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Democrat winners in BernCo primaries likely to be fall favorites

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County voters this week will choose nominees to manage hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ cash, serve as Albuquerque’s top prosecutor and fill other local offices.

The winners of Tuesday’s primary election, of course, will shape the choices voters face this fall.

But, in most races, whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be heavily favored because Democrats comprise about 47 percent of registered voters in Bernalillo County. Republicans are about 30 percent, and the remainder are independents or affiliated with minor parties.

An investment meltdown that cost county taxpayers $17 million is the backdrop to the county treasurer’s race.

The field of Democratic candidates includes incumbent Manny Ortiz and former Treasurer Patrick Padilla – each of whom had a hand in the county’s investment strategy, though both deny responsibility for the losses – and two challengers who say it’s time for new leadership.

Christopher Sanchez, an accounting manager in the Treasurer’s Office, and Nancy Bearce, a neighborhood leader who used to work for the state, are urging voters to embrace a change in direction.

Primary election voters tend to be older and more educated than the average voter, pollster Brian Sanderoff said. But, even so, they may have trouble sorting out the four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, he said.

None of the candidates has raised and spent enough money to flood the television with campaign ads.

“Quite frankly, a lot of these races end up below the radar in the minds and hearts of the average voter,” said Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which does surveys for the Journal .

Name recognition is an asset in down-ballot races, he said, though in this case that may be offset somewhat by negative publicity about the most familiar candidates: Ortiz and Padilla.

Ortiz endured a recall campaign and a unanimous vote of “no confidence” by the County Commission.

Padilla’s work has been harshly criticized by auditors, and his political career has endured plenty of controversy.

In 1993, for example, Padilla and another county worker were accused in indictments of falsifying investment records and misusing public money. A jury acquitted them of all charges after a trial.

In 2006, Padilla was arrested on a drunken-driving charge, which was later dismissed, and, in 2012, he faced a county investigation into harassment allegations.

Of the four candidates, Sanchez has raised the most money. He has raised about $22,000 in donations, Padilla about $8,000, Bearce about $2,000 and Ortiz $392.

The winner will face one of two Republicans – Kim Hillard or Christopher Mario Romero, neither of whom has raised much money – in the fall.

District attorney

The race for district attorney is a different story altogether.

Raúl Torrez, who has worked as a local, state and federal prosecutor, has spent more than $312,000 on his campaign to win the Democratic nomination, more than five times the spending of his rival, Edmund Perea, a lawyer and former police officer.

Torrez also has the backing of an independent political action committee funded by a $107,000 donation from George Soros, the Democratic billionaire.

Perea has spent about $62,000 so far.

The winner will face Republican Simon Kubiak, a DWI lawyer and criminal defense attorney, in the Nov. 8 general election.

Incumbent Kari Brandenburg, a Democrat, is stepping down after 16 years in office.

Her replacement will face a backlog of police shooting cases and high dismissal rate.

County Commission

The massive Santolina development plan on the West Side is the dominant campaign topic in a race that will shape the County Commission.

Three Democrats are seeking the party’s nomination to represent the South Valley and a chunk of the West Side: Robert G. Chavez, a retired police sergeant and business owner; Adrián Pedroza, development director of a nonprofit group based in the South Valley; and Steven Michael Quezada, an actor and a member of the Board of Education.

The winner will face Republican Patricia Paiz this fall.

A political action committee backed by the Santolina development team has raised about $25,000 to campaign against Pedroza, and in favor of Chavez and Quezada.

Pedroza opposes Santolina and calls it an example of sprawl development.

Chavez said he would consider the proposal the way a judge would, based only on the evidence before him.

Quezada voted against Santolina as a member of the school board, but has left open the possibility of supporting it in the future as a way to ensure well-planned growth.

Pedroza has raised the most money from donors. He has about $74,000, Quezada about $53,000 and Chavez about $25,000.

Incumbent Art De La Cruz, a Democrat, cannot run this year because of term limits.

County clerk

Voters will also choose a new county clerk to oversee elections.

On the Democratic side, Deputy County Clerk Roman Montoya faces Linda Stover, former director of the New Mexico Rural Rehabilitation Corp.

Montoya has raised about $51,000 in donations and Stover about $26,000.

The winner will face Republican Maryellen Ortega-Saenz.

Incumbent Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, is running for secretary of state.