Year in Review: News
Best and Worst of 2011
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times
If current affairs came up in 2011 when we were three beers deep, it was catastrophe hour. The problems of the world loomed large. (Unlike the war in Iraq that we all forgot about until it ended with a, “Wait, what?”) It was a packed year around the sphere, from natural disasters and Osama bin Laden’s death to civil unrest and uprisings—and the brutal suppression of those uprisings.
Here at home, things weren’t much different. The Alibi’s highlight reel:
Insane in the Weather Vane
Homes Without Heat During Cold Snap
Temperatures plummeted in early February, and the New Mexico Gas Company was forced to cut off service to thousands of homes around the state. When the Alibi tried to find out whether industrial users got shut off first, the gas co. refused to answer our questions. Despite the PR fiasco—and ensuing hearings at the Legislature—the gas company continued to push for rate hikes throughout the year.
Sky Turns Yellow, Moon Turns Orange
By July, Albuquerque was the eye of a ring of fire. Enormous wildfires miles away sent a haze to the city. As the evening sun set, the smoke came down. Our eyes burned. There was ash in our eyelashes. Some days the sky was yellow, and in the evenings the moon glowed an apocalyptic orange. Towns were evacuated. Vast expanses burned, and in Northern New Mexico, Las Conchas blazed near Los Alamos National Lab. Officials assured the public that the radioactive materials in the area were safe.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Frustrated with the extreme class disparity in the United States—and the bailouts, the housing foreclosures, the lack of jobs—people around the country took action. The movement spread globally, too. Here in Albuquerque, the message was much the same. Hundreds took to the streets for the first march, which left a small encampment at the University of New Mexico. Though the group eventually changed its name to (Un)occupy Albuquerque and the university found a way to force demonstrators off the property, the 99 % have spurred several months of education and unity. Keep your eyes peeled for further actions.
Citizens Demand APD Probe
For all of 2011 and much of 2010, people showed up at City Council meetings to ask that something be done about the Albuquerque Police Department. Family members, activists and concerned citizens pleaded with councilors to spark a change within our police force. When councilors voted to request the Department of Justice look into APD, it seemed that finally they were listening. But Mayor Richard Berry vetoed that request. Jewel Hall, president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Council, called the veto "arrogant and disrespectful." Some councilors attempted an override, but it failed.
Courtesy of the Ellis family
Veteran's Sister Wins One
Jonelle Ellis, a Veterans Affairs nurse, brought a bill to the Legislature in her brother's name. Kenneth Ellis III, a 25-year-old Iraq War veteran, was killed by Albuquerque police. He'd been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury after his return home. Jonelle Ellis helped create and lobby for a bill that requires 10 more hours of crisis intervention training for cadets statewide. It passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
War of Ideas
NPR and PBS Stay Alive
Early in the year, Republicans in Congress waged a campaign to stop federal cash flow to public broadcasting. Pundits argued that NPR and PBS maintain a liberal bias. The cuts would have created a void for the 170 million Americans who use that programing each month, argued fans. In April, the money was spared. "I actually thought we were going to lose our funding," said Paula Kerger, PBS president.
Congressional Republicans battled to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding and remove free birth control from Obama’s health care overhaul. But in the drama that is American politics, few battles are fought as furiously as abortion. "We're hanging onto legal abortion by a thread right now," said Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves. "All it takes is Obama losing the presidency and the next Supreme Court justice being appointed for us to lose Roe v. Wade altogether."
Courtesy of Jesse Lopez
Activists Stand Up for LGBT Students in Clovis
School officials in this small New Mexico town banned certain student clubs from meeting during the school day or using school facilities. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said this decision came in reaction to one teen's attempt to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at the local high school. So demonstrators from around the state gathered on a cold, windy May afternoon in Clovis to show support for the teens in that town. "It just felt unreal," said Steven De Los Santos, who, after the event, was given the green light to form the club.
Homes for the Most Vulnerable
Mayor Richard Berry and Albuquerque's homeless advocates set up a program to put 75 families or individuals into apartments and houses. In late January, volunteers canvassed the city and conducted a survey looking for the people who were in danger of dying because they lived on the streets. The Heading Home program was expected to save Albuquerque money with a decrease in visits to ERs and jails, and fewer emergency calls.
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Toribio’s Sister Sheds Light
Two years ago, when a toddler was found dead and buried in playground sand, the city reacted emotionally. Tiffany Toribio confessed to murdering her son. This year, her sister Emily Apodaca stepped forward to paint a difficult portrait of Toribio's life—and to call out city and state agencies that she says could have prevented her nephew's death. It added depth to this challenging narrative.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
QUQ Loses Its Contract
After 30 years running Albuquerque's public access TV channels 26 and 27, Quote … Unquote, Inc. lost its contract. This came as a surprise to QUQ's employees, who showed up at work to find city officials waiting at the door, ready to inventory equipment. "The staff felt like it was being raided," said Executive Director Steve Ranieri. The contract was awarded to uPUBLIC, but QUQ is putting up a fight and arguing that the bidding process wasn't fair.
For the entire year, construction on the one-ways in the University Area plagued businesses. Shops along the streets saw profits decline, and owners feared closure. The city's answer has been to put up blue-and-white signs on nearby streets to alert drivers that stores are open, despite the chunks of asphalt, construction equipment and pockmarked dirt roadways in front of their entrances.
Darren White Debacle
Kathleen White crashed her car into a curb this summer. Her husband, Public Safety Director Darren White, showed up at the scene and took her to the hospital himself. Rumors swirled of a coverup and improper conduct. Darren stepped down from his high-power post. Independent Review Officer William Deaton ruled Darren didn't interfere, but the responding officer violated APD policy by failing to investigate Kathleen for DWI. The city's inspector general, Neftali Carrasquillo, also ruled Darren did not interfere but said his presence was intimidating.
Ex-UNM Prez Connected to Prostitution Ring, APD says
This summer, APD arrested F. Chris Garcia, a former UNM president, after police busted Southwest Companions, a sex-trafficking club. University enrollment increased under Garcia's one-year interim presidency, including the number of Native American students. Police said Garcia was a moderator and recruiter for the prostitution ring. Police said they found sex toys and porn when they raided his UNM office.
The New Boss
Guv Balks at Film Incentives
It became a favorite talking point of Gov. Susana Martinez during campaign season—emblematic of her anti-anything-Bill-Richardson policies. The Legislature approved a $50 million annual maximum for film incentives. But opponents argue this will do little to help bring film jobs to our state and takes cash from the hospitality industry.
State and City Trash Green Building Codes
Republican leaders in New Mexico pushed out environmental rules created by their Democrat predecessors in 2011. At the state level, a panel appointed by Martinez voted to ax the energy-efficient building codes Richardson spent more than a year putting in place. In December, our right-leaning City Council voted to nix the regs in Albuquerque and replace them with the freshly relaxed state rules.
Veto Stamp Heats Up ...
... from repeated use. Martinez killed 34.5 percent of the measures that managed to make it to her desk after the regular session. This included a bill calling for treatment instead of jail time for nonviolent offenders that's been in the works for years. She also vetoed a bill that would have decreased the penalties for servers who inadvertently serve alcohol to minors.
Night of the Living Driver’s Licenses
As promised, Gov. Martinez pushed to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting New Mexico driver's licenses during the legislative session early this year. No dice. So in the late summer, she announced she would require immigrants to check in and prove they still live in the state or lose their licenses. A state judge blocked her plan. She resurrected the issue during the special session in September. But once again, Republicans in the Legislature and pressure from the guv couldn't get this bill through.
Planking Sweeps the Globe
The “laying down game” took the world by storm, and with it, a host of unconventional terms: chiroplanktor, permaplank (to die), plankophile. In the fall, the Alibi introduced fake planking—flanking—the art of wildly impossible, photoshopped planks.
NASA Gets to Launch One Last Shuttle
About a million people turned up to cheer Atlantis into the stars on Friday, July 8. It was the end of a 30-year NASA program. The mission was initially just a standby and would only launch if someone needed rescue from the International Space Station. A last-minute boost in funding from Congress meant Atlantis would lift off no matter what. NASA chief Charles Bolden said that this was certainly not the last time humans would venture space flight. He said its future lies with private firms. One such enterprise, Virgin Galactic, will launch from New Mexico's Spaceport America. The first phase of construction is set to be completed in January, and the rest by the end of 2013.