The Santa Fe Review

A Journal of Commentary and Reportage

copyright 2004 by George Johnson

A Stroll Along Shirley Maclaine Boulevard . . .

Caja del Rio Plateau, photo by George Johnson

Part 1. Rebecca's House and Ludwig's Castle
Part 2. The Chamber of Commerce's (Not So) Secret Candidate
Part 3. David Pfeffer's Letter and Mayor Delgado's Award
Part 4. Tom Mills and the Elusive Qualities of Life
Part 5. The Great Masquerade: Memories of the 2002 Campaign
Part 6. Why Nature Abhors a Vacuum: Political Coverage, Santa Fe Style

(Brief Interlude: What the Water Budget Really Means)

Part 7. Into the Heart (and Soul) of Santa Fe
Part 8. Mr. Miller's Smoking Gun
Part 9. The Journal Follows the Money (and a Visit from the Berardinelli Robot)


February 8, 2004

Part 7. Into the Heart (and the Soul) of Santa Fe

The first round of financial reports was more interesting than I had expected, as was the spin that Eli Senna, Rick Berardinelli's (and Carmichael Dominguez's) campaign manager, put on the news.

"Bill Miller is putting out there that Rick is in the pockets of Las Campanas and big developers," Mr. Senna told Tom Sharpe of The New Mexican. "But I think his campaign report reflects the heart and soul of Santa Fe." (Mr. Miller, who has not been mentioned here before, is the dark horse challenger in the three-way race for the District 2 seat.)

Top contributors to the Berardinelli campaign include:

• Kurt Sommer, whose brother and law partner, Karl Sommer, introduced Santa Feans to the SLAPP suit ("Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation") when he filed one against a local neighborhood association that was challenging a client's proposed subdivision. The state legislature has since outlawed SLAPP suits, on the grounds that they are designed to intimidate citizens against speaking out on matters of public interest. Mr. Sommer currently represents the Grevey family, which is developing another luxury subdivision on Hyde Park Road.

• The Chapman Companies, who brought us Shirley Maclaine Boulevard.

• Otis Beaty who (with Dickie Montoya Sr.) is a partner in Southwest Business Park.

• Joe Schepps, the developer who owns Inn on the Alameda and Sanbusco Center.

• Sam Pick, the former mayor whose legacy includes the Eldorado Hotel.

• The Eldorado Hotel.

• Gary Ehlert, executive director of the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders Association and board member of the Chamber of Commerce and Santa Fe Quality of Life.

• John Onstott of Berardinelli Funeral Home, a "community advisor" to Santa Fe QOL.

• Ted Berridge of Amigo Petroleum/Berridge Distributing, a Texaco wholesaler.

(In addition, two $1,000 contributors include a Phil Garcia and a J. D. Wesselkamper. The first name rings a bell -- real estate? -- but not the second. The phone directory lists a Mr. Wesselkamper as living in the 87508 area code, which is out in Eldorado. Any illumination readers can provide on these points would be appreciated.)

In a posting on the New Mexican's "Talk Back" forum, Mr. Berardinelli objected to the "negative tone and spin" of Mr. Sharpe's article:

"The people of Santa Fe deserve better. I took the time on Friday to explain the nature of my relationship with each of my 100 individual contributors and 17 business contributors . . . . I am pleased and comfortable with those contributions and have not made and will not make any promises to developers as he implies."

No reasonable person believes that a businessman as successful as Rick Berardinelli can be bought for $500 or $1,000. That's not the point. What a list of campaign donors reveals is something far more interesting and subtle: the kind of people whose values a candidate is likely to share.

The New Mexican article did what good political reporting is supposed to do: contrast a candidate's public statements with a reading of the record. (Wren Propp did this even more thoroughly in Journal North.)

More interesting still is the report from District 3, whose residents are less likely to have the disposable income to donate to political campaigns. While Mr. Berardinelli has so far outspent Karen Heldmeyer $26,993 to $21,333, Carmichael Dominguez has received $18,220 compared with just $8,355 for the incumbent, Miguel Chavez. How does a relatively unknown schoolboard member raise so much money? From donors like these:

• Alexis Girard of Greer Enterprises, a real estate development company with extensive holdings downtown and on the southside. The Greer family (Ms. Girard is a member) owns the Lensic (it is leased to the nonprofit group that operates the performing arts center) and can be expected to resume its push to build a hotel on the same block -- as soon as the election is over.

• Steve Flance, developer of Cerros Colorados off Hyde Park Road.

• Isaac Pino, former city manager, brother of Debbie Jaramillo, and vice president and general manager of Rancho Viejo, which is being developed by the Suncor Corporation, a Phoenix-area subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital. If all goes as planned, Rancho Viejo will cover 10,600 acres -- part of a suburban sprawl that will eventually reach from the Santa Fe Community College all the way to Eldorado, doing for Arroyo Hondo what Rio Rancho did for the village of Corrales. SunCor's numerous other developments include Sedona Golf Resort; Palm Valley, Arizona; and Coral Canyon, Utah. Its motto: "Master Planning for a Better Quality of Life."

Some of the developers backing Mr. Berardinelli also gave money to the Dominguez campaign: for example, Mr. Beaty and Mr. Schepps. And there is Ed Grabowski, Hi-Point Construction; Buddy Roybal, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and spokesman for Santa Fe Quality of Life; Bill Coppola, the concrete company proprietor; Ameriwest Construction; Advantage Asphalt and Seal Coating . . . and Rick Berardinelli.

Also among Mr. Dominguez's benefactors are a Jill Tishman and a Victoria Tishman. The last name makes one wonder. Is this the family of developer Donald Tishman, who has a home on Hyde Park Road? An artist named Jill Tishman also is listed on Hyde Park, and the College of Santa Fe's recently built Visual Art Center includes a Jill and Donald Tishman Hall.

Perhaps Mr. Dominguez will join Mr. Berardinelli in describing for voters his connections to these old family friends.

More to come . . .

George Johnson

February 11, 2004

Postscript: Another Look at the Reporter

I should have known that as soon as I sat down to lambast our local weekly for devolving into an entertainment guide (Santa Fe Review, February 4, ) a nice cover story would appear proving me wrong. Or at least not entirely correct. (Adding to my embarrassment was a very generous and unexpected item about this journal written by the Reporter's editor, Julia Goldberg.)

No one can beat Ben Neary at the New Mexican when it comes to writing about water. But April Reese, a freelancer, did a commendable job, describing the controversy surrounding a proposed state water bank. (New water rights would be acquired and held in reserve until needed to avert a crisis.) A sidebar by a staffer provided a suitably skeptical review of a film about drought produced by the state environmental department.

The Reporter being the Reporter, this smart package was illustrated by a portrait of a model (not the one on the left) decked out in a Lily of the West skirt and tank top with shoes from Goler (I've been assured that these were not paid product placements). She is holding a glass of water in one hand, a pitcher in the other, and gazing worriedly at the horizon.

This week, if you look past the obligatory Valentine's Day cover (the annual "love and sex" issue), you will find interesting news about a new subdivision quietly being planned for the west side by developer/art dealer Gerald Peters, and a scoop on Municipal Judge Fran Gallegos's campaign. (Both are by staff writer Brendan Smith.) It seems the judge arranged to have a ghost writer help some of her less articulate admirers pen letters to the editor supporting her reelection. This is not so bad as it sounds. The former defendants say they really were grateful to the judge for setting them on the straight and narrow. But the story added a new twist to an already entertaining political race. (More on that later.)

The Reporter may be a shadow of its former self. But it does still produce some good local journalism.

George Johnson

February 13, 2004.

Part 8. Mr. Miller's Smoking Gun

John Huddy hit the nail on the head in this morning's Journal North: "Anyone who showed up at Thursday's City Council candidates forum at Santa Fe Community College expecting to hear something surprising, controversial or new most likely went home disappointed." The headline was even more to the point: "Candidates Stick to Their Scripts." One could have stopped reading right there.

Tom Sharpe's New Mexican story provided some specifics. To no one's surprise the unacknowledged Chamber of Commerce candidates, Rick Berardinelli and Carmichael Dominguez, oppose a building moratorium under any circumstances, and Mr. Berardinelli favors allowing the construction of "time shares" -- a kind of cross between a condominium and a luxury hotel -- in residential areas. "I don't see where time shares would erode neighborhoods," Mr. Berardinelli said.

The two incumbents (surprise again) take the opposite stand. I suppose that it is helpful for readers to be reminded of these things, but I suspect that the journalistic energy could be better spent.

For example, how about a report following up on Bill Miller's long-standing contention that two out-of-town developments -- Las Campanas to the north and Rancho Viejo to the south -- joined the Chamber and the Home Builders in handpicking Rick Berardinelli? It is documented that Ike Pino of Rancho Viejo gave money to Mr. Dominguez. But is (or will there be) more, donated by people with less name recognition?

So far nothing in the finance reports seems to point directly to Las Campanas, but there are plenty of ways for a corporation to channel money unobtrusively -- through friends, residents, employees. Another possibility is that Las Campanas money will be held back until the very end -- for the second financial filings that appear on the eve of election day and squeak by almost unnoticed.

Another important, unreported story: How many people who contributed to the various races actually live in those districts? An email from Heldmeyer campaign headquarters suggests that just 20 out of the approximately 100 people who wrote checks to Mr. Berardinelli in round one reside in District 2. Their average donation was $240. This would raise questions about the broad-based, nickel-and-dime support implied by his campaign and could be verified with some digging by the New Mexican or Journal North. Also interesting would be to cross-correlate the names of the donors in the Berardinelli and Dominguez campaigns. Is it the same people or not?

Maybe nothing would come of these inquiries, but surely this kind of reporting is more worthwhile than another dutiful account of the orchestrated campaign forums.

Meanwhile, I received an email from Bill Miller enticing me with a tape recording of his much publicized conversation last December with Jerry Easley, president of the Chamber; Garl Ehlert, executive director of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association; and Jim Taylor, vice president for marketing of Las Campanas. (It was Mr. Miller's description of the event that provided an early sign that things may be not what they seem.)

Mr. Easley, the email claims, told Mr. Miller that "their people" are meeting with "Rick's money people" to discuss finances. And another teaser: "Mr. Ehlert has told me over the phone that he did not say anything incriminating that day, but the tape tells a different story."

It is a little weird that Mr. Miller recorded his conversations, and a big reason he is upset over the outcome is sour grapes -- he wanted the big business support himself.

But is it true that he is in possession of a smoking gun? We may never know. Mr. Miller said he won't let me or anyone hear the tape unless the other speakers give him permission.

Like that is really going to happen.

February 15, 2004

Part 9. The Journal Follows the Money (and a Visit from the Berardinelli Robot)

This morning's Journal North gives prominent display to a first-rate analysis of the Santa Fe City Council races by John Huddy. His story ranks with Tom Sharpe's initial scoop about the District 2 and District 3 power struggles as the best political journalism of the campaign. (Journal North articles, which require an online account, free for subscribers of the paper edition, have become must reading for following Santa Fe politics.)

Mr. Huddy adds some prominent names to the already substantial list of Berardinelli donors: Charley Brewer, owner of Brewer Oil in Santa Fe, and Yvonne Montoya, the wife of developer Dickie Montoya (and Rebecca Wurzburger's campaign treasurer in 2002).

"Dickie is my cousin," Mr. Berardinelli tells the Journal. Continuing in this vein, he describes his personal connections to other big donors, who constitute Santa Fe's most powerful development interests:

• Chapman construction: "My parents lived in two Chapman homes and I bought mine from (Mike) Chapman."

• Development lawyer James Siebert: "I've known Jim a very long time."

• The Eldorado Hotel: "Randy Randall (Eldorado executive director) and I are on the Santa Fe Fiesta Council together."

It is the same story, of course, with the Dominguez campaign. As Eli Senna, campaign manager for both candidates puts it: "These people are Rick and Carmichaels' friends that they've know for many years."

Which, of course, is exactly the point.

February 18, 2004

Postscript

Rick Berardinelli's robot called here last night. Just hours after the United States Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the constitutionality of the Federal do-not-call registry, the bane of telemarketers everywhere, Mr. Berardinelli (or rather his automatic dialer) was interrupting dinner hours across Santa Fe with his campaign spiel.

Or make that his nonspiel. He was simply calling to alert good citizens to watch their mailboxes for his new questionnaire: "What Do You Care About Most?" The high cost of living? Drunken driving? Need for good paying jobs? The implication, of course, is that he has no agenda. His staff will tabulate the data and shape his persona accordingly.

The very next day another mailing arrived, the "Berardinelli Family Album." This rather attractive gallery of pictures of old Santa Fe included: the Denver Beer Hall (Berardinelli & Co., Proprietors); Great Grandfather Berardinelli, one of the many Italian stonemasons brought here to work on St. Francis Cathedral; Grandfather Joe Berardinelli, a judge; and Rick's own father, Robert, a City Councilor himself.

This could be a winning strategy. Santa Fe Quality of Life's own survey showed that what most voters want is precisely what Mr. Berardinelli's backers do not -- slower growth. So his best hope is to avoid the issue. Most Santa Feans don't read the papers, or don't believe them. Many of their parents were buried by Berardinelli mortuary. Get them to the polls (the living, I mean) and you can swing the election. This is not going to be an easy force for the Heldmeyer campaign to resist.

I'll keep this entry brief. It has been a busy week. The last two installments were posted from a hotel room in Seattle where I was attending the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Then, returning to Santa Fe a few days later, I was faced with a hair-raising DSL crash. (Someone down at the Qwest switching office on Alameda apparently dropped a screwdriver into a circuit board or pulled the wrong switch.) Knocked off the Net for two days, I used the opportunity to move The Santa Fe Review to a much faster server located down in Albuquerque. (It had been running on a computer sitting beneath a desk in my home office.)

For tonight, just a few more quick notes. Last Sunday's Journal North also included a funny piece on the ever curious Municipal Judge race and a very nice editorial on the council campaigns by Karen Peterson. Her anonymous work is another reason Journal North has become essential reading. The New Mexican editors continue to display a curious lack of interest in local politics. But more about that later. On to Matthew Ortiz . . .

February 19, 2004

Postscript to the postscript: The Altruism of Walmart

A story in this morning's New Mexican on (believe it or not) another campaign forum (Tom Sharpe should file a grievance against his employers for making him sit through these mind-numbing affairs) includes just the kind of statement that we won't see in Mr. Berardinelli's designer brochures:

"I think that the living-wage effort was a very noble effort on behalf of the City Council. But I think that the real solution to the wage gap in the community has to start with our children."

?

And this: "We can't continue to chase away those who are willing to help our economy."

Walmart, Burger King, The Red Lobster. . . Be nice to them. All they want to do is help.

George Johnson

. . . on to Part 10, The Demagoguery of Matthew Ortiz


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