So much unfolded on the world's stage in 2008 that the happenings of our city and state shrink in comparison.
It wasn't just the media blowing things out of proportion as usual. The year was breathless in the scope and size of events. (See also: gas prices, Wall Street meltdown, presidential election, bailouts, Olympics, Mumbai shootings, shoe-throwing, Prop 8, Somali pirates, Palin erotica ... what didn’t happen this year?)
Forget all that mania and zero in for a close-up on the white-hat, black-hat moments under our chunk of sky.
In no particular order:
Best: Charter Schools Fill Education Gaps
The bell rang this summer inside a jail-based charter school, one of the first in the country. At a media arts charter school, students pushed through the doors a couple months later. The Gordon Bernell High School inside the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center is designed to help inmates earn their diplomas. The New Mexico Media Arts Collaborative Charter School teaches students the skills they need to take full advantage of the state's burgeoning film industry. Both schools are tremendous assets to Albuquerque. (SM)
Worst: Ethics Bills Perish
The state Legislature couldn't find it in its collective heart to get important ethics legislation to the governor's desk. Bills that would allow public financing, create an ethics commission and limit campaign contributions all got the ax. The Legislature dealt a blow to those who want to see politics played fairly and honestly.
Silver Lining: There's always 2009. Perhaps similar bills will pick up steam during January's legislative session. (SM)
Best: New Mexico Clutches Oscar Gold
After paying our dues as a back lot to stinkers like Bordertown, The Flock and Employee of the Month, New Mexico helped pave the way for 14 Oscar nominations and one very big win in 2008. The Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men took Best Picture (and Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor) at the 80th Academy Awards. Much of the celebrated film was shot in New Mexico. Albuquerque acted as El Paso; Las Vegas, N.M., stood in for the dusty hinterlands of West Texas; and production crews built a U.S.-Mexico border checkpoint set on I-25. As for New Mexico on the small screen, acclaim keeps rolling in for the first season of AMC's bleakly comic "Breaking Bad," which walked away with two Emmys in 2008. (LM)
Worst: Fire Ravages the Golden West
The linseed oil-sparked fire destroyed one of the city's most gorgeous concert venues. It also put the Launchpad, which shared a wall with the saloon, out of commission for several months. The Golden West's future remains uncertain. Whatever rises in its place won't have the old-fashioned feel the Golden West possessed.
Silver Lining: Neighbor El Rey got on its feet in a matter of weeks. The Launchpad is also back and in the business of hosting shows nearly every night. (SM)
Best: Duke City Derby Skates to National Championships
The Women's Flat Track Derby Association said it was the biggest seeding upset in WFTDA history. Seeded ninth, the Duke City Derby's Muñecas Muertas bested defending national champs the Kansas City Roller Warriors. This earned the Muñecas a place at the championships. After a season without a home rink—DCD left Midnight Rodeo this year—the Muñecas practiced daily for the mid-November finale in Portland, Ore. Sadly, these hometown heroes lost, and lost bad, to New York's Gotham Girls, who won the tourney overall. No matter. We're proud of the Dirt City skaters for kicking up some dust on a national scale. (MD)
Worst: Rio Rancho School District Does Something Dumb
To save money, RRPS asked teachers with more than three years’ experience to take a voluntary leave of absence without pay next semester. Is there any way this works out well for students? Does this spell swollen class sizes? Primarily brand-new teachers on the roster? And all of them working with shaky morale? (MD)
Best: Hotline Reaches Out to GIs
Servicemen and women returning home from a tour of duty can have a hard time finding medical and psychological assistance. They may also need help finding a way to leave the military. The GI Hotline aids them in solving these problems and many others. It's politically neutral, and the service provided veterans is necessary and often overlooked. Call 404-6427 or, if you’re outside Albuquerque, (877) 447-4487.(SM)
Worst: Dems Bungle Caucus
The Democratic primary/caucus process this year was full of boondoggles countrywide. But in New Mexico, it was an embarrassment. Votes weren't tallied until nine days after Super Tuesday, making our state a national joke. The Democratic Party of New Mexico ran the caucus, and the result was three-hour lines at polls, such a shortage of ballots that some had to be handwritten and a huge stack of provisional ballots (which take longer to count). The state is already known for shoddy elections management; it sure didn't need another public slap in the face. (CC)
Best: Rail Runner Pulls into Santa Fe
This is the moment we've all been waiting for. Even before the Rail Runner was a gleam in Gov. Richardson's Rolex, we sensed the state's full potential might stagnate without a commuter rail linking the state's two cultural and commercial epicenters. See, as old as this state is, our cities retain vestiges of the Old West mentality. We tend to isolate. We look at other populations with a jaundiced eye. We keep our resources to ourselves. The Rail Runner, which began service to Santa Fe on Wednesday, Dec. 17, is just the umbilical cord Albuquerque needs to start sharing with its patrician sister to the north. Same goes for you, Santa Fe. Let's play nice in this sandbox. (LM )
Worst: Night of the Living Ban
After the scandalous, scintillating circus that was the Club 7 bust, Mayor Martin Chavez again suggested a statewide ban on serving alcohol at all-ages events. Two days later, he forgot all about it. On the same day that the mayor's spokesperson Deborah James said Chavez wasn't concerned about club owners who follow the rules, the city filed a request calling "mixed-ages" clubs that serve alcohol a nuisance. Don't toy with us, Mayor Chavez. (MD)
Best: Land of Enchantment Glows Blue
Progressives took home big wins in November as nearly every office up for grabs in New Mexico went to Democrats, who, in many cases, were replacing Republicans. Tom Udall won Pete Domenici's old Senate seat (with Ben Ray Lujan grabbing Udall's vacated Congressional one). Martin Heinrich nabbed Heather Wilson's position in Congress, and Harry Teague got the big votes in southern New Mexico to replace Steve Pearce. We hope this solid team in Washington can start creating all the health care, education, energy and economic reforms we were promised. (CC)
Worst: Cop Tussles with Photographer
A KOB news photographer was smart to keep his camera rolling as he got into it with an APD officer in May. Tensions rose as the officer ordered the newsman to go to the media staging area at the scene of a crime. The photographer walked back to his car and prepared to put his camera away and make his exit. The two then had a minor physical altercation. The cop was fired from the Albuquerque Police Department and hired by the Bernalillo Police Department, which hopefully has better training for fresh officers about how to treat media. (MD)
Best: Manny Aragon Scandal Almost Over
One of New Mexico's pre-eminent politicians over the last 20 years finally pled guilty to three counts in the Metro Courthouse scandal. Manny Aragon, who ruled the state Senate with an iron fist, slipped himself $623,000 in taxpayer money during construction of the courthouse, according to legal documents. Four others have pled guilty as well: Engineer Paul Parra; Sandra Martinez, wife of former Court Administrator Toby Martinez; Architect Mark Schiff; and former Albuquerque Mayor Ken Schultz.
This case has been a smear on the state's pride for years. It's time to move on. A judge hasn't sentenced Aragon, but he could get up to 67 months (about five and a half years) in federal prison. (CC)
Worst: Protester Loses Civil Rights Battle
In 2003, Dr. John Fogarty protested the invasion of Iraq by playing an African drum near the UNM bookstore during an anti-war rally. His freedom of speech was silenced by officers, who dragged him into the street. Fogarty testified that he was exposed to tear gas, pelted with a pepperball and manhandled so aggressively tendons in his wrist were torn. He was carted off in an ambulance after an asthma attack. Police never showed Fogarty their badges or told him their names, he says, and they also declined to tell him why he was being arrested. The Albuquerque Police Department says Fogarty was fueling the protest with his drumming, making it harder for people to hear police instructions. When Fogarty sued the city and APD, the jury sided with the cops and awarded Fogarty nothing for his troubles. The case hurts the cause of those fighting for civil rights in Albuquerque. (SM)
Best: UNMH Leashes Drug Pushers
It's not unusual for drug companies to supply hospitals with stationary and office supplies plastered with drug brands on every available surface. UNM's medical student association called foul. UNM hospital and medical school implemented a conflict-of-interest policy in May after three years of negotiations that will slowly phase out pharmaceutical branding and free lunches from drug companies. Faculty, staff and trainees can't accept gifts on the health sciences campus, and free drug samples will be restricted. Getting brands into hospitals costs pharmaceutical companies about $705 million every year. Good on the medical students for making UNM give up its advertised-on freebies. It's a remarkable change. (MD)
Worst: A Boot Up Your ...
We can thank updated technology for the Year of the Parking Boot. After aeons of not booting cars with a backlog of tickets, the city purchased handheld devices that allow parking enforcers to run license plates as they roam the streets sussing out violators. Once booted, the owner has to either pay the tickets immediately or set up individual court dates for each violation. Sure, people should obey the laws, but after years of nonenforcement, the sudden onslaught of boots is a bitter pill for plenty of city drivers. (MD)
Best: Votes Tallied on Time
During the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, New Mexicans bit their nails for several days, waiting for votes to be counted. The state became a national punch line in both elections because of the lag time between when the polls closed and when the vote count was announced. Though the secretary of state couldn't find someone to fill the elections director post until just weeks before Election Day, New Mexico vote-counters had no major snafus to report on Nov. 4. Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver deserves an especially hearty pat on the back for her part in keeping our ballots in order—and the state out of embarrassing headlines. (SM)
Worst: Rocky Long Blames the Fans
UNM ex-football coach Rocky Long takes some responsibility for the Lobos' 65-69 record during his tenure. But the coach also blames fans for the team's mediocrity. Long says real fans would pack University Stadium regardless of how the Lobos perform. That's a tall order for a town that's never really cared much about football. Recruiting players to play in New Mexico is tough, and Long knows it. Unfortunately for Long, that's the head coach's job—not the fans'.
Silver Lining: New Lobos head coach Mike Locksley will probably emphasize offense, which might entice more folks to check out UNM football. (SM)
Best: Have a Glass of River
It's about time Albuquerque found a fix for its dwindling aquifer. Just this month, city water started coming to your faucet straight from the Rio Grande. This will hopefully prevent water-quality issues and sinking land pockets in the future.
Drawback: There are plenty of folks who are doubtful about this stopgap measure and say it will disrupt the river's ecosystem. There's also concern that river water isn't clean and could add contaminants into Albuquerque's water supply. (MD)
Worst: C de Baca Eats His Foot
Why did he have to say it to the BBC? Bernalillo County GOP chairman Fernando C de Baca was chillin' at the New Mexico State Fair when he told a BBC reporter that "Hispanics consider themselves above Blacks. They won't vote for a Black president." After an outcry, he eventually stepped down from his position. Hispanic voters preferred Obama to McCain 66 percent to 32 percent nationally. (MD)
(CC) Christie Chisholm, (MD) Marisa Demarco, (LM) Laura Marrich, (SM) Simon McCormack