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State legislator, BernCo commissioner clash over visitor center study

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley’s push to get a West Central Route 66 Visitor Center feasibility study completed before construction began did not go over well with some people, including one state lawmaker.

In what O’Malley called an “inappropriate” series of emails, state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, questioned her understanding of the project and accused her of failing her West Side constituents.

Candelaria, however, said his criticism is justified since O’Malley, a fellow Democrat, had insulted the community members driving the project.

Candelaria’s messages to O’Malley – on which he copied several other local elected officials – began after the Journal reported that O’Malley had recommended a third-party analysis to determine the market for some of the center’s proposed uses.

The story quoted O’Malley saying she thought the county had “missed a step” by proceeding without such a study.

But Candelaria wrote to say he was “sincerely disappointed” in those comments, calling them “unfair” to the community that had worked for years on the project.

“I believe the statements you made reflect a lack of understanding rather than a true criticism of this project,” he wrote Nov. 29 in an email chain obtained by the Journal. Though he said he agreed with having a “broader conversation” about the center’s mission, he said he had not seen O’Malley support the project and pointed out that her district includes parts of West Side Albuquerque.

O’Malley responded that she was “sincerely disappointed in (Candelaria’s) accusatory tone” and that a feasibility analysis would inform the county about a facility it will own.

“If you would have been paying attention, you would know that I have supported this project and continue to support it,” she wrote. “That does not mean that I don’t have legitimate concerns or questions.”

Candelaria followed by calling O’Malley an ineffective county commissioner who does not “step up for the westside” and blamed her for what he deemed the county’s limited influence among state lawmakers.

“Your behavior and lack of commitment and support for the westside is A matter of record. You don’t work collaboratively, and you throw bombs because you feel you know better than all of us and our communities,” he wrote, adding that he was “happy” that she was term-limited.

O’Malley told the Journal in a recent interview that the messages surprised her. She said she does not have an antagonistic relationship with Candelaria, and she was disappointed that he chose to email a group of officials rather than call and speak to her directly. She also defended her work to benefit the West Side, citing as an example her support for the expansion of Atrisco Vista Boulevard.

“That was just really out of left field and I thought it was very inappropriate,” O’Malley said of Candelaria’s response.

Candelaria, meanwhile, said he stands by the messages because he thinks O’Malley disrespected the Southwest Albuquerque community’s grassroots effort to bring the project to fruition. Candelaria’s state Senate district covers the project site, and he has helped fund it through his state capital outlay funds.

“Just because the planning wasn’t run by her office and doesn’t meet her quote-unquote idea of planning, it’s still disrespectful for her to say this planning, quote-unquote, wasn’t done or that steps were missed,” he said.

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