As the old saying goes: The last time there was a leak like this, Noah built himself a boat. Of course, to modernize the phrase for accuracy and fairness, we'd have to insert the term "alleged" in front of “leak.”
Either way, the New Mexico Republican Party and Mayor Martin Chavez are embroiled in a controversy over the alleged improper use of a GOP e-mail list that has the Republican Party leadership now promising "vigorous legal action" in an effort to prove that Chavez, a Democrat, used their stolen e-mail list to spam thousands of Republicans with a thinly veiled campaign message.
The controversy started on July 3, when an e-mail was sent to New Mexico Republicans from Chavez under the subject "A Fourth of July Message." It was addressed "Dear Friends" and encourages recipients to "enjoy the many blessings and liberties this great country provides us."
In addition to listing a series of Independence Day activities in the Duke City, the mayor touched on issues that stereotypically resonate with Republicans. He "reaffirmed" his commitment to the basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and added: "As a state senator, I proudly sponsored legislation requiring the display of the American flag in every classroom in New Mexico." Chavez heralded the "sacred rights" of citizens to own and control private property and closed by saying, "I know you will join me in wishing the men and women of our Armed Services the very best, as well as a speedy and safe return home."
Nonetheless, several outraged recipients contacted the state GOP headquarters in Albuquerque the following day. Some complaints even came from out-of-state recipients, who give financial support to the New Mexico Republican Party. One exemplary e-mail, provided to the Alibi by a state GOP official, stated: "I was so mad I immediately deleted it. Add this family to your list of staunch conservative Republicans who don't want to read the pap that is handed down by a spineless liberal who doesn't even know what, if anything, his party stands for."
Republican Party officials promptly began an internal investigation and concluded the mayor's campaign, or perhaps a Republican friendly to the mayor's campaign, stole a private GOP e-mail database that included the names of thousands of Republican voters. As a result, on Thursday, July 7, state Republican Party Executive Director Marta Kramer sent Chavez a letter demanding the list be returned and the culprit exposed, stating: "Mr. Mayor, you have been caught with your hand in our pocket!"
Mayor Chavez did not respond to Kramer's letter.
However, Chavez' campaign spokesman, Tony Pedroncelli, said, "A lot of our campaign supporters shared their friends' e-mails and that's how we constructed our list in a lawful way. None of those e-mails came from the GOP database."
Pedroncelli said the e-mail list had been compiled over several years.
Pedroncelli said the state GOP cast the first stone by running a “smear campaign” against Chavez in late June in an effort to bolster Republican mayoral candidate Brad Winter. Specifically, he referred to an e-mail circulated on June 16 by the state GOP that highlighted Chavez' involvement with ABQPAC, an organization that raised money from city employees and contractors and gave it to Chavez shortly after the start of his current term.
The e-mail also accused Chavez of "using taxpayer money to promote his candidacy through TV and radio ads" and "printing billboards in his campaign colors and background for city work projects with taxpayer dollars." Both claims, Pedroncelli said, are false.
"We're not planning to respond to a false accusation and we're not planning on turning over our internal campaign information," said Pedroncelli. "The Republicans should investigate why they are getting involved in a nonpartisan municipal election."
For their part, the Chavez campaign produced an attack ad last month aimed at Brad Winter's record on voter I.D. legislation, which Winter's campaign denounced as misleading and inaccurate.
Then—still waiting for a response from Chavez—on Monday, July 11, Kramer proclaimed on local TV news that the mayor was being given "public notice" that he had one week to return the list, confess where his campaign got it and promise never to use it again or face legal action.
Kramer said attempts to connect the state GOP and Winter's campaign is a diversionary tactic. "Again, that's not the issue—it's about the stolen e-mail list," she said. "We want it back."
Kramer said Chavez' spokesman has offered conflicting explanations about where the campaign's Republican e-mail list originated—a point confirmed by local news reports.
"First he said it was built over a long period of time, then he said alleged Republican supporters gave him a contact list, then he said he had a near duplicate list. How does he know it's a near duplicate?"
Instead of responding to Kramer's demands and questions, on Friday, July 15, Chavez spoke at a weekly gathering of local Republican Party activists at JB's restaurant near Eubank and I-40. He was invited by organizers as a featured speaker.
On that same day, Kramer said state GOP officials were meeting with their legal counsel to "consider options."
As the mayoral race heats up this year and the air clouds with political rhetoric, it seems the nonpartisan election is taking on a peculiar partisan tone.
It doesn't take a Fox News analyst to discern that Democrat Chavez is making a concerted effort to attract Republican votes away from City Councilor Brad Winter, whose candidacy is synonymous with the only Republican in the race. Chavez, on the other hand, has not produced similar ads attacking any of his Democratic rivals, most notably City Councilor Eric Griego and former state transportation secretary Judy Espinosa, who have both been vocal critics of Chavez.
Marta Kramer said Chavez' campaign strategy is transparent. "He's lost support of rank-and-file Dems, so he has to appeal to Republicans."
Whitney Cheshire, Winter's campaign spokeswoman, repeated that claim last week, adding that the imbroglio over the GOP's e-mail list is between party officials and Chavez and has no connection to the Winter campaign.
"The mayor is going to have a harder time selling himself to Republican voters than he thinks, but that doesn't have anything to do with the size of his e-mail list," said Cheshire. "Voters should consider everything this mayor says with a degree of skepticism. The fact that he's changed his position on this e-mail list is just another example of that."
For now, it's clear the Chavez campaign is not taking the GOP theft allegations seriously, while continuing to operate an aggressive reelection campaign.
"I see the whole story as a little bit silly," said Pedroncelli. "Mayor Chavez has done a superb job moving the city into the future and Republicans, Democrats and Independents broadly support the mayor and his vision."