Editor’s Note: This the first in a series of profiles on the three mayoral candidates. The series will continue Thursday and Friday.
Paul Heh says he never imagined a run for mayor.
That changed one day while watching the news with his wife, Debbie.
“I said, ‘You know what, hon, this city is falling apart. It’s deteriorating.’ I said, ‘Somebody needs to do something about it,’ ” Heh recalled in a recent interview. “She looks at me, and she goes, ‘Yeah, somebody does.’ ”
That somebody, they agreed, was him.
“We can do better, but I don’t see politicians doing it,” Heh said.
Heh, a retired police sergeant and former factory worker, is taking on incumbent Richard Berry and former Deputy City Attorney Pete Dinelli in the Oct. 8 mayoral race. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a runoff featuring the top two competitors will follow in November.
A Journal Poll this month put Heh’s support at 2 percent among likely voters.
Heh stands out in candidate forums. He offers a strikingly harsh view of Albuquerque. He’ll raise his voice almost to a shout. And he’s not afraid to call “bullshit” – his word – when responding to another candidate’s comments.
In a Journal interview, Heh was characteristically blunt in assessing the city.
The Police Department, he said, is in complete disarray and facing a federal investigation. The education system, he said, has a terrible dropout rate, its schools awash in heroin and Oxycontin.
And the economy, well, it’s “in the toilet,” Heh said over a lunch at the Weck’s on Louisiana NE.
His frankness is part of his campaign platform.
“I think it’s about time we had somebody with my demeanor be mayor,” Heh said.
No party backing
Heh, 67, retired from the Albuquerque Police Department in 2011. He’s never held an elected office. He’s registered as a Republican but freely acknowledges that no political party is backing him.
All of that is part of why voters ought to support him, he said. Politicians are failing the city, he argues.
“I believe I’m the answer,” he said.
Heh said he refuses special treatment as a candidate, and would do the same as mayor. The organizers of a recent forum offered to have security escort him to the ballroom for the event.
“I parked in the parking lot and walked up like everybody else,” Heh said. “What makes me special because I’m running for mayor? Who the hell cares?
“That’s where I think politicians lose it. They get all self-important.”
Ousama Rasheed, a criminal defense attorney, said it would be a mistake to underestimate Heh. The former police officer is a “no-nonsense guy” who can make quick, effective decisions, he said.
“We have been adversaries in court for a couple of decades,” said Rasheed, who encountered Heh while representing people accused of drunken driving. “But he’s somebody who was always fair, always balanced, always rational.”
Rasheed donated $400 to Heh’s mayoral campaign.
Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque police union, said she used to work with Heh on the graveyard shift.
“I know he’s a good leader,” Lopez said. “He takes care of the people he has working underneath him. He takes the time to listen.”
As mayor, Heh said, he’d like to expand the police force; attract tourists and others with big events, such as athletic competitions or car shows; and open a drug-rehabilitation center where addicted inmates could be sentenced instead of jail.
Heh has had his share of controversies and challenges.
He declared personal bankruptcy when a divorce led to a custody battle over children. He said he spent “well over $100,000” in the early 1990s because of it.
The Family Court system is costly, he said.
“It bankrupted me,” Heh said. “Like I say, I’ve had the same kind of problems that other people have had.”
Heh says he just bought a car and now has excellent credit.
As an officer, he’s ended up in the news on occasion:
• Heh was one of City Hall’s highest-paid employees.
In 2011, for example, the city identified Heh as its fourth-highest paid employee the previous year at $139,000. He made more than the mayor and trailed only two top city administrators and the police chief.
In some years, he made tens of thousands of dollars in overtime.
Heh says the overtime was justified and that he even donated some of his time to the city without pay.
He worked the graveyard shift and cracked down on drunken drivers, he said. That meant showing up in court during his off hours.
“What’s the sense of arresting someone if you’re not going to follow through with the prosecution?” Heh asks.
The city approved his time sheets, he said.
n In 1998, an attorney for Heh said Heh had looked into rumors that police had covered up a domestic violence allegation against former Mayor Martin Chávez, according to a Journal article that summer. A Chávez spokesman at the time called it an unauthorized investigation fueled by an officer with a “vendetta.”
The allegations of domestic violence and a cover-up were never substantiated.
Heh’s attorney at the time said he had no ax to grind and was just doing his job.
Heh said in a recent interview that he had just been in charge of the Crime Stoppers tip program, and someone came in with the allegations about Chávez.
Heh said he recalls taking her statement, but he doesn’t remember much more about it
“I truly don’t remember,” he said. “It’s been so long.”
Heh said he didn’t publicize the allegation. He simply gave a copy of the tipster’s taped statement to his attorney, he said. He may also have given a copy to his supervisor, but he couldn’t recall.
As for why he had an attorney, Heh said he hired one out of fear of retaliation.
• In 2008, Heh went to a City Council meeting and spoke out against a police union contract. He was later the target of an internal affairs investigation into allegations that he and others had intimidated younger officers, who were expected to benefit more from the contract than senior officers.
Heh said the investigation was retaliation for his speaking out at a council meeting and that nothing ever came of the investigation.
“I have more integrity than that,” he said of the allegations. “I would never do that.”
• He posts on “Eye on Albuquerque,” an anonymously written blog that is harshly critical of Berry and compares the administration to fascism.
Heh said he doesn’t post anonymously and hasn’t posted at all in months.
“When I post, I put my name on it,” Heh said. “… I’m not the editor of the Eye on Albuquerque, as I’ve been accused of many times.”
Heh’s law-enforcement career begin in New York state. “Women’s lib” helped make it happen, he said.
At 5 feet, 5 inches, Heh said he was too short to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a cop.
Instead, he worked at the Westinghouse Electric factory in upstate New York. But departments dropped their height requirement in response to the women’s liberation movement, Heh said, and he joined a small-town police force.
Looking for warmer weather, he ended up in Hobbs in 1980, then Albuquerque in 1987.
As an officer, Heh said he chose to work the streets, confronting Albuquerque’s problems first hand.
“When utter chaos is erupting, the blue suits are the first ones there,” Heh said. “You have to make sense out of chaos. You have to take control of that crime scene immediately.”
That leadership translates better to politics than you might think, he suggested.
On a crime scene, “I have to make split decisions, and those decisions better be right,” Heh said. “The worst decision you can make is no decision. I see politicians doing this all the time.”
Paul J. Heh
POLITICAL PARTY: Republican
EDUCATION: High school diploma, 1964; some college in the field of criminal justice and law.
OCCUPATION: Retired senior police sergeant for the Albuquerque Police Department after 25 years of service, 1987-2011; police officer, Hobbs, 1980-87; blue-collar factory worker, 1965-78.
FAMILY: Wife, Debbie; one son and two daughters
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: None. I am the only non-politician in this race. Retired from the city of Albuquerque as a senior sergeant and served in the military in the Army Guard.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Stopped a bogus and fraudulent minor league football team from doing business in Albuquerque. I was also able to get investors’ money back. I worked diligently to detect, prevent and apprehend criminals, including drug dealers.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Being a police officer in New Mexico for over 31 years with over 25 years in Albuquerque. Raising and caring for my family, and I am still madly in love with my wife, Debbie.
Q and A
1. WHAT WOULD BE YOUR APPROACH TO BOOSTING THE ECONOMY IN ALBUQUERQUE?
First, Albuquerque will host several major events to pump dollars immediately into your pockets and our economy. Second (simultaneously), I will have a force of stewards that will go out and sell Albuquerque to industry.
2. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE OPTIMUM NUMBER OF OFFICERS FOR APD AND WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WOULD YOU DO TO IMPROVE RECRUITMENT?
1,200 and eventually to 1,400. I would immediately drop the college requirement. APD provides all the training and tools an officer needs. If elected, I will rely heavily on our returning veterans for recruitment.
3. DO YOU THINK CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF THE ALBUQUERQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT NEEDS TO BE OVERHAULED? IF SO, HOW? IF NOT, WHY?
Yes. The civilian oversight has been poisoned by (former chief public safety officer Darren) White, (former police chief Ray) Schultz and (Mayor Richard) Berry. I want a fair system; let the facts speak the truth. I have already sent my draft proposal to all stakeholders.
4. WHAT STEPS SHOULD THE CITY TAKE, EITHER DIRECTLY THROUGH CITY GOVERNMENT OR THROUGH THE ALBUQUERQUE BERNALILLO COUNTY WATER UTILITY AUTHORITY, TO ENSURE ALBUQUERQUE’S WATER FUTURE?
First and foremost, we must address and solve the issue of the KAFB fuel contamination. This contamination is threatening Albuquerque’s very existence. If this is not solved we will have no water to fight over.
5. DO YOU SUPPORT THE PRACTICE OF “UNION TIME,” IN WHICH UNION LEADERS ARE ALLOWED TO DRAW CITY PAY WHILE WORKING ON LABOR-MANAGEMENT RELATIONS?
Yes. However, I will only be willing to extend this courtesy to the president of the union. All others will not be afforded this courtesy. This courtesy is an “olive branch” of good faith.
6. WHAT DIFFERENTIATES YOU FROM YOUR OPPONENTS?
I am not a politician. I have plans to reform and change Albuquerque. My plans will bring jobs, correct APD, and stop the drugs in schools and address our uneducated workforce and save Albuquerque.
7. NAME ONE ISSUE NOT MENTIONED IN A PREVIOUS QUESTION THAT YOU WOULD PLAN TO TACKLE AS MAYOR OR CITY COUNCILOR.
Property crimes can only be reduced by addressing the drug issue. Our efforts against drugs the past 40 years haven’t worked. My plan will reduce the demand for drugs and thus reduce property crimes.
8. HAVE YOU OR YOUR BUSINESS, IF YOU ARE A BUSINESS OWNER, EVER BEEN THE SUBJECT OF ANY STATE OR FEDERAL TAX LIENS?
9. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN INVOLVED IN A PERSONAL OR BUSINESS BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDING?
Yes. Many many years ago. I was not bailed out like the auto industry. I resolved my issues through the legal process and rebuilt myself.
10. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ARRESTED FOR, CHARGED WITH, OR CONVICTED OF DRUNKEN DRIVING, ANY MISDEMEANOR OR ANY FELONY IN NEW MEXICO OR ANY OTHER STATE?