Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of profiles the Journal will publish over the next few weeks on Albuquerque’s mayoral candidates.
Albuquerque mayoral candidate Ricardo Chaves isn’t your typical politician, and his story is drawing comparison to another political outsider who defied the odds.
“He’s the Albuquerque version of Donald J. Trump, without the tweets and the weird stuff,” says Jerry Loeb, one of Chaves’ supporters.
Chaves is a wealthy Republican businessman who jumped into the political arena late in life. The 81-year-old founder of Parking Company of America isn’t dependent on donors to fund his political aspirations, having pumped more than $500,000 of his own money into his campaign so far.
And a key part of his message is that he is a businessman – not a politician – and he would bring a businessman’s common-sense approach to government.
“Albuquerque is ready to grow if we can just get the city government bureaucracy out of the way,” Chaves asserts on his campaign website.
His disdain for “government bureaucracy” isn’t surprising.
The city of Albuquerque has sued him or his companies on at least two occasions, accusing him of defaulting on an $800,000 taxpayer-backed loan and in another case alleging that he and one of his companies – Less Government LLC – established an illegal commercial surface parking lot on Gold Avenue near Second Street.
The default case has been settled. The zoning lawsuit is still making its way through the courts.
Chaves, who graduated from Albuquerque High School in 1954, is one of eight candidates on this year’s mayoral ballot. Also running are:
• Republicans Wayne Johnson, a Bernalillo County commissioner; and Dan Lewis, a city councilor.
• Democrats Gus Pedrotty, a recent University of New Mexico graduate; Brian Colón, an attorney and former state Democratic Party chairman; and Tim Keller, the state auditor and a former state senator.
• Independents Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, co-founder of the civic group Urban ABQ; and Michelle Garcia Holmes, a former chief of staff for the state attorney general and a retired Albuquerque police detective.
Election Day is Oct. 3. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two will advance to a runoff election in November.
The new mayor takes office Dec. 1.
While many of the candidates have made it a priority to take part in every mayoral forum they have been invited to, Chaves’ attendance at those events has been spotty. And he has at times struggled at the forums when he has shown up.
Chaves has nevertheless been getting his message out through social media, direct mailings, television and radio appearances, and one-on-one interactions. And that message is resonating with some voters.
“We need some new blood – top to bottom,” said Loeb, a former Army officer and published author who has lived in Albuquerque for about 10 years.
Loeb said Albuquerque has so much potential, but he decried the high crime rate and pointed to judges letting people out of jail and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center being half full.
“It just doesn’t seem like the city and the politicians are in touch with reality,” he said, stressing that it’s time for a new approach.
Like the other candidates, Chaves has pledged to fire Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden. In fact, he has called on outgoing Mayor Richard Berry to fire him immediately.
He said he would conduct a nationwide search for a new chief with a proven history of turning around police departments and no ties to the Albuquerque Police Department.
Chaves has also called on city officials to halt the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project and pledged to trim the city budget by 10 percent “by cutting waste and by finding new, more efficient ways of doing things.”
He said he would sell the city’s bus system and golf courses, which, he said, are losing money. Also on his to-do list is cutting regulations to make it easier to start a business in Albuquerque.
“He’s a pro-business kind of guy,” said Vidal Lopez, an independent voter and general manager of the Duke City Gladiators. “He’s not trying to impress anyone. … He’s against all the waste we’ve experienced in our city, i.e. ART. He’s pro-police.”
Lopez said he also likes that Chaves is financing his own campaign and isn’t beholden to anybody. He said he also likes Colón and hasn’t yet decided for whom he will vote.
One person who definitely won’t vote for Chaves is Herb Pluemer, a former business partner of the candidate who filed suit when their business relationship soured.
The two men joined together in 2004 to purchase several assets from a bankruptcy proceeding. Among the assets that Chaves and Pluemer eventually acquired was the Metropolitan Court parking contract.
Pluemer filed suit against Chaves in 2012, alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties and fraud, among other claims. Chaves denied the allegations.
The two men reached a settlement, although Pluemer later took Chaves back to court to enforce the settlement.
Pluemer and the city aren’t the only ones who have taken Chaves to court.
In 2002, Linda Chaves, his daughter, filed a lawsuit against him and others in state District Court in Albuquerque, alleging that her income from the family enterprises was cut off after she refused to guarantee a $5.2 million loan for one of the family businesses.
She contended that her efforts to obtain information about transactions for the companies she had an interest in were stymied. In her lawsuit, Linda Chaves asked for a full accounting, that the corporations she had an interest in be dissolved, and that a receiver be appointed to operate family business entities.
Chaves denied the allegations, and the case was settled.
Chaves has also been involved in legal disputes with one of his brothers and a nephew.
Another family member, meanwhile, has made a significant contribution to one of Chaves’ competitors.
A campaign finance report filed in July shows that Alex Martin Chaves, with Parking Company of America in Los Angeles, donated $5,150 to Colón’s campaign.
Ricardo Chaves said his nephew made that contribution before he announced that he was running for office. Alex Martin Chaves had not responded to messages from the Journal as of press time.
New Mexico roots
Chaves, an Army veteran and the son of a South Valley apple farmer, said he decided to run for mayor “because I want to try to save Albuquerque.” He said his family has been here for 14 generations, and he loves the city.
It’s where he started his parking empire at the age of 25, after graduating from UNM.
“I started the company by myself, and I taught all my brothers, all nine of them, the business,” he said.
Today, Chaves and his siblings operate parking companies in 30 states, he said.
Chaves maintained parking enterprises in Albuquerque and Dallas and handed those interests off to his children about 20 years ago.
“They were very instrumental in me succeeding,” he said about his five kids. “They worked hard.”
Spray paint arrest
Chaves did not disclose a June 26, 2000, misdemeanor arrest when asked in a Journal questionnaire whether he had “ever been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state.” Chaves answered “no.”
But an incident report states that an APD officer was traveling on Interstate 25 when he saw a vehicle parked and partially blocking the slow lane.
“I observed Mr. Chavez (sic) spray painting a large street sign, while standing on the rear bumper of his vehicle for support and elevation,” the officer wrote. Chaves was 64 at the time.
As the officer approached the vehicle, Chaves jumped inside and drove away, the report states.
Chaves was pulled over, arrested and booked into MDC on three misdemeanor charges – graffiti, criminal damage to property and obstructing a street. The Journal was unable to locate the Metro Court records on that case.
Asked about the omission, Chaves initially said he did not remember the incident.
“There was no conviction or trial or anything on that,” he said later. “That’s why I couldn’t remember it.”