Conventional Wisdom

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After reading the negative perceptions of Payne's World [RE: “Your Own Private Albuquerque”, May 6-12; “Breaking with Convention,” Jul 29-Aug. 4; “Life's Rich Pageant,” Aug. 19-25] I thought it time to clarify a few issues with the historical “facts” leading to underutilization of the Convention Center.

Prior to my founding Albuquerque Convention and Visitors' Bureau in 1979-80, the tourism and convention industry was very involved with vested interests in the success of marketing Albuquerque as a division of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. An in-house Tourism Advisory Board reported to the Chamber board of directors. This active nine-member board decided to break away from the Chamber due to conflicting interests and the industry's desire to bypass politics and receive the full 50 percent of lodger's tax for marketing.

Before the City Council approved the new ACVB, we created an 18-member board to oversee the new marketing organization. It was made up of six members from the hotel industry, six from other tourism segments and six at-large.

The board of directors for the ACVB has always had a very vested interest in the success of marketing Albuquerque. The mission of the board is to make Albuquerque a unique destination for visitors and to market the convention center and noncenter business.

Booking noncenter business is important to the success of the city. This creates compression to the downtown hotels and convention center for other events and, of course, increases additional lodgers' tax to support future marketing for the convention center.

In recent years, many convention centers have experienced a lower utilization rate due to several factors. However, the Albuquerque center had its own unique problems including the deferred maintenance, poor convention servicing, problems with cleanliness, severe security issues; and word would get out to the meeting planner world that Albuquerque had problems. These issues were in my report for the Mayor's Transition Team several years ago, but no action was taken. This challenged ACVB to carry out its mission.

I applaud the city in privatizing its management last year. However, the city has contributed to the center's financial hardships. The city's use of the other 50 percent of the lodger's tax for tourism related facilities has often times been used for non-related tourism facilities. The result has added an additional bond debt of close to $20 million bringing the total bond debt close to $70 million. How can one hold the marketing organizations responsible for the city increasing amortization of the additional debt earmarked against lodgers' tax without additional marketing dollars; and no benefit of what the bonds should have been used for at the convention center?

In past years, the city has cut the marketing organization's budget in mid-year and during marketing campaigns to rebuild lodgers' tax reserves with this excess bond indebtedness for nontourism related facilities. City officials have requested the Bureau to oversee special events with no additional funding. One year the city requested the Bureau to manage the Albuquerque Film marketing and funded them $10,000. The next year the funding was cut, but they had to continue the responsibility and costs of film industry marketing.

The city has contracted with independent consultants to improve the city's measurements of marketing performance for ACVB and HCC. Despite the costs of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours complying with new measurements, the ACVB has continued to excel far above those new criteria.

The city never measures all tax revenues generated by the ACVB and simply looks at convention center revenue against expense. Often large conventions demand low or no costs for convention center space. In recent years, the ACVB has had to budget funds to pay the city for that space virtually lowering their marketing dollars.

Prior to 1980, the marketing of tourism and conventions was conducted out of the Chamber's office in the convention center with no rent. Then with planning of the west complex expansion, the design included ACVB space, but due to cost overruns the office space was eliminated and again subjected the Bureau to renting space further diluting the marketing dollars by several thousand a year.

In summary, when lodger's tax is diluted, additional missions are added by city officials and a marketing organization is handicapped with an inferior convention center, the bookings diminish. However, I find it interesting that lodgers' tax growth continues with noncenter business and tourism to the city.

Wilson And Women

I attended the Women Impacting Public Policy awards luncheon today and was appalled at the hypocrisy of Congresswoman Heather Wilson. The mission of the organization and the theme of Wilson's speech was advocacy for women in business and a celebration of the anniversary of a woman's right to vote—a sign of just how far women have come. This is where the hypocrisy is at an all time high: How can women succeed in business, or indeed appreciate the rights we have, if we do not have full control over our reproductive health? How can Wilson talk about opportunities for women and at the same time vote to keep prohibiting military personnel and their dependents from obtaining privately funded abortions at overseas military hospitals (HR 1588, 2003), vote to keep federal employees from choosing a health plan that includes an abortion option (HR4871, 2000), vote to uphold the global “gag” rule which denies family planning assistance to any organization that uses its own private funds to provide abortion services (HR 4811, 2000) and vote to restrict access to emergency contraception pills, which can greatly reduce the chance of pregnancy (HR 4577, 2000). Wilson is not an advocate for women's opportunities. Quite the opposite is true. Access to contraception and abortion is an integral part of women's health and family planning, which is directly related to women's capacity for advancement and opportunity.

Keeping Up Appearances

I want to express my appreciation for one of your articles [RE: “Thin Line,” Aug. 19-25] in the Alibi, which discusses how the media fails to stress that President Bush’s campaign “appearances,” are almost always restricted, staged, events.

The media can be very good at regularly adding a buzz-phrase to some thing or event when they want to (the only example that comes quickly to mind is “The ‘Israeli-Occupied’ West Bank”). You would think that they would at least use a phrase like “supporters-only” whenever referring to a Bush event; they don’t even have to regularly dwell on the issue.

Our wonderful Albuquerque Journal regularly makes me gag with their shamelessly pro-Bush “news” coverage. A recent gagger was when ‘reporting’ on his recent Albuquerque appearance (wasn’t it at a closed hangar at the centrally-located Double Eagle Airport?), they simply had a big headline about Bush wowing a cheering crowd, while running an article along side about how Kerry’s last rally here caused cars to be towed.

Call Off Your Goons

No more than a month ago I'd read with some distress an account of a Nader rally in Cambridge, Mass. At the event Ralph Nader pleaded with John Kerry to “call off your dogs,” alleging that Democrats were harassing his petitioners and obstructing his balloting efforts in court.

How awful, I thought. Shame on those bully Democrats, behaving like this. Then I came face-to-face with a Nader petitioner hired by the Florida-based marketing firm JSM.

This man was a far cry from the genial, green-shirted Nader supporter who strolls up and down Central collecting signatures and occasionally engaging volunteers at the Kerry/Edwards headquarters in friendly debate. This petitioner was an unabashed Bush supporter who didn't seem to mind my alarm at his political sympathies or my witnessing his jovial interactions with several self-identifying Republicans. Over the course of 10 minutes, I watched him eagerly greet a man who said “I'm a Republican. Sure I'll sign that” and give an approving nod to another who declared, “George Bush, the man who's going to defend our country.”

The petitioner I'd encountered evidently isn't the only JSM employee on campus who venerates our current president and his politics. Later that day KUNM reporter Christa Pino interviewed petitioner Don Lee, who admitted to being a Bush supporter and to having been sent to Cincinnati by JSM to protest gay rights.

Surely, I reasoned, the Nader campaign wouldn't want this. Surely, if they knew who was doing their footwork they'd fire JSM immediately or at least do something about the petitioners on campus who subscribe to politics anathema to Nader's.

I called Nader's New Mexico balloting chairwoman with this expectation, only to be countered with a canned defense of Nader's use of JSM. I objected. From my vantage point, it seemed more like JSM was using Nader. Anyone who reads the articles complied by has got to wonder whose side this company is on. The San Francisco Chronicle (7/13) describes a JSM Nader effort in Nevada that was supervised and financed by a Republican political consultant. The Charleston Gazette (7/20) details how JSM employees wore “W '04” stickers and sought signatures for Nader at Bush campaign rallies and other Republican events.

I'd like to believe that the Nader campaign is hanging on to JSM because they're scrambling to make up for lost time; they procrastinated in their push to collect signatures and the deadline is looming. Still, hiring JSM seems a very poor solution indeed. Its Bush-loving employees are reportedly being paid rates-per-signature that would tempt a corporate lawyer. Wouldn't it make more sense to spend such sums on the green-shirted Nader loyalists people who genuinely want Nader to be president?

What I fear, though, is that the Nader-JSM partnership is indicative of something else: an excess of righteousness on the part of some Nader supporters—a belief in a glorious end that is so absolute it forgives the ugly venality of its means.

Sometime after my conversation with the Nader chairwoman, I learned that our exchange fit a pattern. JSM does a suspiciously good job collecting signatures from Republicans, a Democrat makes some “whiny” objection, and the Nader campaign answers with bizarre claims that the Republicans rallying to their balloting cause are genuine supporters.

Thus, I invite the chairwoman of Nader's New Mexico ballot drive to come to campus and meet her Republican petitioners and signatories, to ask them for their views on the immediate withdrawal from Iraq, raising the capital gains tax and other cornerstones of Nader's platform. Heck, the name of Nader's running mate would probably do just fine. Come to campus and put your “Republican sympathizers” argument to the test.

In the meantime, I and my fellow (unpaid) college Democrat “dogs” will be doing your job—informing people of JSM's duplicity and, hopefully, running the goons off campus.

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