Best and Worst of 2007
The Alibi’s year in review
There's often more bad than good in the news and on the Alibi's year-end list. After searching and debating, we found this year there were a fair number of successes for our state, like publicly financed elections and the surprisingly rational decision by the Legislature to legalize medical marijuana.
Good on you, New Mexico, for showing some sense. But before you get too excited about the prospect of our state leaving its fumbling adolescent years, we've got to recall our missteps. Among them: rising crime rates, the approval of a coal-powered Desert Rock Power Plant and civic leaders who can’t get along.
Still, maybe we're blinded by shiny optimism, but we've got about as many "bests" as we do "worsts." Maybe 2007 was a pretty good year.
Unless you were a smoker or cockfighter. Or someone who worked at Intel or LANL. Or a kid at an APS campus where cops are now carrying guns.
Hmm. Maybe our overarching slogan should read more like: "2007: it was a ... year." (MD)
Worst of 2007: Albuquerque Branded “The Q”
The branding of New Mexico's largest city as "The Q" wasn't voted on in the 2007 local elections. There was no public comment period for residents to have a voice about reducing Albuquerque's name to one consonant. There was just a man (Mayor Martin Chavez) and his hype team (Rick Johnson & Company) looking for a catchy logo to throw on buses, billboards and brochures to pull in some tourist dinero. Mayor Chavez got his Q-clad buses, and we Burqueños got stuck with a catch phrase we didn't choose (and don’t much care for).
Silver Lining: A grassroots movement of residents formed a group to promote the nickname most locals already approve: Burque. The group, Soy de Burque, is using a website (www.soydeburque.com), T-shirts and word of mouth to promote Burque and stop "The Q." (AD)
Worst of 2007: Murals Whitewashed
There’s a strong anti-graffiti sentiment in this town, which in many ways, we understand. The problem is there’s more than one kind of graffiti: There’s the chicken-scratch-curse-word kind, and then there’s art. The city has taken it upon itself to clean up the former, rubbing it out across town. But this spring, it went a step further, painting over a number of intricate, approved and sometimes even city-funded murals in Albuquerque. The irony is the muralists whose work was defaced had the same intention as the city—to wipe out the chicken-scratch littering our buildings and walls.
Silver Lining: The mistake was an honest one in at least one case, and Bernalillo County later agreed to buy paint for the artists to redo “The Park” on Second Street. Still, the incident speaks to the attitude of local government when it comes to an unconventional art form. We hope in the future the city is more open-minded. (CC)
Best of 2007: Smoking Banned
There are a lot of people who would classify the smoking ban passed in the State Legislature this year in the "Worst" category, not "Best." And we understand their argument. The ban prohibits smoking in all public businesses, including bars, and all non-private indoor places. It infringes on both the rights of those who own businesses and want to allow smoking in their establishments and those who choose to frequent said establishments. If someone wants to pollute their own lungs, why shouldn't they? And if someone else wants to foster that pollution, why not? It's a free market. But despite that rock-solid argument, we think the smoking ban is great. It makes for a cleaner, healthier, more considerate state. People can still smoke. Now they just have to walk outside.
Drawback: After the smoking ban was passed in the Legislature, Mayor Martin Chavez took it upon himself to get some PR buzz going and ban smoking via an executive order on all city property, including Isotopes Park and Civic Plaza. City councilors were upset the mayor didn’t run the policy by them first, and after backlash from the public, the mayor retracted the order. Next time, think before you enact broad, restrictive legislation, Marty. (CC)
Worst of 2007: HEART Ordinance Takes Effect
Albuquerque has long had a problem with overcrowded animal shelters and strays running the streets. Clearly we're not a culture that prizes the spaying and neutering of pets. So a law requiring the fixing of dogs and cats in the city should be a good thing, right? The problem is if your unfixed animal gets sent to the pound, Fluffy will be spayed at the city's notoriously unhealthy animal shelters, and you'll be charged for it. Once she's picked up, you can't take her to your family veterinarian for the surgery. Plus, the animal shelters lack adequate staff numbers to handle the influx of unfixed animals that require spay or neuter under the new law.
Silver Lining: Something needs to be done about the staggering animal overpopulation problem in this city. It’s good that the city is thinking about solutions. Still, first things first: The shelters need to clean up their act and increase adoption rates before they can attempt a policy like this. (MD)
Best of 2007: The Stars Come Out in Burquewood
Greasing the palms of Hollywood filmmakers has done a lot to raise New Mexico's profile (albeit, often as a Texas backdrop). The revenue that New Mexicans pocket after film industry-baiting tax incentives have been doled out is still muddy math, but one thing's clear: There's a bunch of famous people walking around Albuquerque, and lord knows we love our celebrity sightings! 2007 was a banner year for film- and television-making in New Mexico, with more than double any previous year's projects shot or released within the last 12 months. That means twice as many chances to whip out your cell-phone camera for a sneaky celebrity photo-op. (LM)
Worst of 2007: Mayor and City Council Butt Heads
The banter between Mayor Martin Chavez and city councilors this past year was so over-the-top, it was almost nominated for the Best Daytime Drama Emmy. The mayor and the Council starting trading jabs as early as February surrounding the $160 million semiannual capital budget for city infrastructure (Chavez didn't like that). In the fall, the Council withheld funding for the city animal shelters (Chavez didn't like that, either) due to the mayor creating a new department without Council approval. The relationship between the two governmental bodies were so strained, the mayor's endorsement of candidates running against councilors seeking re-election raised questions about "puppet candidates" ready to do the mayor's bidding if elected. (AD)
Worst of 2007: Job Security
Intel announced plans to ax more than 1,000 jobs. Los Alamos National Laboratory is planning to lay off between 500 and 750 workers. Sandia National Laboratories will probably cut between 40 and 80 jobs. PNM dropped 150 employees. Cornell Companies, which runs a Downtown jail in Albuquerque, laid off 82 workers. About a hundred temporary production employees lost their gig at Eclipse Aviation. Road contractors threatened in October to lay off 4,500 workers because there isn't enough government money for road work. It was not a good year for steady jobs in New Mexico. (MD)
Best of 2007: A Statewide Minimum Wage Hike
Santa Fe's known it for a long time, and Albuquerque caught on last year: $5.15 just ain't what it used to be. Even the federal government, which hadn't raised the country's minimum wage from the paltry sum since 1997, had a mild surge in conscience this summer and hiked the nation's base pay to $5.85 an hour. But New Mexico did one better, raising the state's minimum to $6.50 starting Jan. 1, 2008, and $7.50 on the first of the year after. Santa Fe, which has a minimum of $9.50 with regular adjustments for inflation, and Albuquerque, which has a minimum of $7.15 in 2008 and $7.50 next year, will keep their higher rates.
Drawback: The state raise isn't much, and we’d rather see some legislation that would raise base pay with inflation. Still, it's a hell of a lot better than the nation’s paltry raise. (CC)
Worst of 2007: TIDDs Go to Sprawl
Tax Increment Development Districts were created for the revitalization of blighted inner-city districts. City and state taxes are diverted to developers to build infrastructure. City government allowed TIDDs to go to fringe (sprawl) developments on undeveloped land. The City Council voted to keep TIDDs to their original purpose, but Mayor Martin Chavez vetoed their decision. So taxes of tomorrow will pay for the SunCal development going into the old Atrisco Grant lands on the Southwest Mesa, potentially adding to the Westside's troubles. The move also opens the door for other developers to misuse TIDDs to their advantage. (MD)
Best of 2007: Transportation
The Rail Runner is a little more than a year and a half old and has nine stations in service between Rio Rancho and Belen. The roadrunner-themed train that probably could has captured our car-bound imaginations. Now we're anticipating the train to Santa Fe slated to open sometime in 2008. Likewise, the ABQ Ride made strides this year by opening the Rapid Ride Blue Line between UNM and the Westside and in granting free rides to UNM and CNM students.
Drawback: May we plead with the city, for the billionth time: Please start running the Rapid Ride After Dark year-round. (JCC)
Best of 2007: Domenici Announces His Retirement
Pete Domenici's retirement from the U.S. Senate brings needed change and creates political drama for the ’08 election season, relished by journalists and news junkies alike. Plenty of New Mexicans didn’t always agree with his decisions, and local Democrats are champing at the bit to take his seat.
Drawback: As a senior-sitting senator and one of the longest-serving in U.S. history, Domenici's elder statesmanship culled some serious pull for New Mexcio. Will a new electee have the same power? (JCC)
Worst of 2007: The Grade-Change Scandal
APS gave preferential treatment to a high schooler who has parents in high places. The Rio Grande student had a grade changed from an F to a D by an APS administrator so he could graduate. The change came at the objection of both the teacher who had given him the F and the school's principal. The service was not provided to a number of other students in a similar position: So what made this student so special? His parents are former APS board member Miguel Acosta and County Commissioner Teresa Cordova. (CC)
Best of 2007: Public Financing Road-Tested
Voters are always complaining about crooked politicians and the dirty elections that get those politicians into office. The election process has become muddled, with candidates more concerned with raising dough—thereby playing into special interest money—than with clarifying their platforms. Public financing aims to fix that by allowing candidates to use public dollars instead of scrounging for their own. There are a number of requirements candidates have to meet, including getting signatures from 2 percent or more of the voters in their districts and $5 donations from at least 1 percent of those voters. Albuquerque voted for public financing on a ballot initiative in 2005, but 2007 was the first time it was used in the city. The majority of City Council candidates this year used public dollars, and though there are still flaws that need to be worked out, we’re excited to see this promising new system hit the ground running. (CC)
Worst of 2007: The Guild Gets Violated
On what must have been a very slow news day in early December, a local TV news station called City Attorney Bob White to ask what the city was going to do about Self Serve’s Pornotopia. White counted this as a complaint about the film festival, sparking last-minute action against the Guild Cinema. The Guild was not penalized but was hit with a zoning violation, and TV news proved it's better at creating stories than reporting them. (SM)
Best of 2007: Medical Marijuana Legalized
Compassion scored a blow against the status quo in July when marijuana became legal for medicinal purposes. New Mexicans suffering from cancer, HIV and other serious medical conditions can now use marijuana to help cope with their symptoms.
Drawback: Things took a turn for the worse when the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) said it wouldn't provide marijuana for patients as specified in the original law. The state then passed a law that said it was OK for the ill to grow their own pot, but it couldn't guarantee federal law enforcement would let that fly. Then DOH announced in December that it would give out licenses to individuals, state-run programs or private companies that would let them grow and distribute marijuana, but the DOH still won't touch the stuff. (SM)
Worst of 2007: Crime Increases
Stop the presses! Just kidding. Violent crime in Albuquerque still far surpasses the national average, while rising property crime rates are also nothing to joke about. With an understaffed APD and an overstaffed population of thugs, this year Albuquerque continued to be desperately in need of change. (JCC)
Best of 2007: New Coach Fires Up the Lobos
With nearly a dozen wins already under its belt this season, the Lobo men’s basketball team is back on track under the direction of new head coach Steve Alford, who took over this year for embattled ex-coach Ritchie McKay.
Drawback: Alford didn't come cheap. With a price tag of $975,000 a year, many wonder whether UNM should be paying that kind of money to someone who earns a living improving jump shots. Even so, the men’s basketball team is the only sports program at UNM that pays for itself with ticket sales, and there are plenty of college coaches out there making more than Alford. (SM)
Worst of 2007: Desert Rock Power Plant Approved
Our culture is changing: hybrid cars are surging in the marketplace, building codes are being updated to include standards for energy-efficiency, cities are rewarding their citizens for switching to energy-saving appliances. Suddenly, our culture is aware of the need to use energy responsibly and sparingly. And then a massive, coal-burning power plant moves into the Navajo Nation. The plant was approved this year and will be running by 2013, generating 1,500 megawatts of power. The project’s developer, Sithe Global, claims the plant will burn cleaner than other coal-users, but it’s estimated emissions still won’t meet standards for the State of California, a forerunner in regulating pollution. New Mexico may be taking a lot of baby steps forward in the world of clean energy, but this plant is a huge leap backward. (CC)
Best of 2007: Richardson for President
He may have accidentally said homosexuality is a choice, then tried to explain the gaffe with jetlag, and he may have fumbled an interview here and there. But we're hoping Gov. Richardson's national visibility will teach our fellow Americans that New Mexico is a state, and you can even drink the water here. He's said some good things about war and health care, and we're proud of our homegrown contender.
Drawback: He's not really governing the state right now, is he? What's this Legislative Session going to be like with an absentee chief? (MD)
Worst of 2007: Albuquerque Tribune Teeters
The end of 2007 didn't bring about one looming premonition: The last edition of the Albuquerque Tribune. The Scripps Company announced in August it planned to find a buyer for Albuquerque's afternoon-edition daily. If a buyer could not be found, Scripps would shut the Trib's doors. Scripps received one offer from D.W. Turner, a public relations firm with its eyes on daily publishing. So far, there has been no word if the offer is being seriously considered. The loss of the Tribune would be a sad day for news coverage in Albuquerque.
Silver Lining: The Trib hasn't shut down yet and continues to dig up stories and maintain a strong Web presence. (AD)
Best of 2007: Rio Rancho Mayor Resigns
Mayor Kevin Jackson stepped down from his post after an investigation concluded he used a city-issued credit card for personal purchases. More than that, Jackson was also the executive director of Best Choice, a nonprofit that preaches abstinence to teens. He was behind the "purity ball," in which daughters pledged their chastity to their fathers. Jackson also billed the City of Rio Rancho and Best Choice for the same Florida trip. So big ups to Rio Rancho for calling for this guy's resignation. But it’s too bad the city didn’t have a more hardworking and ethical leader. With Intel laying off 1,000 workers and Rio Rancho growing and changing every month, it could use one. (MD)
Best of 2007: State Outlaws Cockfighting
Louisiana is the only place fans of the bloodsport can go to watch roosters armed with razors fight for their lives. The practice was banned in New Mexico this year. Participants, including spectators, face a fourth-degree felony after they're caught three times. Many groups in the state called for a law against cockfighting for years, and bills on the topic fluttered and died on the Legislature floor in the past. The final passage of this measure marked a major victory for animal rights in our state. The legislation also outlaws dog fights. (MD)
Worst of 2007: APS Campus Cops Pack Heat
Albuquerque Public Schools police have long been prohibited from wearing their sidearms during school hours. After a 5-2 vote of the Board of Education, that rule was lifted. A couple weeks before the vote, APS police staged a sickout, or blue flu, with 26 of 32 officers shirking their duty to protect schoolkids on the grounds that they needed to carry guns on campus. The board caved to their dangerous demand, arming an underpaid security force that already maintains an unstable, contentious relationship with the population it protects. (MD)
Best of 2007: Gay Pride Swells
New Mexico's largest gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) event got louder and prouder in 2007. According to organizer PJ Sedillo, this summer's Albuquerque Pride celebration was the biggest in the 31-year history of the parade. Pride Day is an international gay rights rally that Albuquerque's GLBT community began observing in 1976. That first year, about 25 people marched up Central to Morningside Park. On June 9, 2007, it's estimated that more than 10,000 people lined up along the Central parade route and filled the Expo New Mexico fairgrounds. The Alibi was proud to be there, too. (LM)
Worst of 2007: Harvard Bungalows Disappeared
Do you remember when Harvard between Central and Silver was one the most charming blocks in the city? That was back when it was still called the Harvard Mall, before, in some ill-conceived attempt at branding, it was renamed "The Brick Light District." In 2007, yet another insult to the integrity and authenticity of the Harvard Mall was handed down from the angry gods of real estate development. The historic bungalows that housed small businesses were removed, making way for retail space and apartments. A big up yours to the Harvard Mall Partners LLC, from me to you. (JCC)