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Dinelli qualifies for public financing in mayor race

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former City Councilor Pete Dinelli on Monday became the only mayoral candidate to qualify for public financing this year after turning in some 5,000 small contributions from Albuquerque voters.

Two other candidates, Margaret Aragon de Chávez and Paul Heh, had initially sought to qualify, too, but later opted to pursue private contributions instead.

Incumbent Richard Berry has said all along that he would privately finance his campaign.

Dinelli is set to receive about $350,000 in city funds to run this year. That’s $1 per registered voter in the city, with some reductions for “seed money” he was allowed to raise on his own.

To qualify, Dinelli had to gather $5 contributions from 3,621 voters, no easy task given that they have to be collected in person, not online.

Dinelli said the public funds mean he won’t end up beholden to lobbyists or big-time contributors.

“I strongly believe in the public financing system,” he said before carrying his last boxes of paperwork into the city clerk’s office.

Four years ago, all three mayoral candidates on the ballot – Berry, Martin Chávez and Richard Romero – qualified for public financing. Two other major candidates, Michael Cadigan and Debbie O’Malley, initially sought public funds that year but dropped out of the race altogether, partly because of the difficulty of gathering $5 contributions.

Dinelli said he and supporters went door-to-door and to neighborhood meetings to collect qualifying contributions. They came from “hard-working” residents, he said.

In addition to qualifying contributions, Dinelli also turned in more than 5,000 signatures to win a spot on the Oct. 8 ballot. The clerk’s office still needs to verify that they’re valid before certifying him.

Aragon de Chávez, a state employee and former first lady of Albuquerque; Berry, the incumbent; and Heh, a retired police sergeant, also must submit signatures – 3,000 are required by April 28 – to get on the ballot.

Berry said his campaign turned in some 5,600 signatures on Monday.

“It’s just really humbling to get all that support from people out in the city,” Berry said.

Aragon de Chávez said it’s difficult to get public financing without having a full-time campaign staff. Furthermore, she said, the roughly $360,000 in public funds she’d get might not be enough to win the race if privately funded candidates raise far more.

“I didn’t want to have my hands tied,” Aragon de Chávez said, adding that she will continue gathering signatures to earn a spot on the ballot.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal