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Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Republican Challenger Upsets Three-Term Mayor Chavez; No Runoff Needed
By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
State Rep. Richard Berry scored an impressive victory Tuesday with an outright win over three-term incumbent Martin Chávez to become Albuquerque's next mayor.
"We had a message that resonated with voters in Albuquerque, and we worked hard," said Berry, a general contractor and two-term Republican state representative who campaigned as a "common-sense" business owner with conservative themes. He claimed victory at about 11 p.m.
Chávez stopped short of conceding Tuesday night. But before leaving a campaign party, he said, "Clearly, if the trend continues, R.J. Berry will be our next mayor."
Berry led Chávez by 7,326 votes with all precincts counted in what appeared to be a light turnout of about 25 percent.
Berry maintained a 5 percentage point or better lead over Chávez throughout the night and finished above the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff election next month. His margin over Chávez ended up being nearly 9 percentage points, according to unofficial results.
Richard Romero, the third candidate in the race, was trailing, with about 21 percent.
Acting City Clerk Randy Autio said the city wouldn't know how many provisional or spoiled ballots had been turned in at precincts until today.
If the election results are certified, Berry will become the first Republican mayor elected in Albuquerque since Harry Kinney won in 1981, joining a City Council that now holds a 5-to-4 Republican majority.
Little dissatisfaction with Chávez was evident before the campaign went full-bore, but Berry and Romero both stepped up criticism of the incumbent on crime and other issues as the campaign moved on. Both challengers argued that 12 of years of Chávez was simply too much.
The Albuquerque mayoral election is nonpartisan, but party affiliations clearly played a role. Chávez, a moderate if not a conservative Democrat, appeared to split Democratic votes with Romero, a former Democratic state senator. Berry rounded up Republicans and was competitive even in Democratic-leaning areas.
"Berry ended up consolidating the Republicans, as needed," said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff. "He performed well in the Northeast Heights and in traditional Chávez areas on the West Side."
The new mayor takes over Dec. 1 for a four-year term.
Chávez already made history when he was elected in 2005, becoming the first mayor to win consecutive terms since the city adopted the city charter system in 1974. Chávez also served as mayor from 1993 to 1997.
Chávez said that even if he lost, he's content with his accomplishments while serving as mayor.
"The city has really spread its wings, and I'm proud to have had at least a small role to play in that," he said.
Romero said his campaign was an uphill road.
"Going against an incumbent machine is always tough," Romero said. "We thought we would do a whole lot better. We saw ourselves in a runoff."
"(Berry) really surprised a lot of us with strength in some Democratic districts," Romero said.
Chávez apparently had a significant lead in August, but September saw his support starting to slip as he was hammered on both sides by Republicans and Democrats. In previous elections, Chávez had galvanized support from both groups.
Albuquerque voters were required to show photo ID for the first time this election, but poll workers across the city reported few problems or complaints.
"I think it's a great idea," said Liz Candelaria, a voter at Manzano High School. "You have a lot of people coming in and you don't know if they're registered voters. It's nice to have people who have a knowledge of who's running for city government and what is being proposed."
Most voters knew in advance that they needed a photo ID and offered it without complaint, poll workers said. But not all voters liked the idea.
"It might be tough for people who don't have a driver's license," Berry Ives said after he cast his vote at Valley High School. "The large majority of people do have a photo ID, but people who don't are probably low-income."
Berry has said his business experience would benefit the city, which he said would be run more efficiently under his watch.
He said the Police Department would be directed to make property crime and combating gangs top priorities. Albuquerque would also attempt to foster a more business-friendly environment under a Berry administration especially for small, local businesses, he said.
In his campaign, Chávez billed himself as an experienced, steady hand who gave Albuquerque the best shot at weathering the national recession. Voters, he said, could expect the same type of improvements and priorities they have seen over the past eight years.
Chávez had promised to add another 100 officers to the police force within the next 18 months and continue balancing the city budget without major service cuts or layoffs.
Romero promised voters he would end cronyism at City Hall, make government operations more transparent and shake up the police force, a move that would include the firing of Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz.
The tone of the race was negative from the beginning.
Chávez's challengers attacked early and often on Chávez's record and reputation for a prickly personality. Chávez stayed clear of negative tactics until mid-September, when he went on the offensive with advertising that questioned Berry's business credentials and Romero's political allegiances.