It's no secret the local blogosphere gets delirious over political gossip. It's also no secret Mayor Martin Chavez and several city councilors butt heads regularly over development projects. In this year's Council elections, the two non-secrets have collided for a perfect storm of speculation over who's backing whom to push through what. Four women who never previously ran for office are seeking Council seats in the even-numbered districts. They all have connections to Mayor Martin Chavez' administration.
Local blogger Coco recently sparked a Web-storm by posting a critique on www.dukecityfix.com of District 6 candidate Joanie Griffin, Chavez' 2005 press secretary. According to Coco, Griffin's website implies that she has been endorsed by both current District 6 councilor Martin Heinrich and Gov. Bill Richardson. However, Heinrich, who is running for Congress, formally endorsed competing candidate Rey Garduño, and Richardson's quote seemed to be simply a compliment on Griffin's PR skills. Griffin runs a public relations firm and the local dating service It's Just Lunch. She changed her registration from Republican to Democrat this spring before running in the heavily Democratic district.
Another Marty-centric news spasm erupted when Chavez headlined a fundraiser for District 2 candidate Katherine Martinez. Martinez, a relative newcomer to the city, is challenging Council President Debbie O'Malley, perhaps the legislator least likely to rubber-stamp Chavez' bills. Martinez is the director of Government/Community Affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico. Chavez appointed Martinez to his Green Ribbon Task Force on energy-efficient building, and she has consulted on affordable housing.
In Districts 8 and 4, the connection runs through ABQ Ride Director, former councilor and wrangler of Republican votes for Marty, Greg Payne. Trudy Jones is running unopposed for the District 8 seat to be vacated by Craig Loy. Jones is a vice-president of the very large commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis. In 2002 then-councilor Payne appointed Jones to the Planned Growth Strategy (PGS) task force. The 19-member PGS task force was supposed to have four members from the real estate/development community and nine members representing neighborhood associations, one from each Council district. Controversy arose when Chavez and Council allies selected real estate or development people such as Jones for the neighborhood association slots.
Payne popped up again in the District 4 campaign of Paulette de'Pascal when the long, bizarre "Captain, First Mate and Honey Bee" e-mail had the city's political junkies rolling on the floor. The July 14 e-mail was purportedly sent to the wrong address by community activist and Chavez ally Sandra P. Richardson, then leaked to blogger Mario Burgos.
Richardson chastises de'Pascal for acting "like a honey bee, flitting from person to person, seeking their advice and opinion." Richardson obsessively repeats the demand that de'Pascal communicate plans and strategy only through First Mate Richardson to Captain Greg, "the ONLY person to whom [sic] you seek political advice ... THE strategist ... He's 'gold' for this campaign." Payne, who has managed dozens of political campaigns, denies involvement.
None of this is illegal, unless Chavez and Payne are campaigning on city time. In fact, it seems the usual political circus, except the candidates sing in unison regarding the issue of growth, according to a July 6 New Mexico Business Weekly article.
Griffin characterizes the current Council as anti-growth, although she puts in a plug for "smart growth" as opposed to Phoenix-style sprawl. Martinez says it's time for a change in the City Council and wants to see more collaboration between city government and the development industry. Jones says Albuquerque is "a very anti-business city right now" and thinks the Council "should be more proactive, rather than fighting growth." de'Pascal expressed concern that the Council is in a "stalemate" with the mayor. Certainly, no growth equals stagnation. However, the city's political fracture line has long run between protecting current residents' quality of life versus boosting profits by attracting new residents.
A 2003 effort by the development community to elect four councilors failed in all contested races, so this year's campaign may only be Mayor Marty's pipe dream. The outlines of that dream are pretty clear: All four administration candidates win. Councilor Don Harris loses his District 9 recall election and Marty appoints a replacement. Those five, combined with current, mayorally loyal councilors Sally Mayer and Ken Sanchez, give Marty a 7-2 lock on almost every Council vote.