Best and Worst of 2009
The year in New Mexico drugs, murders, scandals and achievements
Best: U.S. Attorney General Tells Feds to Lay Off State-Licensed Growers and Patients
The notice known as the "Holder memo" doesn't have the force of law. But when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told federal prosecutors not to waste time hunting those who follow state medical cannabis regulations, attitudes changed in New Mexico. Patients felt more comfortable seeking medication, doctors were more willing to prescribe marijuana and more nonprofits were willing to risk their necks by applying to become growers for the state's groundbreaking program.
Best: King Chavez' Plans Foiled
Man, we hate to paint this guy as a power-hungry king, but he didn't leave us much choice. After having the state Supreme Court rule it would be OK to run for a third consecutive term (in spite of the city rule that says it isn't OK), Martin Chavez lost the election anyway. Term limits are vital to any democracy. Though we're glad the voters of Albuquerque had the sense to oust the guy, we hope incoming Mayor Richard Berry sticks to his plans and serves eight years tops. And can someone please see to re-instituting those mayoral term limits?
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Worst: Drugs in the Water
Amigos Bravos released the results of a water quality study this summer. The Rio Grande is host to pharmaceuticals and personal care products, according to the report. This year the Rio Grande became a source of drinking water for the Albuquerque metro area. The Water Authority says there is no cause for concern, and it will participate in a yearlong study by the American Water Works Association to examine the effectiveness of filtration techniques.
Worst: American Cement Gets the Green Light
The city's Air Quality Division ignored the pleas of neighbors at hearings who objected to increased cement dust in the air, more respiratory problems and a greater traffic burden. A cement transfer station in the North Valley was given a permit to operate 24 hours a day. The good news is the Environmental Protection Agency is examining the permit and whether it's federally enforceable. There's an outside chance the EPA could cause a hitch in American Cement's plans.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Best: Military Religious Freedom Foundation Nominated for 2010 Nobel Peace Prize
MRFF is an Albuquerque-based organization that combats the imposition of fundamentalist, evangelical Christian values on members of the U.S. military. The battle began in 2004 when Mikey Weinstein said his children were pressured to see The Passion of the Christ while enrolled at the Air Force Academy. The academy's actions sparked the fight in Weinstein, the founder of the organization. He got the official notice of his Nobel nomination on Oct. 15. Nominations in 2009 tallied 172 individuals and 33 organizations worldwide, the most on record.
Worst: Women's Remains Found on the West Mesa
Eleven women were unearthed in Albuquerque in early February. The mass grave near 118th Street and Rio Bravo was being developed by KB Home when the remains were discovered. After a year of investigation, no one has been implicated in the murders. A $100,000 reward is being offered to anyone who has information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.
Worst: Domestic Partnership Bill Defeated in the Senate
There was more support for the measure than there seemed, said Sen. Cisco McSorley, who carried it. The legislation would have established that two unmarried people who live together as a committed couple are subject to the same privileges and responsibilities as a married couple. The law would have applied to gay and straight couples alike. But it failed in the Senate in a not-so-narrow vote of 25-17. Some senators would have voted in favor of the legislation if the vote had been close enough, McSorley said. Even though many supporters thought the bill would make it through in 2009, pressure from religious groups and opponents beat it back. But there's always 2010. "It's not a matter of 'if,' ” said one supporter. "It's a matter of 'when.' ”
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Worst: Duke City Derby Loses Its Home
Ticket sales just weren't strong enough to keep holding bouts at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho last season. It forced the Duke City Derby out of town to play a match at the Taos Youth and Family Center, and some players hung up their skates. "It's always a little bit hard to retain everybody when you're in between venues," says league founder Nan Morningstar. But head ref John Morningstar says you can expect to see the derby—somehow, someway, somewhere—this year. Travel team Muñecas Muertas ended the season ranked sixth out of 20 in the Western Regional Tournament.
Best: Guerrilla Queer Bar
Proving the purchasing power of Albuquerque's queer and queer-friendly customers, the GQB began hitting the clubs this year. It's not a venue. Instead, the Guerilla Queer Bar shows up en masse at existing bars every month. "There's not really a good gay happy hour place," said Misti Collinsworth, a co-founder. "There's not really a whole lot of good gay anything here." More than 300 people partied down at One Up Elevated Lounge at the first gathering in August. GQB announces the location and meeting time of each happening on gqbabq.com, and its Facebook and Twitter pages by 3 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month.
Worst: Media Bungles Coverage of Transgender Murders
Two bodies were discovered in the neighborhood east of Presbyterian Hospital this summer. In 2005, a first victim was found in the area. All three were Native American and all had been beaten to death. But though the third victim had lived for years as a woman, the pronoun "he" dominated coverage of her death. Further, headlines skipped the word "transgender" entirely and used the term "cross-dresser." Janice Deveraux, facilitator of Transgender New Mexico, said the coverage diminished the crime and affirmed stereotypes. "They write these stories just to sell papers or get people to look at broadcasts. It's like, Oh, here's another one of those that was doing this, and look what happened."
Worst: Political Investigations and Scandals
Months after bringing the spotlight to New Mexico with his run for president, Gov. Bill Richardson announced he couldn't take the commerce secretary position. Then-President-Elect Obama had nominated Richardson to the post, which our governor backed out of in early January 2009. Why? The feds were looking into Richardson's crew because a California company was given state contracts after donating $100,000 to the guv's political action committees. The investigation concluded in August without charges, but U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said the lack of criminal charges didn't mean anyone had been exonerated.
Far too high is the number of national investigations that link back to potential New Mexico politicians' dirty dealings. Needless to say, ethics reform, tighter campaign contribution caps and increased transparency would do a world of good in Wild West politics.
Best: Warehouse 508 Opens
The long-promised, city-run, all-ages space managed to open its doors after months of funding wars with the City Council. A massive renovation and scrubbing transformed the old Ice House strip club into a clean, bright, professional haven for teens interested in the arts.
Worst: Caldera Freaks Out New Yorkers
Former UNM President Louis Caldera took a job with Obama's administration as the head of the White House Military Office at the beginning of the year. He was forced to resign in May after he orchestrated an Air Force One flyover photo op near the Statue of Liberty. Post 9/11, the sight of the plane flying low over Manhattan's skyscrapers frightened New Yorkers and forced the evacuation of some buildings.
Best: Quote... Unquote Remains Standing
Ex-Mayor Martin Chavez threw a few elbows on his way out of office. One of them was aimed at the nonprofit that operates public access channel 27 and Encantada TV on 26. But even though Chavez attempted to call for new applications for Quote... Unquote's job, Mayor Richard Berry undid the deed. "As far as we're concerned, Berry is rebuking the Chavez administration," said QUQ Executive Director Steve Ranieri.
Best: Death Penalty Repealed
It's among the most significant actions of Gov. Richardson's political life. The death penalty in New Mexico was replaced with a life sentence without parole.