Thursday, June 27, 2024

Other Voices: ABQ Parks Ready For Summer '24; Study Says We Rank 15th Best In Nation 

ABQ's Roosevelt Park

The summer of '24 is here and ABQ's parks are ready for some days of relaxation--or sports for those so inclined. 

While there's no denying some city parks have been surrendered to the addicted and unhoused, overall the park system here remains one of the most robust in the nation, thanks to several generations of leadership dating back to the Great Depression years.

Today our Other Voices features some news from the city's Parks and Recreation Department

The City’s park system now ranks 15th in the nation according to the 2024 ParkScore Index. Albuquerque jumped eight spots from 2023 to 2024, and over the last four years, the City has climbed 22 positions in a national ranking of parks in America’s 100 largest cities. 

The ParkScore Index is issued annually by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), evaluating 14 measures across five different categories: Acreage, Access, Investment, Amenities, and Equity. 

Here’s how Albuquerque’s ranking has changed over the past few years: 23rd in 2023 34th in 2022 37th in 2021.

“Like most local families, spending quality time in any of Albuquerque’s great parks is one of my own family’s favorite pastimes,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “No matter which part of town you live in, these bright spots in our community provide safe, green spaces to enjoy sports, exercise for your pets, and healthy activities.” 

The remarkable ascent of Albuquerque's park system, now ranking 15th nationally according to the 2024 ParkScore Index, reflects our city's steadfast commitment to enhancing green spaces for all residents. 

Jumping eight spots in just a year and climbing 22 positions over four years underscores our dedication to providing accessible, equitable, and enriching outdoor experiences for our community, as recognized by the Trust for Public Land's rigorous evaluation. 

Albuquerque scored 65.8 out of 100 possible total points on the ParkScore Index (up from 61.1 points in 2023) to crack the top 20 for the first time. The City scored highest in the Access, Equity, and Acreage categories. With 90% of the City’s population living with a walkable half-mile of a park (the national average is 56%), Albuquerque continues to score among the highest in nation in the Access category (87 out of 100 points). 

Albuquerque also received strong marks for Equity and showed improvement in this category over 2023 (improving from 61 to 64 points out of 100). The equity score indicates the fairness in the distribution of parks and park space among neighborhoods by race and income. 

The City saw the most improvement in the Investments category, jumping up 18 points from 41 points out of 100 in 2023 to 59 points in 2024. 

PRD has completed and continues to work on dozens of park projects, including several major projects in underserved neighborhoods, such as the complete renovation at Phil Chacon Park. 

 “It’s nice to get our highest ranking ever, but we still have more work to do,” said Parks & Recreation Department Director Dave Simon. “Our goal is continuous improvement and with continued investment, the future is bright for parks in the Duke City.” 

To access the complete ParkScore Index report, click here. To access the Albuquerque ParkScore data, click here.

Happy Summer, New Mexico.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

SOS Makes Rare Intervention Into Muni Politics; Turns Thumbs Down On Reducing Votes Needed To Become ABQ Mayor And Councilor; Proposal Set To Go To Voters In November, Plus: BernCo Manager Named 

SOS Toulouse Oliver
It's rare for a Secretary of State to chime in on local election rules unless there is some egregious violation but the proposal to dramatically alter ABQ's election system has drawn the attention of SOS Maggie Toulouse Oliver and her intervention. 

She joins a chorus of critics who denounce a proposed City Charter Amendment passed by the City Council and now awaiting a mayoral veto, as further balkanizing city politics. 

In a letter to the Mayor and Council  she says:

I would not normally reach out to city leadership, but because of my deep concern about this proposal's impact, I must urge each of you to reconsider these proposed changes to Albuquerque’s municipal elections. Unlike state and federal elections in which there is a Primary Election that whittles down the pool of candidates, municipal runoff elections with winning majority thresholds help create important mandates for local officials in New Mexico. . .Albuquerque voters already approved the current 50% threshold for winning candidates in 2013, and having candidates receive at least 50% of the total votes provides the public with a clear winner who then has a mandate to lead. Changing the city’s election system to one where a candidate can be elected with a minority of votes is a big step in the wrong direction. . .The perceived legitimacy of our elections has been under significant strain in recent years. The public needs confidence that their municipal leaders have been legitimately elected, and the best way to do that is with a secure, accessible electoral system that demands the winner receives the majority of votes

The SOS puts forth Ranked Choice Voting as a possible compromise but ranked choice leans toward electing moderate candidates and neither progressives or conservatives seem anxious to go that route. 

The Charter Amendment was approved on a 6 to 3 vote so Mayor Keller's expected veto appears set to be overridden.

Dem Councilor Klarissa Peña, the key swing vote, said primary runoff elections are used in only a few states and were rooted in racist policies intended to keep white politicians in power. "This is history, folks," she said.

But does Pena's argument hold up in ABQ? 

In 1989 two Hispanics squared off in a run-off when Louis Saavedra was elected mayor. 

Marty Chavez beat Republican Dave Cargo in a tight run-off election in 1993. 

In 2005 Chavez was elected in a three way race with no runoff that featured two Hispanic candidates. 

The problem isn't racism, it's recruitment. Qualified Hispanics have been in short supply lately with ethics- tarnished Manny Gonzales getting crushed by Tim Keller in 2021. 

In 2017 Keller qualified for a runoff by finishing atop an eight candidate field that featured three Hispanics hopefuls but two were unknowns. He won the run-off by beating Councilor Dan Lewis.

ABQ's Hispanic population is now 50 percent, according to the US Census and the streak of Anglo Mayors since 2009 does not reflect that.

Pena and company might ponder forming a group similar to the Democratic women's group Emerge but with a dual gender Hispanic emphasis for city elections. It's not racism holding back Hispanics from the mayor's office, it's benign neglect.

Meanwhile if Keller's veto is overridden and the proposal goes to the voters, perhaps the SOS can be called on to join the campaign fray against it. That would be somewhat unprecedented but she's already gone there with her first volley against the amendment. 


Cindy Chavez
The Bernalillo County Commission Tuesday night tentatively picked a new county manager. From Downtown ABQ:

Cindy Chavez was selected by commissioners for the role, contingent on negotiation of an employment contract and successful completion of a background investigation. Chavez comes from San Jose, California where she currently serves on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Her full resume can be found here

Commissioners also approved the appointment of Deputy County Manager for Finance Shirley Ragin as an interim Bernalillo County manager until contractual negotiations have been completed. 

A total of 10 applicants were considered for the county manager job. They are posted on the county’s website. Current County Manager Julie Morgas Baca will retire June 30. Morgas Baca dedicated 16 and half years to Bernalillo County. . .before being appointed county manager in 2015. 

The selection of the new county manager was passed in a 3 to 2 vote. 

The progressive commission majority chose Chavez who is a native of Alamogordo. Commissioners Michael Quezada and Republican Walt Benson were opposed. They voted for County Economic Development Director Marco Gonzales.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Inside The Dysfunction And Division At Bernalillo County Government; Veteran Employee Makes A Case Against Commission Majority, Plus Top Richardson Aide Authors Book On Ex-Guv's High-Stakes Hostage Deals 

BernCo Commission
The five member Bernalillo County Commission is engulfed in dysfunction and division as the progressive majority battles with two conservative-minded commissioners. 

While the infighting has gained particular attention for its impact on the selection of a new County Manager, it is also impacting the overall county government, contends a longtime BernCo employee who requested anonymity to bring us their insider perspective.

Joe, 2,500 Bernalillo County employees are watching with dismay as county leadership goes down in flames and fear of retaliation rules the day. And if the chaos continues it could impact the many projects and people who depend on sound management of the county’s $1 billion budget. Some highlights: 

Most of the county’s employees are embarrassed and furious at the three progressive county commissioners, Eric Olivas, Adriann Barboa and Barbara Baca, who hid their extensive secret communications regarding the county manager search and are continuing to mislead about whether they are breaking the county’s Code of Conduct by dictating day to day management of the county. 

Blog Note: The Attorney General ordered the commission to redo the meeting where they approved the process for picking a new manager, saying the majority progressive commissioners pre-planned the agreement before the official meeting. 

Our anger has nothing to do with whether we are fans of Commissioner Michael Quezada or Republican Commissioner Walt Benson who have opposed the progressive majority. Most of us are not political. We are here because we are qualified and we simply want to do our jobs and be respected. Nor does it have to do with the fact that the three commissioners needlessly pushed out a popular county manager before her contract was up. (But that didn’t help.) 

It has to do with the fact that they broke the law and they don’t seem to care. All because they couldn’t wait to get rid of County Manager Julie Morgas Baca and get their hands on county employees and county money and change policy and procedures. Virtually every employee has a story about how the three commissioners have inserted themselves in matters they have no knowledge of. Most are too afraid to put our names on a formal complaint. 

It’s currently happening with the proposed new Behavioral Health Ordinance which Commissioners Barboa and Olivas are trying to ram through against staff recommendations. In that case, experienced employees are terrified for their safety because of the dangerous “No Wrong Door” and other proposed policies. Those who have spoken against it have said in commission meetings that they fear being retaliated against. If pushed through, there could be an exodus of employees and finding folks who want to do that work is not easy. So there could be fewer behavioral health workers and people in the community will suffer.

Blog Note: The ordinance says "the overarching mission shall be to institute a no-wrong-door approach where those seeking behavioral health care or related support services of any kind in our region may enter the system at any point and receive access to the high-quality care they need."


Chairwoman Baca
There are many other examples of projects that the three have tried to alter or delay for their own political reasons. At least Chairwoman and Commissioner Baca apologized for violating the trust of the employees and the public by breaking the law on the manager search. But we all see the dismissive way she treats her fellow commissioners (Quezada and Benson).

She and the other two act with the smugness of knowing they have three votes no matter what policies they propose. Employees suspect that they will eagerly hire a county manager who, unlike Julie Baca, does not care about retaining senior staff and will not listen to facts and informed opinions, and who will let the commissioners dictate policy and make personnel decisions (all against the Code of Conduct, which explicitly prohibits this). 

If that is the case, you will see many employees leave or retire early. I’m talking about senior “protected” staff with years of experience that the county will not be able to easily replace. Nor quickly replace, since an internal audit of our Human Resources department shows the county currently has a shocking 30 percent vacancy rate and takes up to 182 days to bring on a new employee.

None of this is how Bernalillo County has operated in the years I have been here, or in anyone else’s institutional memory. I have never known anyone to be afraid of retaliation for doing their job. The county has always been a great place to work. I'm worried about the long term impact on the county and its ability to carry out crucial tasks and meet legal requirements. For other opinions, here is a link to employee responses to a survey about the county manager search.

The preceding was from a veteran Bernalillo County employee. We welcome differing points of view on the controversies at the BernCo Commission.  


Bergman and Richardson

Former Gov. Bill Richardson's high-stakes negotiations to free political prisoners around the globe is brought to life in a new book authored by the man who was at this side during those drama filled years. We get this on a public event for the new book set for today:

Author event with Mickey Bergman "In the Shadows: True Stories of High-Stakes Negotiations to Free Americans Captured Abroad.”  

Books on the Bosque 6261 Riverside Plaza Lane, Ste. A-2 Albuquerque
will host author Mickey Bergman on Tuesday, June 25, 2024 at 5:30 pm.

Mickey Bergman directs Global Reach and the Richardson Center for Global Engagement nongovernmental, nonprofit organizations that negotiate the release of political prisoners and hostages around the world. A special-operations veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, he has spent the past decade freeing Americans from some of the most complex and insulated countries on earth, including Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Gambia and Sudan. He is an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Walsh school of Foreign Service, where his graduate courses focus on the art of emotional intelligence in international relations. He was nominated for the 2019 and 2023 Nobel Peace Prize alongside former Governor Bill Richardson.

Quote from Brittney Griner (WNBA and Olympic star; freed from wrongful detainment in Russia.

“Mickey and Governor Richardson are a big part of why I’m home. They traveled to Russia, put their own lives at risk, called on their deep relationships, and educated and communicated compassionately with my family and my team – whatever it took to bring me home. I am still astounded by their passion, experience and deep commitment to the cause of reuniting families.” 

Richardson died last September at the age of 75.

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Monday, June 24, 2024

Domenici Gets Little Traction In Early Public Polling; Memories Of Her Senator Father Yet To Resonate; Heinrich Leads First Survey By 7; Same As Biden Over Trump As Blue Wall Appears To Hold 

Nella Domenici has yet to put a crack in the armor of Senator Martin Heinrich with the first public polling showing the two term incumbent with a solid if not overwhelming seven point lead over his GOP rival. 

The PPP survey has it 47 percent for Heinrich, 40 for Domenici and 13 percent undecided. 

Domenici, 63, who made millions as a New York hedge fund manager and is the daughter of the late US Senator Pete Domenici, pumped $500,000 into TV ads beginning in late May that were being aired as the survey was conducted among 555 registered voters from June 13-14. 

She came up empty, polling one point below the 41 percent former President Trump garnered against Biden in the same PPP survey. (The margin of error in the poll is plus or minus 4 percent).

The mild surprise is that Domenici's family heritage appears to have done little to improve her standing despite TV ad stressing that heritage. She bet the ranch that they would give her an early pop and put Heinrich on the defensive. Now she will have to go to Plan B. 

Domenici has poked at Heinrich, 52, over his interest in running for Governor in 2026 which would mean he would leave the Senate seat if elected. How much legs that attack has remains to be seen.

Senator Domenici was the longest serving US senator in state history but he left in 2009. His popularity was legendary but took a hit in his retirement years in 2013 when it was disclosed that during his first term in the 1970's he fathered a child out of wedlock with a DC lobbyist who was also the daughter of GOP Senator Paul Laxalt. 

Heinrich's 48 to 37 percent lead among women is the most crucial poll demo.

The blue wall appears to be holding in the ABQ metro, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. Heinrich's anchor for that support of late is reproductive rights which Domenici has struggled with while Heinrich is comfortably pro-choice. 

As with the PPP polling of the NM presidential race, there is no Hispanic problem for Heinrich. He polls 59 percent with the group while Domenici is far back at 24 percent.

That the two term Senator is below the key 50 percent level gives Domenici and the GOP some hope that the race can still be ignited. 


No sitting US senator has been defeated in the state since 1982 when Republican Harrison Schmitt was ousted by Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

Heinrich's cool, Germanic personality has not personally endeared him to New Mexicans but a plodding competence and persistence and a penchant to not offend has kept him in generally good graces. 

While his legislative record is thin, he has focused much of his time on the environment and has scored notable wins, including the $10 billion SunZiaSunZia solar project. 

He is now the state's senior senator, a member of the Appropriations Committee and his relationship with Senate Dem Leader Schumer appears strong, all factors in protecting and advancing the myriad of federal interests that dominate the state economy.

He was first elected to the ABQ city council in 2003. In 2008 he claimed the ABQ congressional seat. In 2012 he ascended to the Senate when Democrat Jeff Bingaman retired. He was re-elected with ease in 2018.

Domenici's candidacy still breathes because of her thick personal bankroll--upwards of over $90 million, according to Senate disclosure forms. She seeded her campaign with $500,000. 

The moment of truth on how much more of her fortune she decides to spend on the race is fast approaching. The disappointing PPP poll, which is a Democratic-affiliated firm, if not quickly contradicted could inhibit campaign contributions.

Her early TV has not struck a nerve but her personality has yet to be fully revealed, nurturing the possibility of an upset among her supporters. The national environment is also a major factor that could enhance her chances if Biden should fade here.

Meanwhile the structural factors that have made this a reliably Blue state on the national level weigh heavily on Domenici.

The NM Senate race is ranked "Safe Democrat" by US News. Inside Elections in DC rates the contest "Solid Democratic." Other DC pundits have similar rankings.


Domenici 1970 (Bralley)
Heinrich has aired his first TV ad and it answers Domenici's bragging about her father and his accomplishments with some bragging about his own dad. The script:

No one outworked my dad. As a lineman, he’d go out and battle the wind and the rain to restore the power. I see that same work ethic all across New Mexico. If you’re putting in the work, you deserve to have something to show for it. To be able to provide, to save, to get ahead. That’s why I’m fighting to raise wages and to lower costs for energy, groceries and prescription drugs. And to create good-paying manufacturing jobs. I’ll never forget who I’m fighting for. 

Heinrich's emphasis on his working class background is in contrast to Domenici's upbringing with her political superstar father, although her ads strive to demonstrate that she too grew up in an ordinary family.

Fortunately neither candidate has yet shouted out: "Yy dad is better than yours!" But then the campaign is still young.

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