There was a time a few months back when I seriously doubted that Mayor Martin Chavez would run for re-election. At the time he looked, for all the world, like the latest in our long procession of single-term city leaders left as road kill on the municipal median.
He'd been hammered badly in the press over the ABQPAC ethics stinkeroo. His stealth road bond attempt at paving over the Petroglyphs had been soundly defeated at the polls. His budgetary woes had produced three consecutive years of cut-backs in services and no raises for city workers.
There was much nasty muttering in governmental hallways about his nonelectability. It looked like his once-promising political future was seriously detoured.
But what a difference a few months make! Especially a few months blessed with the gentle spring rains of revenue from the quarter cent increase in the gross receipts tax. Raises all around! Let's open new facilities! Buy more police cars! Hire a full staff for the balloon museum! Go to China on a panda purchasing trip of vast importance!
And most of all, don't let a single day go by without a picture of some energetic demonstration of executive leadership gracing the front page of the morning daily and leading off the 10 o'clock news on television. Seine those endangered minnows! Lock up that graffiti vandal! Knock down those derelict buildings! Shed those horn-rimmed glasses! Read stories to those kids! Cut that ribbon!
The guy is everywhere. New life is surging in the old campaigner's gut. He is clearly running for re-election, running hard and running with purpose. There is a bounce in his step again, a glint in his eye.
Question is, can he win? The polls say yes. Oh, his popularity hasn't suddenly surged to match his energy level. He'd still have a tough time pulling in 30 percent of the votes if the election were held today. But 30 percent will do very nicely in a multiple candidate race without a run-off. And we won't have a run off. And we will certainly have multiple candidates.
You don't have to go too far outside the walls of City Hall to find several wannabes carefully weighing their odds, at least three on the City Council. Brad Winter, Eric Griego and Michael Cadigan are all rumored to be studying the Racing Form closely, counting their spare change and talking to potential supporters.
It wouldn't seem right to hold a mayoral election without Bob Schwartz, who came within a few points of toppling Marty last time around. Our former district attorney has been commuting to Santa Fe as an advisor on crime and justice matters to Gov. Bill Richardson, a pretty tame and largely shadowy assignment for someone who enjoys mixing it up in public as much as the flamboyant Schwartz.
Should he choose to enter the fray, Schwartz would have to be considered a serious contender. Not only did he come close in 2001, but he enjoys campaigning as much as Marty does and is a skilled debater and sloganeer, an opponent to be feared. His talent for coming up with issues and characterizations which capture the public's attention is legendary. He would not miss an opportunity to rub a little salt into Chavez' many wounds.
If he is the only Republican in the race, I don't think Schwartz can lose. However his maverick reputation and the current state of Hatfield-McCoy civil strife within the usually placid Bernalillo County GOP makes it highly likely that there would be some more traditional Republican who will be that Party's designated torch bearer in this supposedly non-partisan election.
One of the ironies of this situation is that Chavez was not enthusiastic about going for the tax increase which now has potentially salvaged his political future. He resisted going for that particular life preserver for two painful years while the city's budget status and his own electoral fate both spiraled uncontrollably downward. He was frozen into inactivity by a self-imposed paralysis. He would not be the one to ask for more money.
I don't think he has ever lived down the accusations that had been hurled at him during his failed run for governor. His opponent, Gary Johnson, derided Chavez as just another "tax and spend liberal" and he never responded effectively to those charges, losing badly in a race he might have won if he'd been able to deflect that image.
The consequence was that he seems to have made a blood oath never to be called a liberal again. He certainly seemed to relish the challenge of carving out a fiscal conservative reputation for himself from the mangled hide of municipal services. Yet when all the slashing and trimming was done, he ultimately had to acquiesce to the call for an increase in the city's share of the gross receipts tax.
Which could be the step that ends up saving his electoral butt.
So the legend of Marty Chavez may march on, abetted by the sheer number of his opponents who will cut up the voting pie and the availability of municipal revenue that he didn't pursue but will gladly spend. Politics can certainly seem amazing, can't it?