A few years ago, the city was in big time financial trouble. It had experienced several consecutive years of flat revenue growth (much of it due to major tax cuts enacted at the state level that severely hobbled municipal income) and a simultaneous growth in citizen expectations for services. The result was a crisis.
Budget cuts announced by the Baca Administration helped turn voters against that team, and in swept the second Marty Chavez tour as mayor. He announced great efforts at belt-tightening, laid off employees, trimmed hours of operation at city facilities like the library and swimming pools, reduced the number of recycling pickups and sought other cuts in every department.
But the budget's revenue column still lagged behind the expenditures and year two of the Chavez term saw further proposals for even greater reductions in services. In the pages of this newspaper I wrote at the time that what the city needed if it was to ever restore service levels to those needed desperately for public safety and security was a tax increase.
I didn't really think Mayor Chavez would be willing to ask the voters for such a step as it wouldn't pass easily (would take real work, in fact, to overcome the knee-jerk anti-tax lobby), and he was going to run the risk of slipping popularity in the polls if he led such an effort.
I was right. He never did propose the tax increase.
Luckily, the City Council, led by Councilor Eric Griego, did bite the bullet. They put together a proposal for a quarter cent sales tax increase. They persuaded the public that this community needed more revenue if we were ever going to have the police, fire and prevention services we needed. And they persuaded the police union, which had torpedoed a similar measure six years previously, to throw its support behind the referendum.
It passed handily. The city's finances have as a result been set in good order. No major cuts are needed—in fact, the battles this year were all over what kind of expansion made sense: pandas or community centers?
I bring this ancient (well, two-year-old) history up right now because I just saw a television ad for Mayor Chavez' re-election which made my jaw drop. In it, while standing first in a deep trough and then on a high pile of dirt (get it?) he takes credit for restoring Albuquerque's fiscal health. Now that's cajones!
The guy did nothing to promote the quarter cent tax increase that bailed out the city and his administration from the depths of the trough (they were digging fast down there, too). He sat quietly on the sidelines while Griego, Councilors Debbie O'Malley, Martin Heinrich and others expended enormous political capital to get the tax passed.
That was his privilege, of course. He didn't have to be for the tax increase. But it is galling that now he's claiming credit for "restoring our fiscal health" when the medicine that produced the cure never crossed his prescription pad.
Now I need to make clear that I am not an objective observer of this city election campaign. I want to say right off that I am an Eric Griego supporter; I make phone calls for him; I planted a Griego sign in our front yard and hosted, with my wife, a fund-raiser for him. So I am not pretending to be neutral. Far from it. I write opinion pieces, after all, not investigative reports or fact-filled narratives.
Still, shouldn't there be some place we could call to check the veracity of the political ads we are exposed to? Of course, this year that's a one-sided question since Chavez is the only one of the four candidates with the plata to buy television ads. And he's bought a lot of them: slickly-produced, full of visual effects, eye-popping with color, sound and motion. He is definitely getting his money's worth.
If only they told a more accurate story than the rewriting of history they contain.
While I'm on the subject of media accuracy and fairness, I have to hand it to the Journal for a complete abdication of even the pretense at either in their profile pieces on the four mayoral candidates. Wow! That was some hatchet job they did on Griego.
I don't know when I've heard traffic citations described in quite the lurid detail or at such lengths as Colleen Heild produced in her "piece" on the councilor. The casual reader would have missed whole swaths of Griego's views on the issues facing the city from the article, while every parking ticket he'd ever received was narrated in agonizing, painstaking exposition.
Hizzoner Marty Chavez, however, about whom the aroma of personal and political scandal has frequently plumed, was depicted in Jim Ludwick's puff profile as a sort of local "Rocky," a scrapper who has surmounted all obstacles to triumph repeatedly and who has long since put behind him the APD evidence room, ABQPAC and Sunport Observation Deck scandals.
I don't think there is much doubt the morning paper will wind up endorsing Chavez. But tipping their hand so far in advance and in that obvious a fashion is bad form.
The polls have Chavez comfortably ahead. But if he doesn't manage more than 40 percent on Oct. 4, there's got to be a runoff against his top challenger. This election is far from over.