"Far off in outer space exists the strangest, wackiest planet in the universe ... it is the square Bizarro World!" So began an edition of a Superman comic book that had the Man of Steel trapped in another dimension where everything was weirdly skewed, perversely inverted. Down was up, ugly was beautiful, left was right and bad was good. Increasingly, the political climate in the Duke City is looking more and more like Bizarro World. Low-wage jobs are touted as high-tech economic growth, fringe development beyond the city's boundaries is labeled "in-fill" and elected officials benefiting from a host of taxpayer goodies is simply good government. While that's bad for Albuquerque, it does make for some pretty easy political commentary.
A couple of years ago, the City Council (and, by extension, the entire city) went through a very tough and emotional debate over the future growth of Albuquerque, culminating in the passage of a compromised version of the Planned Growth Strategy. A key component of the PGS was that city resources be focused on "in-filling" areas of the city where vacant land and city utilities already exist.
Last week's vote by the City Council to spend $50,000 designing a Westside road out past the city's boundaries and into the middle of nowhere to property owned by County Commissioner Tim Cummins proves definitively that the PGS is a sham. When the time comes to back the ideals of the PGS with action, it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. A few phone calls from the governor's office and stalwart "progressive" councilors like Eric Griego, Martin Heinrich, Michael Cadigan and Miguel Gomez roll over for an insider land deal like a bunch of trained seals being offered kippers.
In some cases (Heinrich and Brad Winter), our part-time councilors might have simply been snowed. For example, when questioned why the city was paying for a road in unincorporated Bernalillo County, the city's public projects guru Ed Adams stated it wasn't unusual for the city to build roads in the county and vice versa. When asked for an example, Adams proffered up Paseo del Norte between Wyoming and Eubank as a road built by the county that is in the city.
The truth is the county built (widened) the road, finishing up around 2001. But the city didn't actually annex that portion of the Paseo right-of-way until early 2003. The road was built by the county and for the county. Apparently no one on the Council was aware of the actual history and this "half-truth" out of Adams went unchallenged.
One notable stand-out to this unmitigated sell-out was Councilor Debbie O'Malley who, despite being lobbied by former City Councilor Vince Griego to support the project, stuck with her convictions and voted against the road. O'Malley is proudly left-of-center but is the only member of the Council who is true to her political ideals 100 percent of the time—probably because her only political ambition is to be on the Council.
A number of O'Malley's colleagues crave higher political office and certain matters seem to be, well, negotiable. Like voting to fund a road to a fringe development project that will eventually spawn more fringe development. PGS, R.I.P.
OK, let's see if we can get this straight: APS has money for all it's $100,000 a year assistant superintendents of whatever; can fund an expansion of health benefits for domestic partners of employees and, of course, has that great new office building in Uptown, but is now running a $40 million deficit and will have to cut support staff and programs? Couple that with the supposed increases in education funding out of the state Legislature and the state Land Grant Permanent Fund and something isn't adding up.
Even more curious is that the head finance guy at APS—Superintendent for Business Michael Vigil—managed to negotiate a $125,000 a year contract with the school district about a week before the "deficit" was discovered. Random chance? Of course in fairness to Vigil, he may have had no clue how much money APS did or did not have at the time he was negotiating his contract—but if that's the case, is he really the guy we want in charge of the APS budget?
The Iraqi prisoner abuse photos speak volumes. As a Navy veteran who supports the War on Terror and gets misty-eyed even when Rosanne Barr is singing the Star Spangled Banner, the situation is heart-breaking. That simply isn't how we're supposed to treat people. It doesn't look like interrogation. It looks like sport. One of the supposed lessons of Vietnam was that we are the good guys as long as we act like the good guys. Yes it's war and war is hell. But we're Americans and we set the standard for the world. And normally, we set it high.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. Payne, a former city councilor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.