Login for full access to ABQJournal.com



New Users: Subscribe here


Close

Running for Mayor: Former city lawyer Dinelli a ‘no-nonsense manager’

Mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli greets the crowd during the State Fair Parade last weekend. (Marla Brose/Journal)
Mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli greets the crowd during the State Fair Parade last weekend. (Marla Brose/Journal)
........................................................................................................................................................................................

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Editor’s note:

The second in a series of profiles on the three Albuquerque mayoral candidates.

Pete Dinelli says the telephone calls came quickly after the filing of each lawsuit.

Often, a single mom was on the line. She’d explain that she couldn’t afford the damage caused by her son’s graffiti vandalism, no matter what allegations Dinelli – then head of Albuquerque’s Safe City Strike Force – outlined in a lawsuit.

“Give me an hour with your son,” he would say.

In the meetings that followed, the teens often cried. If they had cellphones, Dinelli wanted them cut off. When they got report cards, Dinelli wanted at least a “C” average. Most of all, he says now, he wanted their lives to change.

“I’d explain to them, ‘You’ve really embarrassed yourself. You’ve embarrassed your family,’ ” Dinelli said in a recent interview. “And I would shame them into taking responsibility for what they did, and then we’d work out a pay schedule.”

A half dozen years later, Dinelli is running for mayor, and his aggressive attitude on the job is part of what appeals to his supporters – and irks his critics.

“A Pete Dinelli administration would be a civil-rights disaster for the poor and the marginalized of our city,” said Joseph Kennedy, an attorney who filed a 2009 class-action lawsuit against the city over its strike force.

Former Mayor Martin Chávez doesn’t see Dinelli’s work that way.

“The numbers are telling: Crime went down,” said Chávez, who hired Dinelli to head the strike force.

In 2011, a federal judge ruled the city had engaged in overzealous enforcement of its nuisance-abatement ordinance. The ruling centered on the strike force’s red-tagging of substandard homes without giving residents a hearing beforehand.

Under Mayor Richard Berry, the city settled the case for $1.7 million.

Dinelli maintains he was prepared to go to trial to defend the city against the suit. He has accused Berry, one of his opponents in the election, of making “outrageous” out-of-court settlements and says this one was politically motivated.

In any case, Dinelli’s work with the Safe City Strike Force is something both his supporters and opponents point to.

Dinelli says the work was among the most rewarding of his career. The team shut down meth labs, sued vandals and demolished shady motels, he said.

He estimates he filed 450 lawsuits against graffiti vandals and collected $200,000 in restitution. The kids would sell their Nintendo Game Boys, mow lawns, do whatever they had to, he said. They paid up, not mom, Dinelli said.

That work “reflects a man who has a deep love for his community and a commitment to making things better,” he said. “… I think Albuquerque needs my kind of personality now to pull us out of where we are today.”

34 years of hard work

Dinelli, 61, is one of three candidates on the ballot for mayor this year. He’s the only Democrat in the race, which by City Charter is non-partisan.

Republicans Paul Heh and Berry, the incumbent, are also running. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in the Oct. 8 election, a runoff between the top two will follow in November.

Dinelli says the Safe City Strike Force is only one slice of his working life. He’s also been a workers’ compensation judge, chief deputy district attorney, Albuquerque’s chief public safety officer, assistant attorney general and private attorney.

The strike force “is eight years of a 34-year career,” he said.

Dinelli served as a city councilor from 1985 to 1989, the only time he’s held elected office. He hasn’t run for office since 1989, when he unsuccessfully campaigned for mayor.

He and his wife, Betty, had a baby in diapers and another child at the time. They also had bills to pay after the election.

“I turned to Betty and said, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ ” Dinelli recalled. “We made a commitment that I’d get out of politics as far as running for office and concentrate on my career as an attorney.”

He made a good one, colleagues say.

Former District Attorney Jeff Romero describes Dinelli as organized, hard-working, astute and loyal. Yes, he’s “assertive,” too.

“He’s not afraid to do what it takes to get the job done,” Romero said.

Chávez, the former mayor, calls Dinelli a “no-nonsense manager.” Being nice, Chávez said, doesn’t make you a good mayor.

Dinelli “is a pit bull,” Chávez said. “Once he’s got an issue, he doesn’t let go of it.”

Kennedy, the attorney who sued the city over its strike force, doesn’t see Dinelli in such a positive light.

“Pete Dinelli uses the brute force of police power to accomplish political goals,” Kennedy said, referring to Dinelli’s time with the Safe City Strike Force.

Kennedy’s comments came in a written statement to the Journal , in response to questions about Dinelli.

Kennedy is registered as a Republican, but he said he hasn’t contributed financially to Berry or attended any of his events.

Before the strike-force case was settled, U.S. District Judge James O. Browning found the city had failed to show sufficient evidence about whether the code violations in the challenged cases demonstrated an immediate danger to the lives and safety of the occupants – enough to turn people out of their homes without a warrant.

Dinelli said the city simply failed to defend itself in the lawsuit and that he had done everything he could to prevent civil-rights violations. As for Kennedy’s comments, Dinelli called them “absolute nonsense and spoken like a true plaintiffs’ lawyer.”

Dinelli does say there was “extreme unprofessional conduct” by four police officers and that he tried to get them fired when he learned of it. The police chief refused, Dinelli said.

A city organizational chart dated May 2009 shows the police chief under Dinelli’s chain of command. But Dinelli maintains he had no power to discipline police officers who were part of the Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit.

Dinelli said it’s fair to describe his work as an attorney as aggressive.

“Zealous … representation is critical to the success of any lawyer and ultimately what’s in the best interest of the client,” Dinelli said. “My client happened to be the people of Albuquerque and city government.”

Strong N.M. roots

Dinelli likes to introduce himself to audiences as the son of a working-class family. His father, Paul, was a barber whose first language was Italian. His mom, Rose, was a “Harvey girl” – a server who worked in a hotel or restaurant along the railroad line – and her first language was Spanish.

His dad’s side of the family arrived in New Mexico from Italy around 1900. His mom’s family traces its state roots to 1650.

Dinelli was 12 when his dad fell ill, he said, leaving his mom to keep the family going. She raised the family “as a waitress on minimum wage,” Dinelli said.

Politics came early. In 1970, he served as senior class president of Del Norte High School. He was also governor of New Mexico Boys State, a summer leadership program.

Dinelli joined student government at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. He went to law school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. Those college years are the only times he’s lived outside Albuquerque.

He ran for City Council in 1985, winning a public office while still in his early 30s.

“Politics has always been in my blood,” Dinelli said. “… I had big dreams back then. I wanted to be mayor, U.S. senator or governor.”

After four years on the City Council and a loss to Louis Saavedra in the 1989 mayoral race, he decided not to run again.

Dinelli said it’s love for his family that has drawn him back in.

“I really believe we can do better, and our best days are yet to come,” Dinelli said. “I want to be able to provide my sons with the same opportunities that I had.”

The city is “losing our youth in droves,” he said. “… You have a laid-back mayor who doesn’t think there’s a problem, (that) things are turning around. Well, they’re not.”

Dinelli said Albuquerque’s education system is a barrier to economic development, and he would work to expand the city’s before- and after-school programs, in addition to seeking ways to share libraries and other buildings with the school district.

The city should also lobby for school priorities in the Legislature, he said.

But Dinelli also makes it clear that he doesn’t want Albuquerque Public Schools brought under city control.

“The bully pulpit is the key,” Dinelli said. “… The Mayor’s Office needs to reach out far more to our Albuquerque public school system to find out, ‘How can I help you? How can I advocate for the school system?’ ”

A different approach

Dinelli said he would bring a goal- and results-oriented approach to City Hall. He said he’s “strong-willed” and can manage other strong-willed people.

Dinelli accused Berry of hiring too many people from state political circles without previous experience at City Hall.

“It’ll be totally different with me,” Dinelli said. “I’m going to be concerned about identifying individuals within city government and (outside) who know how to manage people and have done so.”

Dinelli said his record under Chávez, when he worked with both Republicans and Democrats, shows he would work well with the City Council, regardless of which party holds a majority of the seats.

In this year’s mayoral race, Dinelli has stressed his registration as a Democrat. City races are technically nonpartisan, so party affiliation won’t appear on the ballot.

In April, during a state Democratic Party central committee meeting, Dinelli called Democrats who vote for a Republican a “bunch of pendejos,” a Spanish pejorative. He later apologized.

Dinelli said in a recent interview that the controversy was “much ado about nothing” and that he has a record of cooperating with people across party lines.

“I’m a Democrat. I was talking to Democrats,” Dinelli said. “What I was saying is that, if you’re a Democrat and you believe in a women’s right to choose and you believe in the minimum wage and you want immigration reform and you believe in marriage equality, why would you ever vote for a right-wing Republican mayor?”

He says he’s got the backbone to get things done.

“I don’t want to be governor. I don’t want to be a U.S. senator or congressman. All I want to be is mayor of Albuquerque. …”

“I love public service. I’ve got a good number of years left in me still.”
Pete Dinelli

POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat

AGE: 61

EDUCATION: Jurist doctorate, St. Mary’s University School of Law, San Antonio, Texas, 1977; bachelor of business administration, with a major in finance, Eastern New Mexico University, 1974; graduate, Del Norte High School, 1970.

OCCUPATION: Attorney at law, 34 years. When not serving in public, appointed positions, I was in private practice handling insurance defense work, business law, corporate law, bankruptcy law, commercial law, workers’ compensation, limited criminal defense work and administrative law. Total private practice experience is 13 years.

FAMILY: Wife, Betty Case Dinelli; two sons

POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: City of Albuquerque: chief public safety officer, 2008-09; deputy city attorney, 2002-09; director of Safe City Strike Force, 2002-09; interim director, 911 Emergency Call Center, 2008-09. Also served as supervisor of DWI Vehicle Forfeiture Unit and Metropolitan Court Traffic Arraignment Program. Other work: chief deputy district attorney in Bernalillo County, 1997-2000; New Mexico workers’ compensation judge, 1991-97; Albuquerque city councilor, 1985-89; assistant district attorney in Bernalillo County, 1981-83; assistant N.M. attorney general, 1978-81

MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT:

Successful trial attorney for 34 years, including over 27 years of government service focused on making government work better and be more responsive to the people of New Mexico.

MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT:

Marriage to my wife, Betty Case Dinelli, for 29 years and raising two sons whom we are very proud of and love. doesn’t think there’s a problem, (that) things are turning around. Well, they’re not.”

Dinelli said Albuquerque’s education system is a barrier to economic development, and he would work to expand the city’s before- and after-school programs, in addition to seeking ways to share libraries and other buildings with the school district.

The city should also lobby for school priorities in the Legislature, he said.

But Dinelli also makes it clear that he doesn’t want Albuquerque Public Schools brought under city control.

“The bully pulpit is the key,” Dinelli said. “…The Mayor’s Office needs to reach out far more to our Albuquerque public school system to find out, ‘How can I help you? How can I advocate for the school system?’”

A different approach

Dinelli said he would bring a goal- and results-oriented approach to City Hall. He said he’s “strong-willed” and can manage other strong-willed people.

Dinelli accused Berry of hiring too many people from state political circles without previous experience at City Hall.

“It’ll be totally different with me,” Dinelli said. “I’m going to be concerned about identifying individuals within city government and (outside) who know how to manage people and have done so.”

Dinelli said his record under Chávez, when he worked with both Republicans and Democrats, shows he would work well with the City Council, regardless of which party holds a majority of the seats.

In this year’s mayoral race, Dinelli has stressed his registration as a Democrat. City races are technically nonpartisan, so party affiliation won’t appear on the ballot.

In April, during a state Democratic Party central committee meeting, Dinelli called Democrats who vote for a Republican a “bunch of pendejos,” a Spanish pejorative. He later apologized.

Dinelli said in a recent interview that the controversy was “much ado about nothing” and that he has a record of cooperating with people across party lines.

“I’m a Democrat. I was talking to Democrats,” Dinelli said. “What I was saying is that, if you’re a Democrat and you believe in a women’s right to choose and you believe in the minimum wage and you want immigration reform and you believe in marriage equality, why would you ever vote for a right-wing Republican mayor?”

He says he’s got the backbone to get things done.

“I don’t want to be governor. I don’t want to be a U.S. senator or congressman. All I want to be is mayor of Albuquerque. …”

“I love public service. I’ve got a good number of years left in me still.”

Q and A

 

1. WHAT WOULD BE YOUR APPROACH TO BOOSTING THE ECONOMY IN ALBUQUERQUE?

I have proposed a plan called Energize Albuquerque that will create 20,000 new jobs by investing $1.5 billion in infrastructure, supporting local businesses and attracting new industry all without new taxes.

2. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE OPTIMUM NUMBER OF OFFICERS FOR APD AND WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WOULD YOU DO TO IMPROVE RECRUITMENT?

1,100 officers is optimum. We must reinstate hiring bonuses, incentive bonuses, mortgage down payment bonuses and recruit lateral transfers. Adjust hiring standards increasing minimum age requirement to 24 and revisit education and military requirements.

3. DO YOU THINK CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF THE ALBUQUERQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT NEEDS TO BE OVERHAULED? IF SO, HOW? IF NOT, WHY?

Absolutely. The Police Oversight Commission can be given more authority and input over police standard operating procedures and police internal affairs reviews and investigations including perhaps authority to accept or reject discipline measures.

4. WHAT STEPS SHOULD THE CITY TAKE, EITHER DIRECTLY THROUGH CITY GOVERNMENT OR THROUGH THE ALBUQUERQUE BERNALILLO COUNTY WATER UTILITY AUTHORITY, TO ENSURE ALBUQUERQUE’S WATER FUTURE?

Aggressive water conservation efforts need to be fully implemented at all government facilities. The city needs to promote more water conservation efforts with the private sector and offer incentives with the Water Utility Authority.

5. DO YOU SUPPORT THE PRACTICE OF “UNION TIME,” IN WHICH UNION LEADERS ARE ALLOWED TO DRAW CITY PAY WHILE WORKING ON LABOR-MANAGEMENT RELATIONS?

Yes. All contract negotiations are work-related. Both management and union representatives are government employees paid by taxpayers. It is an issue of fair play, good faith and equal representation on both sides.

6. WHAT DIFFERENTIATES YOU FROM YOUR OPPONENTS?

I’m a Democrat. I am pro-choice, support marriage equality, fought for the minimum wage increase and oppose right to work. Republican RJ Berry supports extreme anti-choice measure that does not provide exceptions for rape/incest.

7. NAME ONE ISSUE NOT MENTIONED IN A PREVIOUS QUESTION THAT YOU WOULD PLAN TO TACKLE AS MAYOR OR CITY COUNCILOR.

The No. 1 environmental issue facing the city is the jet fuel spill at Kirtland Air Force Base. The city needs to be far more aggressive in enforcing the cleanup by the federal government.

8. HAVE YOU OR YOUR BUSINESS, IF YOU ARE A BUSINESS OWNER, EVER BEEN THE SUBJECT OF ANY STATE OR FEDERAL TAX LIENS?

No.

9. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN INVOLVED IN A PERSONAL OR BUSINESS BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDING?

No.

10. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ARRESTED FOR, CHARGED WITH, OR CONVICTED OF DRUNKEN DRIVING, ANY MISDEMEANOR OR ANY FELONY IN NEW MEXICO OR ANY OTHER STATE?

No, I have never been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving or any felony. I recall a speeding citation I received about two years ago that was dismissed. I have not been charged with other types of misdemeanors.

Top
Read previous post:
Take a spin with NMSU futurist

Here's a link to a presentation by New Mexico State University professor Lowell Catlett at the Domenici Public Policy Conference......

Close