Monday, September 23, 2013

Dinelli And Heh Form Tag Team To Bruise Berry in First ABQ Mayoral Debate; We've Got The Action And The Analysis, Plus: A Mayor Bows Out; Swisstack And Rio Rancho End Long Political Affair 

The first ABQ mayoral TV debate turned into a tag team match, with Pete Dinelli and Paul Heh joining forces to pummel Mayor Richard Berry in a vibrant 60 minute match up.

Our debate watchers said Dinelli won on points, Heh made enough hay to perhaps boost his minuscule poll numbers and Berry performed adequately--if not inspirationally--for someone who has a huge lead in the polls.

(Video of the KOAT-TV debate here.)

It didn't take long for Berry to realize that there were two sets of arms determined to pin him to the mat.

At the debate opening he argued gamely that the city's economic performance under his stewardship has been solid, but Dinelli and Heh came loaded for bear (and armed with facts) that had the mayor breaking a sweat.

For Berry everything in the city is roses and lollipops. For Dinelli and Heh, it's cacti and thorns.

Dinelli and Heh landed solid hits against Berry, especially on jobs.

Berry said the city is "poised" to attract over 20,000 jobs in the years ahead. Dinelli responded by pointing out that earlier in the year 7,000 had applied for 200 low-paying jobs at Target.

His case was aided by a media panel that did not sugarcoat their questions and cited dire data about the city economy as they probed for answers.

Berry did not refute Dinelli's contention that our young people are "leaving in droves" because of the lack of jobs.

The Mayor pointed out the latest stats show the city has picked up over 7,000 jobs in the past year, but Dinelli retorted that Forbes magazine had just named us as the fourth worst city in the USA for employment.

And Berry was caught flat-footed when a panelist asked him to be specific about what jobs he had attracted to the city. He did not offer any examples.

All the while, Heh also piled on. And so it went in the first 15 minutes--a clear win for the tag team on the issue on which Berry is most vulnerable.

Another difficult moment for Berry came when Dinelli--egged on by Heh--launched a searing attack on the Mayor and APD for "desecrating" the scene when APD found the body of civil rights attorney Mary Han at her ABQ home in 2010. Heh did not bother with any niceties. He called the Han death "a murder."

It is an opinion you hear widely expressed around town but not as boldly as it was put by retired police seargent Heh to a statewide TV audience.

As the debate moved to other topics Berry seemed more sure-footed and effectively poked back at Dinelli for supporting tax hikes when he served on the council in the 1980's. He dismissed Heh as a crank without calling him one and he had a spirited defense of downtown ABQ.

In 2013, as it was in 2009, it is the nonthreatening and affable personality of Berry--not his mastery of policy or leadership skills--that is his primary appeal. He is the definition of reasonableness, presenting himself as an earnest and regular guy trying to do a tough job during tough times.


Greg Payne
We asked longtime political consultant and former ABQ City Councilor Greg Payne for analysis of the debate and he came with this: 

Despite questions about his temperament going into the debate, Dinelli came across as mayoral and probably won on points.

Heh showed that rabble-rousing and populism is alive and well in what he called the “Wild West."

Berry responded that his challengers wanted to focus on the negative and that everything is fine in the city; that Albuquerque is “a shining star.” 

The mayor stated he was proud of  the police department and referred to the Department of Justice investigation of APD as a “minor review.”

Berry isn’t going to be considered a heavyweight debater anytime soon, but he got his own shots in, facing Dinelli directly and hitting him for voting for higher taxes when he served on the cit council and tagging him for wanting to spend $300 million on a “hangar at the airport.”

Heh had several of the best lines of the night, telling Berry (after the mayor had talked about his national and world travels) that Albuquerque needs a mayor who will stay home and take care of business, 
"I’m sure you feel safe since you have a security detail that follows you around 24/7.” 

Dinelli also zinged effectively when he said: “There’s a difference between being optimistic and realistic. We can’t just stick our head in the sand.” Or "Berry it," either. 

The problem for Dinelli and Heh is that Berry went into the debate with a huge polling lead. Between the low viewership of a 4 p.m. Sunday debate and the fact that early voting started early in September, a “good” debate wasn’t good enough for the challengers. 

The election stands where it did before the debate. Berry is positioned to win the mayor’s race on October 8 with over over 50% vote, and without the need for a run-off.

Payne, 46, is now an independent and a student at the University of New Mexico School of Law.


Berry's adequate debate performance may be enough for the office of Mayor, but it raises questions about talk that he could be a future Governor or US Senate contender.  He has some homework to do if that is what he aspires to....

The Mayor has been the fortunate recipient of a forgiving media and press so the relatively tough debate questions may have surprised viewers who are not used to seeing the Mayor confronted. It was refreshing and no one was hurt. Can we see more of that--of all the politicos?...

It remains disappointing that the major TV stations in this market refused to give up an hour of prime time for a mayoral debate. We had a prime time debate in 2009. Why not now? Because the polls say it's not a close race? If so, doesn't that favor candidates leading in the polls?


Tom Swisstack has had a good run as Mayor of Rio Rancho but now it's time to go. And going he is. Swisstack, 64, will not seek re-election next March.

Rio Rancho has been quite polarized in recent years, some of it no doubt brought about by the crumbling economy in the once booming suburb of ABQ.

Swisstack's decision to opt out of a re-election run comes on the heels of Intel cutting 400 jobs at their plant there--the latest sign that the city of 80,000 faces more challenging times ahead.

Swisstack, a former state representative, is a moderate Democrat in a city with Republican leanings and one where tea party activists have been giving him headaches. Combine that with the somber economic outlook and Swisstack had to conclude the time had come.

(Gross receipts tax income for Rio Rancho in August of this year was 9.2 percent below last August).

Swisstack, who is Bernalillo County's deputy county manager for public safety, conducted the affairs of government in a civil fashion and was never embroiled in any ethics scandals. In fact, in 2010 he was called back as Mayor by an electorate that had been burned by the previous mayor's antics.

Swisstack worked hard in a job that pays part-time. But the Rio Rancho economic bust with all the political acrimony and future uncertainty it has created is not a political climate that fits Swisstack's upbeat personality. But at one time he and the city did have good chemistry and Rio Rancho is the better for it.


Longtime reader Danny Hernandez wins $50 for giving us the best news tip or email as we continue our month long celebration of our 10th anniversary of blogging NM politics.

Hernandez straighted us out on exactly how the city was going to go about enforcing--or not enforcing-- the city's new minimum wage law.

He got into the "no spin" zone and explained just what was happening--and that's what we've been doing around here for a decade.

Congrats, Danny.

One more $50 winner to go so email us your latest news or comments.

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