I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
If Albuquerque weren’t in the throes of a protracted drought, if the Rio Grande watershed in San Juan Mountains weren’t drying out, if the Colorado River basin weren’t in a the tenth year of a drought that threatens the water supply of major cities in seven western states including ours, if global warming were the hoax that a few cranks think it is,if the housing bubble hadn’t exploded, if peak oil weren’t just around the corner, and the recession weren’t causing everyone to lose many nights of sleep over just keeping their businesses alive, this year’s mayoral race might be par for the course.
But it’s really a disaster. This is a time of worldwide transition that has startling local ramifications that no candidate is addressing. Residents in neighboring Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Diego are having dialogues about the future. Albuquerque is still living in the past.
Candidates are talking about crime, education, jobs, budgets, helping small business, and the inner workings of City Hall as if these were normal times.
But this is city government. Not state government. Not the federal government. Talking about stopping crime and helping small business, and ramping up jobs, and even education are like city candidates talking about “whipping inflation” in the Eisenhower era. Just how much of this can one reasonably hope to accomplish on the city level? How do you help small business in a city? Lower the $35 occupation tax? Come up with city jobs in a bare bones financial environment?
For a city government to help put people back to work in a flat line recession requires powerful innovation, a new view of urban possibilities, an intricate, well-conceived vision and strategy for retrofitting what’s dysfunctional now and will soon be a huge burden on everyone – sprawl and its various wastes. Putting people back to work—in a town that thrives on the building trades when few buildings are getting built—requires a whole revisioning of the city. If you’re trying to jump start an economy in a drought caused by global warming in an age of peak oil and skyrocketing future energy costs, you deal with those issues on an urban level, you struggle to build an economic strategy around them, not ignore them.
We need to think in public about what used to be unthinkable possibilities, like not having enough water to sustain current populations, much less grow to a million people. We need public discussion about the relationship between the city and the countryside, urban water users and rural water users and agriculture. We need to get serious. Not mumble platitudes and give off jolly smirks.
And solving Albuquerque’s crime problem is not a doable goal for any mayor. Keeping it in check is, perhaps. But successful law enforcement requires the money and the talent to ensure a high quality, above-board, moral police force working every hour of every day. Few cities have that kind of money or that kind of leadership. It took a genius in Los Angeles to pull that off – Chief William J. Bratton, who also ran the NYPD for a while. Albuquerque isn’t that kind of town with those kinds of resources.
The 2009 mayoral election lets us know that nobody is really steering the boat. And it puts us at peril. It echoes the 1981 election between former booster Mayor Harry Kinney and a radio talk show joker named Gordon Sanders, who actually defeated one of Albuquerque’s best mayors, David Rusk, in the primaries. This is almost as bad as the 1985 election which pitted used car dealer Ken Shultz against Jim Baca. It was a race between two Democrats. Few could believe that Baca, who won major concessions from the liquor industry as State Liquor Director and was a recently successful State Land Commissioner, lost to Schultz by 2000 votes. As hard as he tried, Baca couldn’t raise the level of discourse. His opponent and leading news outlets mouthed booster blather and put voters to sleep. In this election, we don’t have anyone anywhere near as far seeing as Jim Baca.
The October 6 mayoral election will result, I’m pretty sure, in a ho-hum run off. No one will get the 40 percent of the vote needed to win. But who wins and loses won’t matter very much as far as the city’s future is concerned. Their campaigns are as relevant to the environmental and economic realities of the moment as phony non-partisan elections are relevant to the party warfare of post-Bush, Obama America.
If the runoff pits Democratic Mayor Martin Chavez against Republican Richard Berry, Mayor Chavez will win. It could be close, but if the Republican party brings in national PR attack dogs to smear the mayor, Chavez will walk away with it. In Democratic Albuquerque, a Republican candidate has his own party’s national reputation to fear. Should the party of Limbaugh and Beck get crazed with its normal nastiness, city voters, as always, will go with who they consider the most reasonable candidate in the runoff.
If, by some miracle, Richard Romero and Richard Berry end up in the runoff, Berry’s nice guy demeanor, empty campaign rhetoric and rightwing voters, might squeak by to win. But no one, surely, can take seriously a candidate who talks about running City Hall like a business. That’s an age old rubric that goes nowhere. City Hall is a government. It serves; it doesn’t profit. If profits are involved, they almost have to be criminal profits that do the public no good. There’s no other way around it.
Romero’s bipartisanship when he was in the state senate does not make him as strong a Democratic candidate as Chavez, even though the mayor is a throwback to the mindset of arch boomer, Republican Mayor Harry Kinney. With partisanship screaming from every pore of every politician, a hands-across-the-aisle kind of guy doesn’t cut it in the eyes of many. Who wants to make deals with present day mad dog Republicans? On the other hand, Romero might be able to spin Berry into a party corner, and attract a winning following of young Obama voters.
Whereas a Chavez and Berry runoff would be about hollow issues, a Chavez and Romero runoff could turn into a legitimate fight over a workable vision for the future, should Romero refine his campaign and concentrate on issues that matter.
While the Albuquerque Journal, which endorsed Chavez, is losing readership, and has already lost ground with young people who want to read things that make them think, The Weekly Alibi is gaining ground, is wired into the Internet world of fast information, and has endorsed Romero.
I find myself rolling my eyes at writing yet another city election column. I’ve been doing this since 1974. It’s hard to imagine how such a wonderful place as Albuquerque could have been afflicted with such basically nondescript leadership.
I put our success as a city to the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of volunteers and professionals who have toiled year after year to preserve open space, to keep our symphony going, to keep alive our public television and public radio stations, to support and build our magnificent museums, our zoo, our botanical gardens, our libraries, our bosque, our homeless shelters, our food and clothing banks, our halfway houses, our emergency rooms, and our schools, university, and community collage.
These behind-the-scenes people have made us a great city. Now we need a visionary politician brave and smart enough to help us think about how we’re going to cope with the realities of the future hard times ahead. Maybe we’ll see one emerge four years from now. I hope it’s not too late.