What’s Happened to Albuquerque? Part 8: The Apolitical City

What’s Happened to Albuquerque? Part 8: The Apolitical City

With just five weeks left until the October 8th municipal election, Albuquerque has become a city without issues. By that I mean it’s a city in which no one talks about issues. It’s a city without natural constituencies. No one’s on the front line is fighting like the dickens for a particular view on water conservation, on growth, on crime, on police brutality, on indigent care and the homeless, on the working poor and the minimum wage,  or on anything at all.

For instance, unlike Las Vegas, Nevada, which is reportedly using 75 gallons of water per person per day, Albuquerque is projecting to cut its water use to over 130 gallons per person per day in a decade.  Our use right now is 148 gallons per person per day. Does anyone care? Is Las Vegas the only city in the West suffering from climate change?  Isn’t this our common plight? What is going on here, aside from an abysmal nada?

Albuquerque’s always been “nonpartisan,” an absurd term meaning political parties don’t count in city elections. But of course they do. Except in 2013, they seem not to.

Democrats have offered up one candidate, or rather he’s done the offering.  Pete Dinelli is an honorable man with long service to the city. But he seems to have no support from the Party, no money to spend on spreading his message, no ground swell moving him along. And he’s sagging in the polls.

Republicans have offered up two candidates, one a wild card with less than low poll numbers, and the other is Mayor Richard J. Berry, a nice guy who dodges controversy like someone dancing his way through a storm of running bulls.

Does he have Republican Party backing? Who knows? He doesn’t appear to need it. His poll numbers already have him the secure winner. He just seems to be the kind of guy Albuquerque wants at the moment, a pleasant fellow with a “What, me worry?” grin.

But it’s really not the mayor’s fault alone. Albuquerque has become a sort of Mad Magazine city. It’s a city that is not a city but a huge collection of ostriches, heads in the sand, looking out for no one, not even for themselves.

How can you have a mayoral campaign without visible issues?  How can Democrats allow a Republican to waltz into four more years doing virtually nothing to stop him?

It must have something to do with the candidates for City Council District Two – Isaac Benton and Roxanna Meyers – if not them personally, then symbolically.

Benton was gerrymandered out of office when District Two was reconfigured early last year. A patrician sort of guy, with no Party backing that I can see, he seems so aloof and hard to get to that few know what he’s thinking,

Roxanna Meyers, Mayor Berry’s appointment, has decided to run a campaign on her personality alone, a political commodity no one could possibly grasp from the few short months she’s been in office.  As her fliers say, “…vote for a person instead of a party affiliation.”  Well, she has a nice smile.

Her base seems to be principally in the North Valley where she has garnered big bucks and nasty looks for opposing a roundabout at Candelaria and Rio Grande, which I also oppose as a neighborhood pedestrian. But it seems that a highly localized issue – one street corner – could determine the political slant of the whole city council.

Benton calls the $40,000 a roundabout-opponent put into a PAC working against him “detestable.” But I wonder what he’d say if it was in a PAC that supported him.

Albuquerque simply doesn’t seem to have any leadership to speak of, or any long range view of the future other than the deep, dark retro view of growth, growth, and more growth – despite not having the water to support it.

But the future is not to be found in the past. Saying nothing, proposing nothing, going along with a no-issue mayoral campaign, is supporting the status quo. And the status quo has nothing to do with planning or neighborhood revitalization, or police professionalism, or homeless and hungry children, or anything else. The status quo is about growth, water be damned, people be damned.

Will Albuquerque ever find a local leader like Patricia Mulroy, the General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority? Probably not for another four years at least. We’re going to be so far behind in the major issue of the century – water scarcity – that we might never catch up.

Not that Mulroy is my kind of savior. She serves an insanely fast growing metroplex, her political skills are a danger to any place in the west that gets in the way of the growth of Sin City. She’s a powerful presence. She understands cryptic water law, she’s a master of political give and take, and gets what she wants with patience and a steely perseverance. No one relishes going up against her.

Laura Paskus, New Mexico’s great independent environmental voice, mused during an interview in the Mercury Library several months ago about New Mexico finding a water leader who had the political savvy and clout to look out for New Mexico’s and Albuquerque’s interests. We both demurred at the thought of a Patricia Mulroy at the helm around here. Still, she’d be better, way better, than the nothing we’ve got right now.

But I wonder how she’d do with only conservation strategies to work with and no hope of finding new affordable water to fuel our growth.

In a recent column in The Las Vegas Sun, Mulroy wrote, “For the past 13 years, the desert Southwest has withstood the ravages of a debilitating drought. As difficult as it has been…[it has] brought out the best in the citizens of Southern Nevada who have shown the world that a prosperous desert community can conserve one-third of its water-use and bring its residential water use down to 75 gallons per person per day. “

That all sounds amazing, of course. And it is almost too amazing. I have to question those numbers, but I have as yet no way to prove them wrong. It’s astonishing to think, though, that a huge sprawling desert city could use only 25 gallons a day more than a reconstructed, relatively compact city like Berlin which uses 50 gallons per person a day.

Be that as it may, is any elected leader here trying to bring out the best in us?

Mulroy continues: “Extreme weather events, whether massive storms such as Hurricane Sandy, the increase in tornadoes in the Midwest or the devastating drought we are experiencing, are all harbingers of something changing climatically. I agree with the overwhelming scientific assessment that we are facing a very different global climate – one in which events such as these will be far more frequent.” I have no beef with her here.

Mulroy manages Southern Nevada’s access to the diminishing Colorado River, “a river region that combined represents more than 25 percent,” she writes, “of the country’s gross domestic product.”  She sees water scarcity as the single greatest danger in our region. And she’s right.

Though Albuquerque existed solely on its underground water until 2008, its so-called Drinking Water Project relies heavily on replacing ground water use with Colorado River water, the same river water that Southern Nevada uses, and that Phoenix, Tucson, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, and the massive agricultural region of California’s Imperial Valley all use.

With the Colorado River running now at about half strength, and with no huge change in drought conditions projected any time soon, Albuquerque should not be depending on Colorado River water to drink.

And with the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill of 24 million gallons of the poisonous stuff getting into the ground water near the sweet spot of Albuquerque’s well system, shouldn’t we be thinking a great deal more about conservation than we are? Who knows how much of our aquifer that spill will ruin? Certainly not the Air Force or the State of New Mexico with their “What, me worry?” attitudes.

Shouldn’t water be the major issue in these mayoral and city council campaigns? Is there any leader in this city even remotely as tuned in to reality as Patricia Mulroy is – even if she is a pro growth fanatic?

No. And there doesn’t seem to be anyone in sight down the road.


(Image credits: Albuquerque buildings by Ken Lund, Rio Grande side channel by Mr. T in DC.)

This piece was written by:

V.B. Price's photo

V.B. Price

V.B. Price is editor and co-founder of New Mexico Mercury. He is the former editor of Century Magazine and New Mexico Magazine, former city editor of the New Mexico Independent, and long-time columnist for the late Albuquerque Tribune. His latest book is The Orphaned Land: New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project. He retired as the editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series at UNM Press in 2010. He has taught in the UNM Honors Program since l986.

Contact V.B. Price

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