Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just Three Words

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

“It’s the political silly season,” so it has been said. So it’s OK to distort or lie about facts to score negative points in a campaign?

That seems to be the thinking in the mayoral race lately.

KOB TV held a prime-time televised forum at Albuquerque Academy Wednesday.

There were 260 people in the ticketed event, about evenly divided by supporters of the three candidates: Incumbent three time Mayor Martin Chávez, center, former State Senate Pro Tem Richard Romero, right, and State Representative Richard Berry, left.

The sense of the room was that there was not likely a mind to be changed. The audience was made up of strong supporters.

Chávez’ entourage, above, might have been slightly larger, but that’s because the City Hall staff appeared en-masse and took up a fair amount of the front two rows, strategically situated to be in the direct line of sight of their candidate while on camera. In the political theater, it makes sense, Berry’s family and supporters was also similarly situated.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Political campaign forums are pretty much alike. They have a certain carnival atmosphere. The stump speeches vary little except there is a paragraph to speak directly to the hosting organization.

I have attended three events so far this season: the Albuquerque Economic Forum, which hosted the first event, the FOP Lodge 1 event, and the KOB live broadcast. The selection of these venues was made on journalistic pragmatism more than anything else.

A week earlier, at the KNME/KUNM/Alibi/The New Mexico Independent event, Chávez was greeted with boos and jeers. KOB attempted to dissuade outbursts by asking supporters hold their applause until the end of the closing statements.

Chávez' entourage was the first to break the request breaking into applause and cheers when he was introduced.

Before the evening concluded Romero supporters booed and called out that Chávez lied.

I chose this TV event specifically because I knew the lighting would be “better.” TV needs lots of lights. The forum was held in the performing arts building with its theater klieg lights. I was able to use my really long telephoto lens to examine the faces of the candidates. The tight image is referred to as the “60 Minutes” shot. Sixty Minutes uses an extreme close up in their interviews. Their unspoken theory is, the tighter the face shot the more 60 Minutes believes their subject is lying. Psychologically, it is believed that one can read the face and see the tell tail signs of deception.

Ask any mother; she can tell you when her 3-year-old is lying.

The disbelief can also be read on the faces of KOB Eyewitness News Anchors Nicole Brady and Tom Joles. KOB studio anchor Joe Vigil called Brady and Joles mediators.

Chávez, has in particular, manufactured issues to attack his opponents to deflect talking about his own well-established 12-year record. Any incumbent is going to develop a history that is subject to scrutiny; Chávez is no exception. It is why he continually wants to talk about his vision and when challenged about issues, says he wants to put things in the past. Even topics that are currently on going, like the federal civil rights lawsuit involving Bode aviation, because the potential evidence, some believe shows pay to play, Chávez dismisses it as being old news, not worthy of being dignified with a comment.

Chávez’ performances at such events are always extremely slick, his delivery well polished. It isn’t until one takes apart what he says that his arguments fall apart.

Over the past couple of weeks, the cracks in Chávez’ campaign are beginning to publicly appear.

He continues to attempt to spin crime statistics his way. However, they aren’t what he wishes they were. Chávez really upset Sheriff Darren White by using only one-year’s numbers to advance his comparison with the city’s statistics. Over a longer period of time, the County’s trend has not been so bleak, nor the City’s so rosy.

Chávez speaks about being the only candidate who has attended the funerals of slain police officers or visiting wounded officers hospital bedsides. The point is that it would be inappropriate for some wannabe candidate to go to the emergency room to “comfort” an officer who is shot. It is the duty of a mayor. To use the distinction as reason that Chávez should continue as mayor is nothing short of poor form.

Editors Note:

I object that Chávez makes any such claims. The officers he speaks about should be alive today. Though he wishes to say he stands behind his officers, his continued understaffing creates circumstances requiring a “we have to make do with what we have,” attitude. Instead of having the proper amount of training, manning and levels of force for mental health intervention arrests, two highly experienced officers sacrificed themselves in a situation that overwhelmed them because their leadership couldn’t provide the appropriate response strategy.

Chávez touts his openness and transparency, yet he has half-heartedly promoted the ethical public service legislation that never made it to a committee discussion and died an un-ceremonial death as time for action expired.

During his first administration, he refused to sign a bill that included a requirement for a city government archives. Chávez allowed that bill to take effect without his signature. He simply ignored the requirement to maintain an archives; I know, because I wrote the sentence included in the council’s legislation.

Chávez makes claims about how he established openness while in fact he either opposed bills or ignores the requirements of the legislation for which he now claims responsibility.

This post, by way of example, demonstrates the point. Chávez’ multiple department heads have long histories of ignoring inspection of public records requests. Chávez’ Chief Public Information Officer Deborah James repeatedly refuses to send news advisories, Campaign Spokesperson Joan Griffin refuses to send me media alerts and denies that she has sent out any to other outlets. It’s not true, she has sent out material. It is hard to get the message of candidates, if they refuse to communicate. What is worse is when campaigns dismiss journalists and say they are unfair because they weren’t even at an event, to which they were specifically uninvited. That‘s called manipulation of journalism or is the negative side of propaganda.

The Chávez administration opposes Councillor Rey Garduño's, right, proposed piece of legislation that would require reports of contracts be posted on the City’s web site.

Chávez claims to be open; don’t believe it. He can’t even deliver a simple Panda, even though he spent a lot of the public treasury in efforts to acquire, not one, but two of the endangered species. He spent a lot of time visiting and vacationing in China, but his analysis was inadequate and ultimately flawed.

Former Albuquerque police officer John Bode, left, operator of Bode Aviation and Bode Aero at Double Eagle Airport was in the audience. He has a couple of lawsuits pending, one in state courts, currently under consideration by the court of appeals and a civil rights suit in federal court against Chávez' administration. The suits claim retaliation for refusing to pay to play. Bode declined an offer to make a free detour "vacation" trip during an already reduced rate flight to Mexico during Chávez' short lived U.S. Senate run in 2007.

Surveillance tapes recorded by Bode during negotiations with the city aviation department were acquired by Romero's campaign and posted on his website the day before.

KKOB radio's Jim Villanucci spent four hours discussing the posted videos with my blogging buddy Peter St. Cyr, who is KKOB AM NEWS' chief political reporter and has been reporting on this story for several weeks. I provide photographs for his What's The Word blog; he also twitters at Peter 770.

The anticipated confrontation over the tapes and their implications failed to materialize during the forum.

Chávez is silent on issues that he touted, but from which he would later have to back off. The APD Party Patrol, which was found to be violating the constitutional rights of their targets in a 2007 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William "Chip" Johnson. The judge ruled that, officers failed to obtain required search warrants before entering homes where drinking was taking place. Party Patrol’s website has a page listing “Legal Issues” but it fails to address the legal constraints that apply to officers.

This election could be a referendum on the use of automated radar devices, such as red light cameras and the mobile radar vans, like this one at a Lomas Blvd. school cross walk.

Chávez had one member of his security detail in the crowd.

Developer Jason Daskalos had a long multiple-year legal battle involving an arrest for DWI, charges that he received the assistance of an off duty officer friend to remove him from the BAT mobile. The public learned that Daskalos, who fancied himself a race car driver, had dozens of traffic tickets dismissed by an Assistant City Attorney assigned to the District Attorney 's Office Metropolitan Court detail. The officer who helped Daskalos leave the BAT mobile was fired and the Assistant City Attorney resigned. Daskalos eventually was cleared of all outstanding charges.

Daskalos, along with his father, is a developer and have been large political campaign contributors in non-public financed campaigns. Four years ago Chávez's campaign was housed in a Daskalos building at Wellesley Drive and Central Avenue. The 2004 Democratic campaign headquarters also used the building.

The property was slated for development and caused quite a stir in the neighborhood. The original design called for a multi-story business-residential structure. There were several zoning fights. Neighboring business owners and residents objected to the original design as being, "too tall." The design was pared back to three stories.

Construction was suspended while the zoning battle continued. The building is now completed and the first occupant has reportedly moved in.

Chávez started employing robo calls after the KOB event and on Tuesday was running an automated call by former Governor of Vermont, a 2004 Democratic presidential hopeful, former chairman of the National Democratic National Party and considered a Progressive Dr. Howard Dean, right. Chávez supported Dean's 2004 presidential efforts. In this campaign Romero is considered the Progressive, not Chávez.

Democracy for New Mexico Blogger Barbara Wold, who has a history of being critical of Chávez posted that she was going to vote for him. She has supported many Progressive ideals, so her stance surprised some. read the comments to her post.

According to Blogger Joe Monahan:

There is real fear among liberals that Republican Berry could be elected mayor because of the Dem split between Chavez and Romero.

Chávez has amassed a number of endorsements. Rank and file members seriously question those endorsements from some of the City employee unions. The firefighters’ endorsed early and there was no grumbling from within the union. The Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association’s endorsement was fraught with controversy. Members of the union complained that the recommendation of the political screening committee was not subject to a member-wide vote. Berry and Romero complained that they were not permitted an interview with the screening committee. The AFSCME endorsement was subject to criticism, as explained below and was awarded before Chávez even announced and after the first forum, which he didn’t attend.

Romero has a quiet demeanor during the forums. He promised a civil campaign and seems to have lived up to it. He acts like the school teacher/principal/consensus building State Senate leader he was.

His campaign puts out hard-hitting issue papers, but they are not repeated during the debates with the same passion.

Romero analyzed Chávez’ budgetary manipulation of using of general obligation bonds to cover decreasing gross receipts revenues. He also questioned the increased number of exempt political employees.

He has attacked Chávez’ need for a three officer security detail. He wants to remove officers in specialized units and working desk jobs and increase the number of officers assigned to Field Services working patrol. Romero, like Chávez want to increase the size of the police force.

On Friday Romero took back a small part of the endorsement situation when members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 624 representing Albuquerque Blue Collar Workers led by Jake Valencia, right, stood in front of City Hall and presented their own endorsement embracing Romero.

The members of the union claimed that the parent group, Council 18’s political action committee, called the Peoples Committee, had not surveyed the rank and file.

The local members who gathered around Romero complained that the union is corrupt, threatened, beholden and controlled by Mayor Chávez.

Blue collar union member Gino Sedillo corrected Valencia's statement that the union was corrupt. "Only the leadership," Sedillo said.

Three Council 18 leaders: President Andrew Padilla, right, Executive Director Lawrence Rodriguez, center, and Political Coordinator Josh Andrews, left, were present in the background to dispute the local 624 members.

Padilla, said there is only one endorsement process and the union had two members on the Council 18’s Peoples Committee, which voted to endorse Chávez.

"There are always threats and intimidation associated with union contracts," Rodriguez said. When pressed, he said there were no direct acts of intimidation or threats from the mayor's administration.

The local members complained that the representatives appointed to the Peoples Committee did not take their marching orders from the rank and file membership and improperly voted on their own.

Romero has not used TV to push his message; he has used the internet and direct mail. Romero's campaign is the only one sending me press releases and advisories.

The progressive online news outlet the New Mexico Independent has a statistical leaning in their coverage towards Romero and against Chávez and Berry.

Berry is being attacked on several fronts including because the Republican Party has assisted with telephone banks to get out his message. He is a second term State Representative for District 20, the far-east section of Albuquerque through the southern part of Tijeras Canyon and south on the east side of the Manzano Mountains.
He serves as a member of: the House Appropriations and Finance committee, and a designee to the interim Legislative Finance Committee, and the interim New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee.

In one of his mailers, Berry advertises himself as a Republican fiscal conservative as opposed to referring to Chávez as a Democrat, who: “increased spending more than Bill Richardson, favors a $300 million Trolley Car for Nob Hill, increased city spending by 50%, and supports $360 million sales tax increase.”

Berry was attacked because he claimed to be a successful businessman, yet his construction company, Cumbre Construction is in his wife Maria’s name as owner and president. Here she stands in the background during the Economic Forum event.

Berry strikes Republican hot button issues; especially attempting to claim that Albuquerque is a “Sanctuary City.” He wishes to use Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White’s model for dealing with suspected undocumented subjects. However, U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement has full access to everyone booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center and can make the proper determination. Berry and White refuse to recognize the Constitutional requirements of federalism, which requires federal agents to enforce their laws while state county and municipal officer enforce state laws and city ordinances. It is improper for either to enforce the other’s laws.

Editor’s Note:

The issue of demanding proof of citizenship and lawful entry status is something I have challenged in the past. Sheriff White disregards the Constitution, openly advocates racial or ethnic profiling and doesn’t even understand why it’s wrong.

Berry has made Chávez’ ambitious pet project, his “light rail” or “modern day street car” or as those opposed to the idea, call it a “trolley,” an issue.

Berry has gotten into the negative ad mode trading insults and charges with Chávez in fliers and on television.

Berry and Romero usually ignore each other during the forums except to join together in attacks against Chávez.

The Journal’s Take

The Albuquerque Journal’s poll by Research and Polling showed Berry ahead with 32 percent with Chávez at 26 percent and Romero at 24 percent.

“The Journal Poll is based on telephone interviews with 406 registered voters who had participated in previous city elections and said they expected to vote this time,” the Journal article reported.

The margin of error was large because the sample was small. Theoretically, with the margin of error, this poll could be read as a statistical dead heat. Using the five point possible error, one could lower Berry’s 31 percent to 26, or raise Chávez’ 26 percent to 31 and Romero’s from 24 to 29 percent. With a 19 percent undecided, this race could be close. Of course, if the margin of error goes the other way, the numbers could have Berry at 36 with Chávez at 21 and Romero as low as 19. It also could be anywhere in between.

When the number of people polled gets to a little over 1,000 the margin of error can be reduced to about a plus or minus two,

No big surprise, the Journal endorsed Chávez. He routinely meets with the editorial board and because Chávez plays nice with them in off the record conversations, it seems the Journal is not very critical of the mayor in its editorial stances.

There is a journalistic ethics issue that surrounds the poll. Research and Polling's President Brian Sanderoff, above, at the Economic Forum's Mayoral Forum, was once asked by then Legislative Finance Committee member Republican State Representative George Buffett, right, who owns Research and Polling? “Tom Lang, owner of the Albuquerque Publishing Company owns 100% of it,” Sanderoff said.

The Journal’s history page on Publisher Tommy Lange lists Research and Polling as a business he owns.

However, you never see a disclaimer in the Journal stating the polls done are a product of a wholly owned business. Sanderoff will tell you that he conducts his polls by accepted standards and that he tends to poll accurately. The issue is not that Sanderoff is a stand up guy, it’s how does the Journal use Research and Polling in conjunction with its editorial stance to shape the electorate that reads their paper.

My Take

I don’t endorse candidates. I am not supporting any candidate in the mayoral race; I find myself in the 19 percent undecided.

However, I will call the hand of candidates whom I believe are misleading the public. Sometimes the camps’ spinners don’t help.

Berry claimed early on that he was a successful businessman. Chávez questioned, if Berry’s wife was the owner/president of Cumbre Construction, then how could he claim to be successful?

The Berrys are a couple, who own and operate their company. Maria Medina Berry, a licensed general contractor, uses her position to obtain preferences in government contracts as a minority and woman owned business.

This is the what's wrong with this picture? picture.

It is the uneaten breakfasts of the Berrys at the Economic Forum event. All the candidates sacrifice in their quest for office.

KKOB AM NEWS' St. Cyr requested of the three candidates copies of their income tax returns.

Chávez provided his taxes immediately and Romero also provided his within days.

Berry took a different stance. He said that he had met all the legal requirements of the election code.

The New Mexico Independent’s Childress, whose coverage shows her Progressive leanings, has seized on Berry’s decision not to make public his tax returns.

Berry’s campaign released a statement:

Richard Berry has complied with all transparency requirements required by law in the mayoral race and has disclosed his sources of income on the candidate financial disclosure statement. He has also voluntarily made additional information available to disprove dirty political smears and lies being spread by the Chavez campaign. Now, less than two weeks before the election, Marty Chavez wants Berry to release tax returns that include personal information pertaining to his family. This is not required by law and Berry’s family members are not running for mayor, therefore he will not subject his family to this invasion of privacy by releasing their personal information. Chavez is once again engaged in dirty politics and a whisper campaign against a successful businessman with a solid reputation. Chavez knows this race is tightening and is grasping at straws to divert attention away from the real issues that Albuquerque faces.

St. Cyr on the radio determined that Berry had been paying gross receipts tax on his business which debunked the claims of Chávez, bolstered by NMI.

City Councillor Ken Sanchez, right, with Chávez' former brother-in-law and former law partner, Robert Aragón, sat together in the audience. Sanchez has been a long time loyal supporter and often an echo on Council for Chávez. On Monday, Sanchez forwarded an e-mail with the subject line, "Romero Gave $21,300 to Republicans," imploring those on his supporter's list to reject Romero. Without mentioning Chávez' name, Sanchez called for his election.

Deeper Thought

I’m no apologist for Berry. He and his campaign have an issue yet to be resolved, but here are some thoughts:

Chávez’ campaign asked the media to keep his children out of the campaign. The press has honored the request, even though his daughter is now an adult and has interjected herself in earlier campaigns not directly involving her father.

The Berrys’ may well have filed a joint tax return. Berry is not required to answer the questions of the media. However, he did; it just seems that some of the bloggers, members of the online press, and in particular Chávez’ campaign are not satisfied with his answer.

In their attacks against Berry, Chávez’ Campaign Spokesperson Griffin wrote in a press release:

…one has to wonder why he won’t release his tax returns. What is RJ Berry hiding from the taxpayers?

Once again we’re seeing the difference between R.J. Berry’s campaign rhetoric and his personal reality. If he isn’t willing to release his tax returns to the public, he needs to stop talking about ‘open and transparent’ government – because he clearly doesn’t mean one word of it.

Now Chávez doesn’t seem willing to allow Berry what he asked for himself, to leave his family out of the campaign.

Based on the reporting about the success of Cumbre Construction and the millions of dollars of government contract work done, the tax returns may show a large income.

There are different definitions at work in the debate about Berry’s role in Cumbre Construction; the definition of ownership used to make the minority status bids differs from the way state property law looks at a married couples. The title of this post, “Just Three Words,” apply to what happens to the income of a married couple. New Mexico is a “community property state.” What a couple earns belongs to each equally. So, despite how much the spinners wish otherwise, the success of Marie Berry is equally shared by her husband and is inseparable.

I was made aware of an ethical question of whether Berry could rent a building he owns to himself as a campaign headquarters. The story broke out Tuesday disguised as a mud fight.

The argument is that, by renting to himself, Berry would be profiting in a "publicly financed" campaign. The logic escaped me. Candidates have to pay rent to someone for space. Berry had space and instead of paying his company, he contributed the rent, which was less than his prior tenant paid, to three charities.

Campaigns and news bloggers won't let a fact get in the way of an opportunity to make a non-issue a topic for a real discussion about the ability of candidates to lead and deal with the huge financial crisis facing the city.

The ever camera shy Childress, at NMI, left, seen reporting with the Journal's Dan McKay and St. Cyr interviewing Valencia at the recent Romero event, adds to the food fight by pointing out that Chávez is in a building donated by Attorney Will Ferguson. Griffin spins that Ferguson donated the building as an individual, not as part of his law firm.

Berry's Campaign Manager Dana Feldman, right, defended their position and countered:

Chavez should make sure his own campaign is following the law before he attacks ours for following the law and donating rent proceeds to charities.

I don't know how good an attorney Ferguson is, but I can't believe he would advise any client to not form a legal entity protecting themselves before entering into any business which collects rent.

Ferguson appears that he has been appointed to at least two City Advisory Boards, the Albuquerque Development Commission, from which he resigned sometime before August 25, 2006. He was then appointed to the Airport Advisory Board with his term ending January 1, 2009.

Ferguson would not be "legally" considered either a city employee, because being a board member is not compensated, or a contractor, disallowing political contributions.

However, it doesn't look good when one so close to the government making contributions to the person who appointed him and to whom he gave advice.

Griffin attempts to confuse the issue in an, it is not about Ferguson acting as a law firm or an individual. An individual or group can not donate more than $250 to a campaign without being registered as a Measure Finance Committee.

Childress lets her journalistic bias show by not reporting the rental situation of the third candidate, Romero. It's called balance.

Last Thought

Friday night I was invited to the New Mexico State Parks Foundation’s, “A Night Out 4 Nature,” fundraising dinner, by Board of Directors member Tony Olmi, seen here with his daughter, Christina, the immediate past Miss New Mexico, and his wife, Mary, taken a couple of weeks ago.

New Mexico State Parks Director Dave Simon, right, speaks with State Rep, Jimmie Hall, center, and Olmi about the Foundations successes.

Romero attended early during the event and Chávez arrived late, sans his police security detail.

Chávez was introduced and the crowd was told he had asked for five minutes. As I approached to take his picture, Chávez noticed me and gave the shortest speech I’ve ever heard from him. He said he appreciated being invited, thought the Foundation was doing great work and they should keep it up. Then he thanked them and said good-bye.

I felt like the photographer at Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The tale goes that Lincoln’s 205-word speech was so short that the unknown photographer could not get his equipment adjusted before Lincoln sat down. Even with my super fast equipment, I managed to take only three frames before he was gone.

Not a politically motivated speech for Chávez, nor one of his greats, just fast.

Eight days and counting…


I initially published a picture of a man identified to me as Jason Daskalos. I have been successfully challenged on the identity. Though I don't know the correct identity of the man I posted, I do know who it is not. My apologies to both men.