SANTA FE – More steam is rising from the Democratic primary election contest for New Mexico state treasurer, with the race becoming one of the state’s most heated.
Former state senator Tim Eichenberg claimed Friday that his opponent in the two-way primary, former state party chairman John Wertheim, is trying to “smear” him with inaccurate and dated claims.
“My opponent is using 39-year-old smears because he doesn’t want to talk about experience, integrity and qualifications,” Eichenberg wrote in an email to supporters. “On those issues, I’m the right choice for state treasurer.”
On the other side, Wertheim claimed in a campaign mailer sent to voters this week that Eichenberg has a “bad record on our Democratic values.”
The increasingly contentious race stands in contrast to the five-way Democratic gubernatorial contest, in which the candidates have so far largely stayed away from negative attacks.
In his Friday email, Eichenberg said he was proud of the ethnic and gender diversity in the Bernalillo County Treasurer’s Office when he was county treasurer in the 1970s.
That was in response to Wertheim citing a New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruling on a wrongful termination complaint by employees fired by Eichenberg after he was elected county treasurer in 1974. Eichenberg has claimed the employees were fired for valid reasons and pointed out he was re-elected to the post in 1976.
“Change is never easy when you shake up the status quo,” Eichenberg wrote in his email. “In streamlining the office, I quickly ruffled some feathers.”
In the run-up to the June 3 primary election, Wertheim has used the incident and others to suggest Eichenberg has not adhered to core Democratic Party principles.
In a TV ad released earlier this week, Wertheim described himself as the “real Democrat” in the race – a label he has also used in campaign mailers.
As proof of his own Democratic credentials, Wertheim touted his background as the director of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in New Mexico in 1992 and his legal work to uphold Santa Fe’s minimum wage.
“John has always stood with Democrats and worked to promote Democratic values,” Wertheim’s campaign manager Winston O’Neal said in announcing the TV ad.
The most recent mailer sent by Wertheim cited Eichenberg’s vote against a bill in the Legislature prohibiting health insurance companies from discriminating against women and the wrongful termination claim, among other things.
The winner of the June 3 primary election will likely face Republican Rick Lopez, a veteran of state and local government, in the November general election.
A third Democratic candidate, former Bernalillo County Treasurer Patrick Padilla, was bumped off the ballot – in a court challenge filed by Wertheim – for not having enough valid voter signatures.
Current state Treasurer James Lewis is wrapping up his second consecutive four-year term this year and is barred from seeking re-election.