The Santa Fe Review

A Journal of Commentary and Reportage

copyright 2004 by George Johnson

A Stroll Along Shirley Maclaine Boulevard . . .

Canyon Road bronze, 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 the 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)
Part 10. The Demagoguery of Matthew Ortiz
Part 11. The Thornburg Companies and United Way

Interlude: Subliminal psychology . . . a scoop by Journal North
. . . and a call from the Chamber of Commerce

Part 12. The Archeological Impact of Rick Berardinelli
Part 13. A Visit to Rio Rancho Viejo
Part 14. A Gunnslinger Launches an Election Eve Attack

On the Trail of Permit #463


February 24, 2004

Part 12. The Archeological Impact of Rick Berardinelli

With just one week left before the election, I am coming to realize how much more time this project has taken than I had intended, and how much there still is to say.

I've barely touched on the race for Municipal Judge. I see little reason not to vote for Frances Gallegos. For all her fumbling, she remains the only city official who has taken a strong stand against DWI, with her Pink Hats program, while also making a small dent in Santa Fe's disgusting litter problem -- another matter ignored by the city and dumped on the backs of a dwindling core of discouraged volunteers. The only other serious contender for the job is David Osuna, who lost my respect when he joined the Judge's less illustrious opponents in condemning the Pink Hat program for insulting the dignity of convicted drunks.

Seeing myself named in the New Mexican today as one of Karen Heldmeyer's largest contributors was a little disconcerting. If one has to reach down that far on the list for the top donors -- my wife and I gave $500 -- then the developer-funded Berardinelli machine may be unstoppable. Since my last report, he has dispatched three more full color brochures. Two are misleading, though less so than the United Way mailing. The third engages in such obvious dishonesty that I can't imagine what Mr. Berardinelli or his handlers could have been thinking.

First, the milder deceptions. One mailing, "Enough is Enough," promises that the candidate has a plan to solve the drunk driving problem -- by taking away the culprits' cars. This is a great idea, but how he would accomplish amending state law from a seat on the city council is puzzling. Perhaps he would sponsor a resolution like those calling for restraint in Middle East policy or for the abolishment of the death penalty.

In another mailing, "the Dirt on Rick Berardinelli" -- there is a title that catches your eye -- the candidate promises to "stand up to developers and make protecting our quality of life and the special charm of our city my number one priority." As evidence of his commitment, the brochure mentions his work, as a past member of the Historic Design Review Board (this was in the mid 1980s), on the city's archeological ordinance. (The kind of dirt he is teasing us about is that which comes from digging for arrowheads, or breaking ground for a new shopping center.) Here is the inside page:

In fact, no development is stopped by the archeological requirement. Before pouring a foundation and laying down rebar, builders must pay a "salvage archeology" crew to survey the site. If anything significant is found, construction plans may have to be modified. It is a good law, but it's silly to pretend that a candidate with Mr. Berardinelli's financial backing is running as a preservationist.

It is a page from the third brochure that crosses the line:

This would be quite an endorsement indeed. The paper of record, Mr. Berardinelli is telling us, has described his backers -- in its news columns, perhaps, or on its editorial page -- in very flattering terms. Of course the New Mexican did no such thing. Here is what the story really said:


The report shows contributions from
developers, builders and other prominent
local business people -- for example,
$200 from land-use attorney Kurt Sommer
and $250 from developer Joe Schepps.

But Berardinelli insisted the report
"shows a broad range of support from
people across a broad range of social
and economic classes in this community."

"Bill Miller is putting out there that
Rick is the pockets of Las Campanas and
big developers," Sena said. "But I think
his campaign report reflects the heart
and soul of Santa Fe."


Manipulating the passage to make it read like an objective assessment by a disinterested party is not only misleading. It is plain and simple dishonesty.

George Johnson

February 25, 2004

Part 13. A Visit to Rio Rancho Viejo

This morning I drove across town to Santa Fe Community College for a short interview on KSFR about the Santa Fe Review. Crossing St. Francis at Zia Road, I found myself in the heart of Matthew Ortiz territory, which he has staked out with large cardboard signs:

Still the Better Choice (his italics)

That may seem like a case of damning oneself with faint praise, but he might not be wrong. For all Mr. Ortiz's political liabilities, his opponent, Mark Bentley, embraces pro-development sentiments at least as strong, and he opposes the new living wage law. According to the papers, Mr. Bentley believes that one of the serious problems facing the city is how long is takes to get a building permit.

Both newspapers have been rather easy on Mr. Ortiz. The most potentially explosive revelation in John Huddy's scoop about the Councilor's threatened law license appears at the very end of the story: it seems that the Supreme Court disciplinary board's files include a document called "Offer of Proof relating to [Mr. Ortiz's] physical and mental condition and treatment," which is to be sealed -- i.e., made unavailable to public scrutiny. The much shorter New Mexican item, basically a summary of the Journal North story, didn't mention the document at all.

There is no shame in receiving treatment for medical problems, including those involving the mind. As an elected official, Mr. Ortiz is obligated to explain the significance of the report and to insist that it be released.

I continued down Zia to where it funnels into Rodeo, then turned left onto Richards Avenue -- more Ortiz and Bentley signs -- and headed for the college. I was early for my appointment so I drove past the campus, entering the new part of town called Rancho Viejo.

I hadn't been that way for awhile and was unprepared for how much progress, if that is the word, the development had made. Having been exposed week after week to the eco-enthusiastic Rancho Viejo Sunday real estate ads, I was equally unprepared to see row after row of brown stucco houses, packed cheek to jowl on a tight grid of tiny lots crisscrossed by narrow streets. The housing tract, what the developer, Suncor, calls a "village," appears to be every bit as dense as Rio Rancho, the city on Albuquerque's northwestern border.

When I got home later that day, I clicked over to ranchoviejo.com, the subdivision's Web site:

Unique in conception and design, the community of
Rancho Viejo is a collection of villages bordered by open
space. Each village, reflecting the form of Northern New
Mexico's traditional communities, will feature a central
community gathering plaza. . . 

The "plaza" was actually a small suburban park like one might see almost anywhere. Islands of open space, Suncor promises, will periodically interrupt the sprawl. But no matter how the copywriters describe it, what is on the drawing boards is nothing less than another city, to be grafted onto Santa Fe. If you haven't seen what is happening, drive out some Sunday afternoon. Imagine the blocks of houses multiplied again and again until they reach Eldorado.

Rio Rancho Viejo.

Postscript:

As I finished reading today's papers, I was struck by how very good the election coverage has been. Tom Sharpe's candidate profiles have been particularly fine, and John Huddy has excelled at aggressively going after the kind of stories -- like the Chamber's Berardinelli phone bank -- that usually go unreported, and that reveal so much about the power struggles being played out behind the scenes. There can't be many towns this size with two such good political reporters competing to deliver the news. I only wish that their editors would give them the latitude to do the kind of analysis -- maybe in the form of a weekly column -- that would tell us what all of this means.

I just picked up the Reporter's new political issue and am looking forward to reading it tonight. It looks interesting. The teaser on the weekly's website says that after weighing the issues, the editors "were not convinced in most cases that throwing the baby out with the bathwater was the best course to take." I am curious to see who the baby is and which bathwater they are talking about.

George Johnson

I received a thoughtful letter this morning from Eileen Lanno, who is Mark Bentley's fiancee. That, and yesterday's well-reasoned endorsement by the Reporter, persuade me that if I lived in District 4, I would hold my nose and pull the lever for Mr. Bentley. The living wage ordinance, if it holds up in court, is a done deal. And unlike his opponent, he doesn't seem like someone whose primary purpose is accumulating and increasing his own political power.

"If Mark is as thoughtlessly pro-development as you fear," Ms. Lanno wrote, "the business community certainly hasn't seen it that way. They've thrown all their money at Eli Sena's candidates."

That is quite true, though I suspect that the Chamber crowd is staying out of District 4 for the same reason it has avoided District 1: Like Patti Bushee, Matthew Ortiz seems unbeatable, or at least he did before last week. Districts 2 and 3 offer the developers the greatest potential return on their investment.

In addition to endorsing, reluctantly, Mr. Bentley, The Reporter also came out for Councilors Bushee, Chavez, and Heldmeyer. And, after much agonizing, the editors broke with the dailies and went with Frances Gallegos for Municipal Judge. The best part of their special election issue is an interview of former Councilor Cris Moore by Julia Goldberg. Her questions are as interesting as his answers, though I wish she had pressed him on his endorsement two years ago of Rebecca Wurzburger.

February 27, 2004

Postscript: The Holes in the Coverage

A fax I received this morning from a reader in District 3 reminded me of how much is still slipping through the cracks of the campaign coverage. The item is a mailing from the Carmichael Dominguez campaign on the drunk driving problem. The layout and design, right down to the choice of type fonts and even the format of the address label, are so similar to that of the Berardinelli brochures that they clearly emanate from the same source. This is no surprise since both campaigns are being run by the same paid professional, Eli Senna. But how many voters (i.e. newspaper readers) know this? Most will go to the polls on Tuesday assuming that these two candidates are running as individuals, instead of products of the same machine. The candidates themselves are doing nothing to acknowledge the connection, like running together on a slate. Voters need to know such things in order to make a rational decision.

And what about the various Berardinelli deceptions? A small item in the New Mexican told a few readers about the questionable United Way brochure. Subscribers to Journal North missed out on that but might (unlike New Mexican readers) have read about the Chamber of Commerce's Berardinelli phone bank. (I imagine it was working for Mr. Dominguez too.) Readers of neither paper will probably know about the worst of the deceptions -- the doctored "heart and soul" quote (Tom Sharpe mentioned it only in passing). Nor will they know the full extent of Matthew Ortiz's troubles.

These are the kinds of subjects the New Mexican's editors could be writing about. But they seem to feel they have discharged their obligation with the endorsements last Sunday. Since then there hasn't been a single editorial about a city issue. This morning Bill Waters (the editorial page editor) tells us what he thinks about the situation in Haiti.

February 28, 2004

Part 14. A Gunnslinger Launches an Election Eve Attack

Just when it seemed as though the barrage of campaign junk mail might be over, two new items arrived this morning, both from something called "Santa Fe Grass Roots, Shelly Gunn, Treasurer."

One is a "City Council Report Card," in which three of the incumbents (but not Matthew Ortiz) are given failing grades (by Shelly presumably) in subjects like "New Water Sources" and "Improving Local Economy."

That's fairly mild stuff compared with the second mailing:

It's a matter of opinion whether the toilet tax the Councilor opposed (in favor of a more restrictive water budget) is a "sensible policy." But how Ms. Heldmeyer voted on the raise is a matter of record. Here is an excerpt from a story, "FUTURE COUNCIL, MAYOR TO GET RAISES," which ran January 9, 2003 on page A1 of The New Mexican:

  Santa Fe city councilors elected or re-elected in March 2004 will be paid
  $25,700 a year.  

  The six councilors who voted Wednesday to raise the salaries for future
  councilors and the future mayor maintained the work and long hours justify the 
  higher pay. . . .

  But Councilor Karen Heldmeyer voted against the raise. Because the city is 
  facing "dire financial straits," she said, "this isn't the time." And
  Councilor  Matthew Ortiz abstained from voting because, he said, he had a
  conflict of  interest. If he is re-elected in 2004, he said, he would benefit
  from the  higher wage.

Of course it serves no purpose for an attack ad to be true. Confronted with the charge on the last few days before the election, the opponent has little time to respond. And with no return address -- the name "Shelly Gunn" does not appear in the telephone directory -- the mailing is probably untraceable.

Whoever Ms. Gunn might be, she is just as angry at Councilor Chavez. Because of a mixup of mailing lists down at Santa Fe Grass Roots headquarters, I also received this:

The next step is predictable. When the papers get wind of this, Mr. Berardinelli and Mr. Dominguez will express their shock and dismay, and disavow any connection with the maverick efforts of overzealous supporters. All we can do is take them at their word. And wonder.

Mass mailings like these to a council district cost thousands of dollars each just for the postage. One thing is certain. This was a maverick with some money.

February 29, 2004

Postscript: On the Trail of Permit #463

An excellent editorial this morning in the New Mexican has me eating my words for breakfast, along with a couple of stiff cups of coffee. I mentally groaned when I saw the headline, "With lots at stake, it's time to vote," expecting a recitation of the usual platitudes: Here again are our recommendations, but whatever you do, please vote . . .

It was anything but that, an admirably compact summary of the issues (I'll leave aside a few quibbles) and a pointed chastisement of Rick Berardinelli for the worst of his campaign's distortions.

The bland headline on Tom Sharpe's (top of page 1) story, "Campaigns peak before Tuesday's election," belies the good job he did leaping on the reports of the last-minute mudslinging.

Journal North seems to have fallen down on this one (though I haven't seen the paper edition yet.) There is a short piece about an attack mailing against Mark Bentley from another fake organization:


	A group calling itself Concerned Santa Fe
	County Democrats apparently has mounted a
	negative campaign against Santa Fe City
	Council candidate Mark Bentley.
 

But no mention of Shelly Gunn.

There is still plenty of sleuthing to be done. The mailings, for example, are in violation of Santa Fe City Ordinance 9-2.4(a), "Identification of Campaign Material":


	No individual, candidate, political committee,
	PAC or any other entity shall write or cause 
	to be written, printed, posted or distributed 
	any campaign material unless there appears on
	the campaign material in a conspicuous place,
	a campaign contact phone number . . .

And section 9-2.5, "Statement of Political Committee Organization," requires that entities like Santa Fe Grassroots and Concerned Democrats register with the City Clerk. I hope that Mr. Huddy and Mr. Sharpe will be at Yolanda Vigil's office early tomorrow morning checking this out.

There is a catch: a political group has a period of ten days "of the earlier of (1) Its organization; or (2) The date on which it receives or has information which causes it to anticipate that it will receive contributions or will make expenditures in any election campaign." So Shelly's timing may be perfect. But at least we can know after the election who or what she is.

One more clue: Late last night I received another email from Mr. Bentley's fiancee, Eileen Lanno, noting that the bulk rate mailing number on the Concerned Democrats flyer is the same one Matthew Ortiz uses, #463. It is also the number used by Shelly Gunn . . . and by Karen Heldmeyer.

This has the makings of a great conspiracy theory, involving disinformation about disinformation -- a hall of mirrors of Pynchonian mystery. But it is another of those stories that, alas, is too good to be true. I asked Stephen Westheimer, the volunteer manager of the Heldmeyer campaign, about the significance of the connection. License 463, it turns out, is owned by a commercial junk mail company, PBA Inc., 1360 Vegas Verdes in Santa Fe. So at least one person, other than Shelly herself, knows who she is, and whether she is also the Concerned Democrats.

It's interesting that on the Sunday before the election, the only New Mexican advertisement from the Berardinelli council campaign, which at $41,639, has now surpassed Dr. Wurzburger's as the most expensive in Santa Fe history, is a small testimonial from Berardinelli mortuary, looking appropriately funereal with its white on black type.

Santa Fe Grass Roots, however, purchased a full page in the A section, one that could be very damaging to the three incumbents. (Like the mailings, it violates Santa Fe City Ordinance 9-2.4(a) requiring a contact telephone number.) The ad is full of false statements, for example that councilors Bushee, Heldmeyer, and Chavez voted against the water budget. Of course they were the initiators of this very legislation. What they voted against was the watered-down toilet tax favored by the developers. But how many readers will make such fine distinctions? It is too late -- the deadline passed days ago -- for the candidates to respond with an advertisement of their own.

If I am reading the New Mexican's rate card correctly, a Sunday ad like that costs $27.30 per column inch. A full page consists of 129 column-inches, so that comes to $3,521.70. Add the 25 percent surcharge for special placement (the inside back cover of the main section) and sales tax, and the total would be $4,700 (more if it also runs tomorrow).

Some more arithmetic: The number of registered voters in Districts 2 and 3, where the Grass Roots mailings were sent, is 20,630. So the postage for yesterday's two cards comes to almost $12,000. If the cards were sent to the larger list of "likely voters" or to every mailing address in the two districts, the cost would be far greater. All this lends support to the theory that Shelly is a hired gun.

George Johnson

Postscript: It turns out that there is a Shelly Gunn listed in the Albuquerque telephone directory. I wonder if this is a coincidence. It's an unusual enough name, but why use a real one when you are making up everything else? More for the New Mexican and Journal North to investigate.

A note about Eli Senna: The New Mexican and I have been spelling the last name of the manager of the Berardinelli/Dominguez campaign "Sena." Journal North, it turns out, is correct. It is spelled with two n's. I'll be fixing this throughout the site, except in direct quotations.

Part 15. The Undertaker's Smile (or The Return to Ludwig's Castle)

Coming soon:

Memories of Overdevelopment: The Summer of 2002


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