Council Races Offer Tantalizing Prospects

Jerry Ortiz y Pino
5 min read
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In some ways the Alibi food editor probably ought to be the one writing about this year's City Council races because there are enough tasty prospects involved in them to tempt even jaded political palates. There are some recipes for disaster mixed in, as well.

While the big-budget mayoral election will garner most of the media attention during the five weeks between now and election day on Oct. 4, a lot of the most important choices will be hammered out in five district races far from the scrutiny of all but the most dedicated of political observers.

Look at it another way: The five seats up for grabs this month (four incumbents and one wide-open seat) all by themselves could swing the balance of power in city government.

The four seats not contested this year (three progressives and one requisite Northeast Heights conservative), no matter how the current holders scheme, strategize and cajole, cannot by themselves overcome the five positions that are up for selection … if the new councilors share a philosophy.

So City Hall could strike off in a completely different direction from recent trends, no matter who is crowned emperor (er, mayor). Even a notorious arm-twister and belly-bumper like Marty Chavez would have to mind his manners if he faced a City Council stocked with lawmakers who oppose his views.

And if Brad Winter or Eric Griego manage to upset Chavez, their celebration would be tempered if they had to deal with a phalanx of pro-growth councilors loyal to the spirit of Mayor Marty's heritage even if the man himself were out of office.

Worst of all, if both Chavez and a City Council that shares his vision sweep into power there would be no check or balance to temper excesses.

Certainly, Mayor Chavez is eager to have a more malleable Council than the current one. Not that this Council is particularly obstreperous, at least compared to the wild rhetoric, literal wrestling matches and scorn-filled debates of the last couple of Councils. Still, since they occasionally block something or other Chavez wants, he understandably would like to have several more councilors whose pulses are in synch with his own. That way there would be no obstacles in his path.

Thus the mayor is abetting the campaigns of the three incumbents who share his perspective (Cadigan, Mayer and Cummins) and is lending his colors to two others who would add to his margins if they were to win: Ken Sanchez and Diana Dorn-Jones.

Each of those two has a single opponent. Sanchez, a former County Commissioner who until a few weeks ago was the treasurer for Marty's campaign, is challenging the incumbent, Miguel Gómez, in District 1. Dorn-Jones, who resigned from the Chavez administration in order to run, is in a footrace with architect and political new-comer Isaac Benton for the seat in District 3 that Eric Griego is leaving to run for mayor.

Things are particularly dicey for Dorn-Jones, who is in a district that has frequently supported councilors more progressive than Chavez. She is attempting to paint herself as independent of Chavez (which will make her more attractive in District 3 than otherwise), but she also realizes one of her chief assets is her membership on the Chavez inner-circle as Chief Operating Officer, hand-picked by the mayor himself.

Her opponent, Benton, is vigorously knocking on doors. If he comes out of nowhere to win it will be because he worked harder than the opposition; shook more hands, dialed more phone numbers, wore out more shoe leather.

Chavez has taken a major chance backing Ken Sanchez. If Gómez hangs onto the seat he will almost certainly vote far more independently of the mayor than he has in recent months, as he coyly attempted to curry favor with the administration. All that tiptoeing got him was a stab in the back, and if he survives he will not be a pliable partner.

Cadigan, too, has abandoned his initial independence recently, reading his district (probably accurately) as deeply committed to Marty. The Westsider is no dummy and he has moved safely within the mayor's protective shadow … at least for the duration of the election. His sole opponent, Betty Valdez, is not likely to dislodge him since her views on the issues tend to be indistinguishable from his.

There are two Republican women on the Council, Sally Mayer and Tina Cummins. Their votes are almost always aligned with the mayor's position. As a result, they have each drawn three opponents. The very multiplicity of challengers is their biggest advantage. But if either of them should land in a runoff, they would probably not prevail.

Garnering 40 percent of the vote (which is what it takes to avoid a runoff), when you represent heavily Republican parts of town but have propped up the Democratic mayor, is a very tough standard to clear. Not surprisingly, Cummins and Mayer are battling other Republican candidates in their respective races.

So there may not be a million stories in the Naked City Council, but there are a dozen or so doozies—plenty to whet political observers' appetites, regardless of what goes down in the mayoral race.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail

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