contemptuous of that notion--even as the evidence mounted that White's actions were questionable--is why the mayor--so notably absent from the maelstrom--is being urged to shake things up.


Where was John Sanchez when it came time to file his first fund-raising report? The deadline was Friday, but Sanchez did not come with his numbers like other candidates or say why. Not too prompt for a prospective US senator. Monday morning Sanchez did report and said he filed on time with the FEC but that the report was not posted on line.

Sanchez reported $246,530 cash on hand and $311,987 raised "in just 26 business days since filing official paperwork with the Federal Election Commission."

Sanchez loaned himself $200,000 to kick-start his campaign.

GOP US Senate contender Heather Wilson reported another solid number, raising $452,000 during the second quarter and finishing with $604,000 in the bank. Her take:

In tough times like we have today I'm particularly pleased that almost 2,400 New Mexicans from all corners of the state have chosen to support my candidacy for the Senate. We are uniting the party with a strong grassroots campaign...

And gadfly Senate contender is looking less gadflyish--at least in the early going.

Sowards raised $230,000 in the last three months and has $334,000 cash on hand. If he continues to fundraise at that pace, he could have enough money be a factor in the race. Much of that was self-funding: He has given his campaign more than $200,000 so far...

Where Sowards is an immediate factor is biting into Sanchez who is currying favor with the same conservative voters as Sowards.

After shying from a commitment, Sanchez has now spoken up about the controversial Ryan budget plan that shaves Medicare. He now says he is for it. Wilson remains on the fence. Did Sowards' money in the bank have anything to do with John's move to the right?

Also on the congressional front, former ABQ GOP State Rep. and 2010 Guv candidate Janice Arnold-Jones made official her entry into the race for the ABQ GOP US House nomination. The last big name out there is Jon Barela. He is considering a run, but backers of Dan Lewis. who is already in the race, say they do not believe Barela will run.....

In the ABQ Oct. 4 election, GOP ABQ City Councilor Trudy Jones loaned herself $10,000 for her re-election bid and starts the race with $42,201. She faces a challenge from former councilor and fellow Republican Greg Payne who reports raising $5,950. This race is going to test whether walking shoes can outrun big money.


Toni Balzano
It will be interesting to see what back story develops over this. Toni Balzano, deputy cabinet secretary in the tourism department, delivered this zinger on her Facebook page as she resigned her position Friday:

Sometimes you have to do the hard thing and stand up for yourself. A bully is a bully no matter how powerful and politically connected they are.
I have officially resigned my position as Deputy Cabinet Secretary for the tourism department. Thank you to my friends and colleagues, I am so blessed to have all of you. I have enjoyed serving the state of New Mexico over the past couple of years and I will always be dedicated to creating jobs, helping rural communities and promoting our beautiful state.

The cabinet secretary for tourism is Monique Jacobson whose mother is Sally Mayer, a former ABQ City Councilor who now works for ABQ GOP Mayor RJ Berry.

It has not been an easy tourism season for Jacobson. Widespread fires hampered tourism efforts and a continued soft economy has meant tough times for many communities that rely on visitors.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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