The Alibi enthusiastically endorses City Councilor Eric Griego to be our next mayor. We believe his four years on the Council have given him the experience to make Albuquerque a safer, more efficient and economically vibrant city. We believe his vision, candor and enthusiasm will serve the city well in its pursuit of a diversified economy, better planning and honest government.
Griego not only excels at coming up with fresh, well-designed ideas to make Albuquerque a better place, he takes action. As a councilor, he spearheaded the Planned Growth Strategy and city's new Impact Fees system that are a step in the right direction toward bringing sensible planning to a city that desperately needs it. Despite the Albuquerque Journal's ad nauseum claims that the Planned Growth Strategy is "controversial," in reality it's not. Controversial to whom? The lobbyists employed by residential homebuilders. Fact is, the PGS and Impact Fees both passed the City Council with a veto-proof super majority. The ordinance had broad citywide support from neighborhood associations and Griego, rightfully, led its charge.
Likewise, Griego sponsored the quarter-cent tax increase to fund public safety which has added millions of dollars to the city treasury explicitly for police, fire, and drug intervention and treatment programs. Politicians all clamor about public safety being a priority, but Griego seems to be the only candidate willing to admit that Albuquerque has a serious crime problem. When he says Marty Chavez "must be the only person in Albuquerque who thinks crime has gone down," we think he has a point. Griego is also right to recognize that our expensive new and already overcrowded jail is symbolic of a failed system and the city needs to provide treatment to repeat criminals who are addicted to drugs and alcohol or the problem will never diminish. Point is, Griego stepped up while others sat on their hands, and with broad support from community groups and public safety personnel, he put forth a plan that succeeded instead of grandstanding without getting anything done.
We love Griego's Renewable Energy Incentive Program, which hopes to bring solar panel manufacturers, designers and all facets of the alternative energy industry to Albuquerque. The city has all the intellectual capital it needs at Sandia Labs as well as plenty of commercial space in all parts of the city that is underused to get things rolling. What the city needs is Griego as mayor to make it happen. Besides, his idea sounds a lot more realistic for successful economic growth than spending millions on a panda and giving tax breaks to a mattress factory for bringing 200 low-paying jobs to the outskirts of town. Bottom line: Griego is correct when he says we need more creative class industries like software designers, digital filmmakers, renewable energy enthusiasts, a thriving "culture, music and art scene," and a city that is wired for the 21st century.
Amazingly, his ideas seem revolutionary to some folks (the Journal practically painted him as a crackpot in their recent profile), but if you ignore these parochial, mediocre minds that seem stuck on the status quo, you might discover that many of Griego's ideas have been in practice in other more prosperous cities like Portland and Austin for years. Griego's point, and we agree, is that the Duke City will always be unique, and we should in fact preserve our uniqueness, but borrowing successful ideas from elsewhere isn't a bad idea either.
Still, Griego's economic initiatives are mainstream enough to have earned him an appointment by Gov. Bill Richardson to chair the state Economic Development Commission. This also speaks well to his positive relationship with the governor and ability to work with other governmental agencies. He's used the position to push for local economic development initiatives that promote local small business development and not just the recruitment of outside industry, which has had mixed results. He owns his own small business, working as a public affairs consultant and lobbyist.
There's much more. Griego's Inspector General bill created a local government watchdog as part of the city audit office. That is a great idea! It was a direct result of the ABQPAC debacle (see the Marty Chavez write-up). It took two years to do the research and get it passed, but as a councilor he stuck with it.
In addition to making us the "clean energy capitol," Griego spearheaded the city's Water Conservation Task Force at City Hall. Water gets so muddied by political posturing and rhetoric that Griego's intent was to listen to hydrologists and scientific experts and minimize the political influence on the debate. Another good idea.
What makes Griego stand out from the field, though, is his support for the minimum wage increase and his sponsorship of the public financing referendum that is also on the ballot. Both of these initiatives are level-headed approaches to solving real local problems. We believe, plain and simple, raising the minimum wage will help our local economy, not hurt it. Statistical analysis in other cities, including Santa Fe, bears witness to the positive impact. Griego's public financing initiative is a no-brainer (see more details in our endorsement), yet he is the only mayoral candidate that supports it.
As for his demeanor, Griego doesn't take himself too seriously and is an excellent communicator. That clearness and conciseness accompanied by his honesty are beneficial mayoral qualities and ones that would serve the city well. His is a great story of a local guy from Barelas, who traveled the world, worked in Washington, D.C., where he earned a Master's degree, and came home to serve the community he loves. Vote for Eric Griego.
City Council President Brad Winter is another appealing mayoral candidate. He's the kind of politician we always say we want in office, but seldom get. He's a thoughtful collaborator who has proven that he can work well with politicians of all stripes, even in tense situations. Winter has been criticized for being too patient and listening to all sides of an issue before he makes up his mind—but what fool would criticize him for that? We see this as one of Winter's virtues and applaud him for his style. As a local news reporter joked, Winter is the anti-Chavez, because the more you know, the more you actually like him.
One aspect of his personality that everyone seems to agree on is that Winter is impeccably honest. In this regard, we love his ethics reform initiative. Winter has called for transparency when it comes to public officials soliciting money from folks that have an interest in procuring city contracts. He wants the names of all campaign contributors who have a business interest with the city posted on the City Clerk's website. He wants to prohibit city employees from soliciting funds for candidates during city business hours. All city employees will have protections against solicitation for campaign contributions from city elected officials, and they will be protected against being pressured into assisting on political campaigns. In other words, he's making an issue out of the ABQPAC debacle (see the Marty Chavez write-up) in hopes that the city will never experience that kind of corruption again. If Winter wins this election, a similar scandal is certainly unlikely to occur while he's in office.
Winter, like Griego, supports impact fees, the Planned Growth Strategy and promoting public transportation, including light rail. He supported Griego's Inspector General bill and has consistently provided a measured voice on the Council, one that has remained true to his moderately conservative politics. But more importantly, Winter rejects political labels and prefers to be seen as a conciliator and consensus-builder. His record proves this to be true.
Winter unfortunately loses a bit of his luster on the minimum wage and campaign finance reform ballot initiatives. He opposes both. Meanwhile, he supports the Voter ID bill that is on the ballot, which will require folks to show an ID at the polls, but doesn't require a photocopied ID for absentee voters. That's ridiculous. Nobody should support this measure the way it's written.
Overall, Winter is an honorable guy who we admire for his intelligent and honest public service on the Council. He's proven his commitment to education through years of working at APS as a teacher, vice principal and facility production official. He genuinely likes serving the public and gave Eric Griego an honest challenge for our endorsement. Although every member of our review panel urges a vote for Griego, we also feel it's important for our readers to understand that Winter would be an enormous improvement over the current mayor.
Then there's Mayor Martin Chavez. He did a good job managing the city budget mess he inherited during his first two years. He deserves credit for that, as well as for his administration's anti-graffiti initiative and his support for a rapid transit system.
To hear the mayor take credit for an exhaustive list of capital improvement projects on the Westside, or watch his campaign ads on TV, or listen to his supporters tell it, he's the greatest mayor the city has ever had.
But before you purchase this well-packaged and heavily funded product at the polls, it's important to consider another view of the candidate.
Under Chavez' leadership, the city has not worked with APS to address our educational problems, has not worked with other municipalities to promote regional planning and has not worked with the county to fix the mismanagment problems at the metro jail. In other words, we don't need an isolationist mayor who's better at spin control than working with other agencies to fix the city's problems.
The planning problems on the Westside have gotten worse, although Chavez has done a brilliant job of capitalizing on the residents' anger over a lack of infrastructure by promising roads that provide a short-term fix and no real solution. He's given lip service to the Planned Growth Strategy and impact fees but never stepped up to the level of the City Council when it comes to implementation.
OK, these are aspects of his governing style we think are suspect and give good reason to look carefully at others in the race. And as we said, he deserves credit for some successful initiatives.
But then there is the ABQPAC scandal. Call it a situation where you just know all that you need to know. In a nutshell, the mayor masterminded a scheme to solicit funds from city contractors and city employees and then funnel the money into his bank account. When this unfortunate circumstance came to light, Chavez claimed he had nothing to do with it.
However, once the matter went before the city board of ethics, it exposed what former City Councilor Hess Yntema called “a grimy understructure” that Chavez had erected at City Hall shortly after he took office in 2001. Even our city's toothless Ethics Board found him guilty of violating the City Charter's ethics code on two counts, and Chavez wound up returning nearly $60,000 to his “supporters” in the form of a single cashier's check.
Sadly, despite his ethical transgressions, this year Chavez managed to raise more than a million dollars using the similar cast of characters that raised money for ABQPAC, including his head fundraiser, Terri Baird.
Scoundrels will always try to obtain influence in government. That's a given. But if we stand for corruption in our elected officials, we will forever be a second-rate city. We want that to change. We don't want honest government. We demand it. And the best time to make our demands heard is on election day.
If the mayor's race were a reality TV show, David Steele would be the star. The retired assistant city planning director is a charming, lovable character, at times borderline incoherent in a Foster Brooks kind of way, but when he has a moment of clarity it's usually worth the wait. His answer to pretty much everything is: "We need a plan. What's the plan? We don't have a plan. We need one. We need a master plan to fix traffic, water and crime problems. We need planning, planning, planning. I'm gonna make a plan, etc."
When addressing a question about the city's emergency preparedness at a Westside mayoral forum last week, Mr. Steele said, "What are we going to do if the Rio Grande floods? How are we going to get people out of here when we only have two exits?" A legitimate question if your long-term plan spans 1,000 years, but that didn't seem to be what the folks in the room were most concerned about. When a local reporter asked him where he went to high school, the candidate replied, "I'll have to get back to you on that." You gotta love that.
Where Mr. Steele hits a nerve, though, is when he talks about crime. He tells the story of his wife of 47 years being mugged at knifepoint in a Northeast Heights beauty salon, then tells the story of being robbed with his wife at gunpoint on a separate occasion, also in the Northeast Heights. He says women don't feel safe walking the streets and elderly citizens don't feel safe in their own homes. He suggests the mayor is "cooking the books" when it comes to his claims that crime rates are down and the number of cops on the street is up. He's running the kind of grassroots, populist campaign that is always endearing for a time, but in the end probably isn't going anywhere.