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Sen. District 14: Allegations Fly in Senate Race

Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal

The Democratic primary in a newly drawn Senate district in Albuquerque’s South Valley features familiar faces – two experienced lawmakers and a businessman who once worked for the city – in a lively contest.

The winner of the June 5 election gets the Senate seat: There’s no GOP candidate on the ballot in District 14.

Current state Rep. Eleanor Chavez, ex-legislator James Taylor and small-business owner Michael Padilla are competing to succeed Democratic Sen. Eric Griego, who is making a bid for the 1st Congressional District seat.

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Chavez, who has been in the state House since 2009, has a long string of labor, environmental and other endorsements and outraised each of her opponents three-to-one in early fundraising.

But Padilla, whose company builds customer service call centers, has aggressively gone after Chavez, complaining that her nominating petitions contained forged signatures. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

Padilla sent out mailers to voters about the 10 questionable signatures, linking Chavez to “Identity Theft, Forgery and Voter Fraud.”

Chavez shot back with a mailer accusing Padilla of smear tactics and distorting her voting record on ethics issues, and reminding voters of his “sordid history” as the subject of sexual harassment complaints.

“The other two have been beating each other up,” said Taylor, who hopes that works to his advantage. Taylor spent 10 years in the House – where he was majority whip – before he was appointed, and subsequently elected, to the Senate to replace Sen. Manny Aragon, who had left to become president of New Mexico Highlands University.

Taylor lost his Senate seat in 2008 to Griego, part of a push by progressives that saw three longtime Albuquerque Democratic incumbents ousted. Chavez was part of that wave, defeating 22-year House veteran Rep. Dan Silva.

Taylor says of the 24 precincts in the newly drawn District 14 – which includes the South Valley, Southwest Mesa and South Broadway areas – only five have not previously been in his House or Senate districts.

“I think it’s been an advantage that people know me, and they know I’ve served them before,” said Taylor, a marketing and education consultant.

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Chavez, a former social worker and union organizer and staff representative, said the problematic signatures on her petitions were collected by a volunteer whom she had never met, and that Padilla has sensationalized the issue to draw attention away from his own past, which “is on women’s minds, especially.”

The city of Albuquerque had to pay for sexual harassment claims stemming from Padilla’s tenure overhauling the problem-plagued 911 center. Two women settled for $149,000; a third won a federal civil rights lawsuit and the city paid $1,200 to cover her counseling costs and $101,000 in legal fees.

Padilla had resigned in 2007, saying he was “railroaded” after 10 female supervisors complained to the city about a hostile work environment and an investigation found he made insulting remarks and repeatedly asked a dispatcher out on dates. He denied all the allegations, including that he told some employees that in his house “women make tortillas, take care of the kids and clean the house.”

Padilla told the Journal recently the allegations were “over the top” and “ridiculous,” and that he was targeted by a management team worried about their jobs in the reorganization.

“Those accusations were 100 percent false,” he said.

Padilla’s firm, Altivus CRM Solutions, was hired by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration last year to run the call center for her short-lived program requiring foreign nationals with driver’s licenses to verify their residency.

He is a distant cousin of Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal

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