Why Richard Berry Won The Mayor’s Seat

Jerry Ortiz y Pino
5 min read
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The morning after the municipal elections, as I was removing droopy “Romero for Mayor” signs from my front lawn while a steady drizzle soaked my jacket into a leaden metaphor for my soggy spirit, I got a cell phone call from a friend (actually, now a former friend) who was calling just to berate me.

As I trudged around the yard he informed me that “this one is on you, buddy, on you and all your so-called ‘progressive’ friends who’ve now handed City Hall over to the Republicans! I hope you’re satisfied.”

No, it wasn’t our now-defeated mayor on the phone; it wasn’t even anyone who works for him; just a political junkie who’d warned me two months ago that supporting Richard Romero was going to backfire since we’d split the vote with Chavez and wind up with a (shudder)
Republican on the 11 th floor.

Since the last “Republican” we’d had on the 11
th floor was Harry Kinney and I had come to feel genuine affection for that recently deceased gentleman, I didn’t worry too much about the threat. Further, I know Richard Berry casually, and I’ve always found him to be smart, hardworking and courteous, not necessarily bad qualities in a mayor.

And there is that thing about these municipal elections supposedly being nonpartisan, a characteristic our local fish wrap
used to place great store by, but which it now conveniently suffered amnesia about as the state and county GOP poured manpower, cash and sophisticated resources into the “nonpartisan” fray.

So maybe we ought to get real and dump the concept of nonpartisanship. Just recognize the inevitability of the parties’ involvement, add in a round of primary elections to pick the two party nominees, and skip the absurd runoffs and 40 percent-gets-you-elected rules. At least that way everyone would be playing by the same set of rules that other elections have to follow.

I have to admit that for the past six months I hadn’t ever seriously considered the possibility that Richard Berry might win. I mean, for years I’ve been describing Martin Chavez as our “Mayor for Life,” the Teflon Mayor, the
Albuquerque Journal’s favorite politician, a shoo-in for re-election as long as he stayed interested in the job. Apparently neither did Richard Romero, who used up all his ammo blasting the incumbent and never did explain why we shouldn’t vote for Berry … or for Romero.

Boy, were we wrong. So what happened? How could a Republican win in a three-way race with two Democrats this year when another Republican couldn’t manage it in a three-way race with two Democrats four years ago? “Marty in the middle” was just as much in the middle four years ago against liberal Eric Griego and conservative Brad Winter as he was this time, but back then he won handily. What changed?

And where did the 40,000 vote margin by which liberal Barack Obama won Bernalillo County just last year disappear to?

First, I think you have to credit Richard Berry himself for having run a very smart race. He won it by activating his base of GOP voters … and by making sure the overall turnout was lower than four years ago. Most of that 40,000 Obama margin didn’t even get to the polls this time around. Only 25 percent of the city’s registered voters managed to find the 15 minutes it took to cast their ballots during the month-long voting window.

Berry was surprisingly strong in the northwest part of the city across the river, an area where Chavez had piled up big margins in the past. Not this year. Berry worked those suburban regions hard. As a result, they stayed loyal to their Republican affiliations.

And since Romero curiously chose to campaign primarily on the same issues of public safety and fiscal caution that his two opponents were pushing, the progressive voters who’d flocked to Obama’s banner last year were faced with a choice of three candidates, none of whom sounded particularly progressive. Not surprisingly, most of them stayed home.

That proved, as it has in so many previous elections, to be the one way for a party (the Republicans) with only 35 percent of the registered voters in this state to win over one with almost 50 percent: They actually vote! Who would have thought?

So, yes, the Democrats got mugged. But Mr. Chavez and Mr. Romero didn’t mug each other; their muggings were self-inflicted. Instead of communicating clear messages about their solutions for Albuquerque’s problems with the intent of exciting the voters’ interest, they opted instead to blast their opponents with negative accusations.

And once again, the predictable result of negative campaigning occurred: It reduces voter turnout. Sure, Berry’s campaign was also negative. But when all three candidates’ barbs were flying around wildly, it induced in the electorate an attitude of “a pox on all your houses.” That is, unfortunately, precisely the formula for success Berry was counting on. The Democrats mugged themselves.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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