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 V.18 No.39 | September 24 - 30, 2009 

Feature

Mayor

The Alibi endorses: Richard Romero

(From left to right) Martin Chavez, Richard Romero and Richard (R.J.) Berry at the Wednesday, Sept. 16 debate sponsored by the   Alibi  ,   New Mexico Independent  , KNME and KUNM
Eric Williams
(From left to right) Martin Chavez, Richard Romero and Richard (R.J.) Berry at the Wednesday, Sept. 16 debate sponsored by the Alibi , New Mexico Independent , KNME and KUNM

Mayor Martin Chavez is really good at a few things. And he’ll never let you forget it.

Chavez has been mayor of Albuquerque for 12 years, from 1993 to 1997, and later for two consecutive terms beginning in 2001. In the past, Albuquerque mayors were only allowed to serve two terms back to back. But Chavez sued the city early last year to have the term limit for the office removed—after he withdrew from the race for U.S. Senate—and he was successful.

To hear Chavez tell it, the wording in the state constitution clearly states that term limits at the mayoral level are illegal; he simply noticed this and wanted to rectify the situation. But we don't buy it. We think the story is fairly obvious: Chavez didn't think he could win the U.S. Senate race, so he found a way to stay in his current seat—or so he hopes. The Alibi supports term limits at the mayoral level, and we don't find Chavez' tinkering with the law particularly savory. Term limits at the executive level combat the sort of dictatorship that can emerge when powerful politicians are kept in office too long. Term limits are a key component to a strong democracy.

That said, Chavez has done some great things during his time in office. Water conservation in the city rose dramatically; the Rapid Ride bus line has become an Albuquerque fixture; he's shepherded the creation of the Warehouse 508 teen center.

But he also seems unable to admit the city still has problems—plenty of them. Albuquerque is known for its high crime rate, lack of reliable and widespread public transit, glut of teen pregnancies and dropouts, and suffering school system. While the city has plenty of lovable traits as well, the problems scream for attention. Bring up these issues to Chavez and he'll counter with a list of things he's done to address them—like the Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center, which he says he started two years ago to serve victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse—or he'll just outright call you wrong. But his list of accomplishments doesn't matter if things don't actually change.

Enacting real change at the city level seems difficult, and that's aided by the fact that Chavez doesn't play all that well with others. Nearly every candidate who came in for an interview this election cycle, as well as candidates from election cycles past, said Chavez was unusually difficult to work with. In addition, he's known for getting into skirmishes with the Bernalillo County Commission, the state Legislature and Albuquerque Public Schools. A city's leader should be able to convince different entities to work together for change—to make bridges, not burn them.

Chavez has also been involved in his fair share of scandals. Albuquerque voters seem to have chronic amnesia when it comes to ABQPAC, wherein Chavez funneled money garnered from city contractors and employees into his bank account. He denied it but was then found guilty by the city's ethics board and had to return $60,000 to his supporters.

We sound like we're railing on the guy, but the truth is that Chavez has had his day in the sun as mayor; it's time to bring in fresh ideas and new personalities.

This year, Chavez is running against Richard (R.J.) Berry and Richard Romero. Berry is in his second term as a state representative.

Coming from a construction background, he says he supports sustainable growth but doesn't give many details on how he defines it. He believes in setting goals for energy efficiency but is concerned that overly stringent rules will force developers to look elsewhere. He's against impact fees and would like to wave them if elected.

Like most candidates, Berry cites public safety as a top concern and says he'd like to sit down with the police department to come up with solutions to property crime. He wants more police officers and says he’ll restore funding that was cut from youth gang prevention and substance abuse programs. He says he'd like to do away with what he calls the "sanctuary city policy" that Mayor Chavez implemented. It doesn't allow APD officers to look up the immigration status of people they arrest until that status is relevant to an investigation.

Berry is opposed to a modern rail system in the city at this time, saying it's too expensive. He’d also like to do away with the quarter-cent transportation tax. He supports the idea of a Downtown event center and arena but would require a fresh study to be completed on its feasibility. He would then require the option go before voters. He'd like to expand the city's recycling services, looking first to private industry.

We agree with some of Berry's positions, but one that's a deal-breaker for us is his stance on domestic partnerships. He voted against domestic partnerships in the Legislature and openly admits he believes marriage is "between a man and a woman." He says he has no plans to change the benefit system in the city, which grants full benefits to domestic partners, a policy ex-mayor Jim Baca instituted. (Chavez has actually been a vocal proponent for domestic partnerships, and we praise him for his position.)

Berry’s stance on allowing APD to examine immigration status without cause is also a step backward for civil rights.

We can't in easy conscience endorse someone with those beliefs. Berry has some good ideas, but they're somewhat limited. He's new to politics, and that could work to his advantage, although there's still a lot he has to learn. We're not sure Berry would be a bad mayor; we just don't think he'd be a great one.

Richard Romero, on the other hand, is the kind of leader Albuquerque needs at this critical moment in history. Romero has been involved in politics for some time—he's served on the state Senate since 1992 and ran for Congress against Heather Wilson in 2001 and 2004. He didn't win those races, but in 2001 he did unseat Manny Aragon, one of the most powerful politicians in New Mexico, as senate president pro tem.

Romero's had a full life outside of politics as well, as a veteran and an educator. He spent more than two decades in APS, working as a principal and finally assistant superintendent.

This has been a frustrating election cycle. We've failed to be impressed by most of the challengers running this year. But Romero is an exception. He, like all the other candidates, lists public safety as one of his top priorities if elected. But, unlike other candidates, he offers a solution to crime beyond simply sitting down with the police department. Romero lists a detailed plan to combat crime on his campaign website. But his main points are to get more police out of cars and desk chairs and back onto streets and to increase the personnel on the city's gang unit from four to 20.

As you might guess based on his work experience, Romero also has a strong plan to improve education. He says he will create an Education Improvement Group to focus on reducing dropouts and truancy rates. A fan of alternative and charter schools, he wants to further promote them while funding additional middle schools initiatives, sports programs and Head Start models.

Romero wants to work with neighboring government entities like Valencia and Bernalillo County to address our water shortage; he realizes that the whole region uses the same aquifer, not just Albuquerque, and that real solutions have to involve everyone. He wants to expand public transit’s hours and service areas, but he doesn't support the modern rail until bus lines are expanded and more infrastructure is in place. Likewise, he thinks a Downtown event center and arena should be a goal of the city's but that it should wait for broad public support. Also, Romero supports domestic partnerships and has lobbied for them in the past.

We could talk about Romero's plans all day. But, ultimately, the best we can tell you is that we believe Romero when he says he'll do all these things. He won the James Madison Award for open government while serving in the state Senate; he's proven that he can work effectively with liberals and conservatives alike. Albuquerque needs a leader who not only has vision but knows how to achieve that vision, and Romero has the ideas, perseverance and personality for the job. We're tired of the bickering between the city administration and the Council ... and the Bernalillo County Commission ... and the state Legislature ... and APS. We're sick of high crime rates and a failing educational system; sprawl and underwhelming public transportation; poor recycling facilities and underused opportunities for a renewable energy industry. It's time to elect someone who can really make a difference in our city, and we believe Romero is that person. We wholeheartedly grant him our endorsement.

Richard M. Romero 

Occupation: Retired Educator

Over 35 years, I have built a career of public service—as an Air Force veteran, teacher, principal, Assistant Superintendent of APS and as a leader of the state Senate. 

Political Experience: I served in the New Mexico Senate for 12 years; four of those as the Senate’s president pro-tempore. I established a record of reaching across ideological divides, forging compromises to get things done and taking down the corrupt when they needed to be taken down. 

1) What's your plan of action for three major citywide issues?

The three most pressing issues facing the city are crime, the economy and high dropout rates at our high schools. On crime I will redeploy resources to put more officers on the street and get back to community policing. On the economy I will support local business startups and expansion and recruitment of new investment that creates jobs, especially in the green economy. On education, I will create a partnership between the city and APS in which administrators work together on issues like capital planning, campus security and city support for extracurricular activities that help kids succeed in school.   

2) What do you offer that the other candidates don't?

I have demonstrated my willingness to lay my career on the line and reach out across party and ideological lines to take on the political establishment and make changes that benefit the people of New Mexico. That is what I did when I broke with many members of my party and challenged Manny Aragon’s long standing dominance of the New Mexico Senate. I believe that I have the political independence and personal integrity needed to put the interests of the citizens of Albuquerque ahead of my own career or that of any political party.

3) How can we balance city growth with sustainability?

I do not believe that to accommodate population growth we need a sea of roofs extending to the Rio Puerco. There are a number of ways that we can meet our needs for additional housing and commercial space that do not threaten resources like water, extend our commute times or create traffic congestion and more pollution. We can encourage infill, allow for greater housing densities in appropriate areas, improve our mass transit system and insure that new development pays for itself. I support the principles of the Planned Growth Strategy and impact fees but recognize that it is a tool, not a doctrine.

4) What will you do to help city residents who are struggling with the economic downturn?

My priority will be to put Albuquerque back to work. I will strongly support measures that encourage the startup and expansion of local small business. I will work with nonprofit economic development groups to connect small businesses to capital and technical assistance. I will make the city’s contracting process friendly to local business. No more appearance of “pay-to-play.” I will work to recruit new investment in high-paid employment, particularly in the green economy. In addition, I will preserve city funding for social services that right now are particularly important for our fellow citizens affected by the economic downturn.

5) What's your take on public transportation, and do you support modern rail?

I believe the long-term economic viability of our city will depend on a new and more effective system of mass transportation. I favor a multimodal, comprehensive, system that is regional in scope. For the immediate future, the primary mode will be buses. The Rail Runner is a second important piece, and we must continue to develop links between it and other forms of public transit. A modern street railway system will have a role to play in the future. It’s an exciting idea, but at the moment, we have neither the public support nor the financial resources to initiate such a system.

6) What can be done to improve public safety?

Women don’t feel safe. Property crime is hurting small businesses. Gang violence and drug crimes are a serious problem. Eight years of Chavez and crime is out of control. We more officers on patrol, and fewer behind desks. We need to beef up our gang unit from four officers to 20, while aggressively using prevention and intervention programs to keep kids away from gangs and help them integrate out of gangs. We need to implement real community policing. With citizens engaged, we won’t have 1,100 officers, we will have 100,000. Manpower our substations! We need to strengthen drug treatment, gang prevention and other programs that will stop crime before it begins.

7) How will you work with APS to improve education?

City administrators and APS administrators must work together on an ongoing basis to address issues affecting pre-K through 12 education. We need to do a better job of capital planning. We need to make APS schools into community schools, serving the broader community after 3 p.m. and during the summers. We need cooperation between APS and APD to insure that school campuses are secure and crime free. The city must continue to support before- and after-school programs that help kids succeed in learning. The city and APS must continue to cooperate on their highly successful preschool care and education partnership.

8) Do you support a city-funded arena / events complex / hotel Downtown?

The current mayor has so poisoned the well on this issue that any public support for a Downtown arena has almost disappeared. Given the financial condition of the city, moreover, the costs for such a project are well beyond our means to pay them at this time. I remain open to such a project if a sensible plan can be brought forward that has the support of the public and does not require a tax increase or an additional raid on our Capital Improvement Funding, which Mayor Chavez has already put into a deep hole.

Martin Chavez

1) What's your plan of action for three major citywide issues? 

Public Safety: Increase the Albuquerque Police Department by 100 officers in 18 months, push our lawmakers for tougher penalties for repeat offenders and expand community policing and neighborhood watch programs. Forge new partnerships with our schools.

Economic Development: Grow our film industry, continue attracting clean, high-paying green jobs, support small businesses in doing business with the city and begin redevelopment of our rail yards.

Quality of life: Expand our Art Museum and Botanic Gardens, open the 508 Teen Center, connect our BioPark train down Tingley with the Hispanic Cultural Center.

2) What do you offer that the other candidates don't?

A proven track record of getting things done. I’m the only candidate who has actually balanced a city budget or managed a large organization. Whether it’s expanded bicycle trails, the creation of Rapid Ride or the landscaping of Albuquerque, building Explora, the Balloon Fiesta Park and Museum or renovating Tingley Beach, I’m the only candidate who has major accomplishments. My vision is long-term and my passion and work capacity unmatched. Under my leadership, Albuquerque is at or near the top of all the “right” lists.

3) How can we balance city growth with sustainability?

The Climate Action Plan is a blueprint for sustainability. It calls for a reduction of our carbon footprint of 80 percent by 2050. It targets specific areas including planning, building codes, transportation, acquisition and utilization of energy. I signed the Planned Growth Strategy into law. Under my leadership, we built the San Juan Chama project, developed our water conservation programs and reduced water use by a full third even as we expanded our accounts by a third. I am steering Albuquerque away from reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.

4) What will you do to help city residents who are struggling with the economic downturn?

I established a collaborative of all our social services to develop a one-stop shop for those who have lost or are about to lose their homes. I will continue working to attract new jobs to Albuquerque and maintain a “small business” friendly environment. We have held periodic job fairs to continue to match those needing work with employers. CNM will be increasingly important for retraining.

5) What's your take on public transportation, and do you support modern rail?

I created Rapid Ride and worked with UNM and CNM to provide free passes for students. I have built our bicycle trail network into one of the best in the country. I am the only candidate who supports a modern rail system with the provision that it must be first voted upon by the public. There will always be a place and need for single-occupancy vehicles, but we cannot endlessly build only for them. I support a diverse transportation portfolio.

6) What can be done to improve public safety?

We need to grow our police department by an additional 100 officers, but we also need to demand that our Legislature approve tougher penalties for violent felonies. I want to expand our Family Advocacy Center, which is a one-stop shop for victims of violent crime and enhances our ability to secure convictions, allowing victims to begin healing sooner. Our programs with the schools and in our community centers are essential to preventing crime before it occurs.

7) How will you work with APS to improve education

I am working with APS to develop a formal Dropout Prevention Plan. We now have school resource officers (police) in each middle and high school who make personal home visits. We are now training teachers and assistants to identify the signs of clinical depression so that teens can be referred for services quickly.

8) Do you support a city-funded arena / events complex / hotel Downtown?

Absolutely, but it must be approved by the voters.

 
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