Earlier this year, warring factions in the Republican Party of New Mexico made headlines as back and forth battling led to the defeat of longtime party chairman John Dendahl. Dendahl's defeat was followed a few months later with the abrupt resignation of the person who beat him for the job, former State Sen. Ramsay Gorham. Gorham, whose district represented a chunk of Albuquerque's North Valley, apparently decided to throw in the towel rather than deal with the counterinsurgency she faced at the time.
Back then, the intense nature of the infighting and growing casualty list raised questions about the ability of state Republicans to unify and move New Mexico into the red column for the Bush re-election, not to mention defending a tough re-election fight for Congresswoman Heather Wilson. In hindsight, the Nov. 2 GOP victories make that internal dust up look like dust in the wind.
Meanwhile, the election of a City Council president has raised the curtain on another dramatic local production of political intrigue and party fratricide. Only this time it's coming to us from stage left rather than stage right, and it all revolves around City Councilor Eric Griego's inability to win the Council's top post.
In the 2003 Albuquerque elections, city "progressives" won a number of stunning victories. Not only did they defeat the proposed road bond package with its millions of dollars for the hated extension of Paseo del Norte, they also elected Martin Heinrich and Debbie O'Malley.
Both rookie councilors are more philosophically liberal than the councilors they replaced, but more impressively, their wins came in the face of an extremely well-funded effort by certain segments of the city's business community (calling themselves Citizens for Greater Albuquerque, or CGA) to defeat them, as well as defeat City Councilor Brad Winter. Additionally, the makeup of the ostensibly nonpartisan Council shifted from 5-4 Republican to 5-4 Democrat.
Initially, it appeared that Griego was one of the night's big winners. The Councilor campaigned for both Heinrich and O'Malley and opposed the Paseo extension. His ascension to the Council presidency seemed a foregone conclusion.
It didn't turn out that way.
City Councilor Miguel Gomez—who might be even more consistently liberal than Griego—declined to jump on the Griego bandwagon. Reportedly, Gomez was ticked off with the heavy-handed efforts of Griego and certain other self-appointed leaders within the progressive cause to clear the field for the candidate of their choice in District 6, Heinrich.
Remember, the District 6 race was a crowded one, including Bob Anderson, Linda Doran, Dona Upson, Johanna Tighe and Javier Martinez in addition to Heinrich. Given that all candidates with the exception of Tighe were left-of-center politically to one degree or another, the fear existed that Tighe—as the only Republican and backed with CGA money—would emerge with a plurality to win the race.
At the time, a number of candidates—Anderson, Doran and Martinez (who Gomez backed)—complained about the push by Griego and Soltari consultant Eli Lee to get them out of the race or, barring that, to marginalize their candidacies in order to assist Heinrich.
Anderson has carried water for Green Party and progressive causes for years. Doran, a neighborhood activist, fought long and hard for progressive issues including the Planned Growth Strategy. Martinez, while a newcomer to running for elective office, was young, energetic and a minority—the sort of candidate Griego presents himself as.
In the Utopia of progressive idealism, why should any one of these candidates step aside because the "bosses" say so? Is it an honest-to-God democracy progressives like Griego and Lee want or are we witnessing Albuquerque's version of Animal Farm where some progressives are more equal than others?
Lacking the support of Gomez, Griego settled instead for the Council vice presidency in 2003 with his hopes recalibrated for 2004. Raining on his parade again, however, was Gomez who was joined by current Council President Michael Cadigan in supporting Brad Winter, who is expected to win the job at the Council's Dec. 15 meeting while Griego is reduced to voting for Winter as well.
Word on the street is that Griego and his allies threatened to recruit a candidate against Gomez, who is up for re-election in October 2005, if he didn't play ball and acknowledge the progressive pecking order. Griego may ultimately focus instead on his recently announced bid for mayor but clearly peace, love and understanding go hand in hand with plain old fashioned hardball politics in the progressive world.
The smoke-filled room of yesteryear may be smoke-free these days but the concept is apparently still very much alive and well. In the immortal words of The Who, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Indeed.