Politics can get nasty. But when two elected officials nearly come to blows in a middle school parking lot, you know something's amiss. That was the case nearly two years ago, when City Councilor Miguel Gómez and former two-time County Commissioner Ken Sanchez came inches away from a brawl following a Westside neighborhood coalition meeting nearly two years ago. It took a burly city employee, James Lewis, the mayor's chief administrative officer, to break up the ruckus. The argument stemmed from a dispute over the 2003 city road bond, which failed to pass due to the controversial extension of Paseo del Norte through the Petroglyph National Monument.
Now, Gómez and Sanchez are at it again, only this time they've taken it out of the parking lot and into the political ring, facing off for the District 1 City Council seat.
The first hit was delivered by Gómez last week with an injunction request, claiming Sanchez didn't qualify as a candidate because he wasn't a resident in District 1.
Sanchez, who had lived in District 1 for over 40 years until 2000 when his house was redistricted out of the area, marked on his declaration for candidacy that he lived in an old office in the district that was once home to a family business, Gilbert Sanchez Income Tax and Accounting Service, Inc. Sanchez says he has been temporarily residing there while he waits for his new home in the district to be built.
After hearing rumors from other city councilors, among others, that Sanchez wasn't really living at the location, Gómez hired a private investigator to find out. The investigator, Eric Griego (no relation to the City Councilor of the same name who is running for mayor), testified at a court hearing last week that over the course of about a month, he never witnessed anyone entering or exiting the property, and that he didn't notice any other signs that would suggest someone lived there, such as use of either the lights or swamp cooler. He said that he saw some rather seedy activity around the seemingly abandoned property, such as prostitution and drug use, and added that he didn't see anyone actually enter the commercial property until Aug. 11, the day the lawsuit against Sanchez was filed.
Sanchez insists that he has been residing on the property and took the Alibi to the location to prove it, pointing out the queen-sized air mattress he's been sleeping on. "I think this [lawsuit] is a desperate attempt on the part of the other side," said Sanchez.
Last week, District Court Judge Ted Baca denied the request for injunction.
Now both candidates are making bitter claims against each other.
Just prior to the injunction hearing, Sanchez said: "I don't like to knock my opponents ... but [Gómez] is a disgrace to his district and the Council."
Meanwhile, Gómez called Sanchez a pawn in the hand of Mayor Martin Chavez and said Sanchez primarily entered the race out of the mayor's influence.
After attempts to reach the mayor's campaign for comment failed last Thursday, Joanie Griffin, press secretary for Chavez' campaign, said on Friday that, due to the killing of two police officers Thursday evening, "In respect, the campaign is suspending all activity until after the funeral," and was unable to comment.
Sanchez, however, was quick to reject Gómez' claim that he is a Chavez puppet. "The mayor had no influence over my decision to run for Council," said Sanchez, adding that he had been interested in running for years and had actually run once before and lost in 1993 before being elected as County Commissioner.
Gómez, however, said the timing in Sanchez' announcement to run offers proof that “clearly, he's a Marty Chavez candidate.”
Gómez voted against items the mayor wanted included in the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget on July 7, such as funding for a panda at the zoo and a new exhibit at the BioPark.
According to the City Clerk's office, Sanchez picked up his petitions for candidacy on July 8. At that time, he was working as finance director for Mayor Chavez' reelection campaign.
Gómez has also experienced tension with the mayor, such as at a recent groundbreaking ceremony at the West Mesa Community Center.
Gómez said the mayor's office neglected to inform him of the event, despite the fact that it was in Gómez' district and he added an amendment to the CIP budget that restored $1 million for the project—money that the mayor had previously taken out.
According to Gómez, when he showed up at the event, he asked Chavez why he had been excluded, to which the mayor responded: "When you work with me good things happen and when you don't work with me bad things happen." Gómez says more words were exchanged over whether Gómez would be allowed to speak at the event; he says the mayor refused to invite him on stage, but when Gómez took a seat on stage anyway, he was the first person to be introduced by the mayor.
"Marty's a classic bully—when you stand up to him, he backs down," said Gómez. "But he's a vindictive politician; he's said before that he's going to ’get me' and others [because we don't vote along with what he wants.]"
Regardless, Sanchez asserts that he's running a campaign independent of the mayor. "I know the needs of the people here. I've grown up with a lot of these people. I see the dynamics of the Westside changing forever, and I want to be a part of that process. ... Gómez has not been responsive to the needs of the community."
Gómez disagreed. "There's a long list of projects I've accomplished that I'm proud of. I cosponsored the Planned Growth Strategy. I was the one who introduced legislation that made the Coors/I-40 reconstruction a priority. Ken will work hard, and he'll run a good race, but people don't want a councilor who is going to take orders from Marty."
Regardless, both candidates will be on the ballot Oct. 4, when Albuquerque's District 1 voters will settle the argument.
In addition to Chavez, City Councilors Eric Griego and Brad Winter, and David Steele, a retired assistant city planning director, are running for mayor.