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Saturday, October 19, 2002

Chávez To Repay 'Every Dime'

By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
    Mayor Martin Chávez on Friday apologized for his dealings with ABQPAC and said he will give back the money it gave him or spent on his behalf.
    The group raised more than $100,000 from city contractors, developers and other contributors. It has spent as much as $50,000 on the mayor to retire campaign debt, pay for cell phone bills and cover travel expenses for Chávez family trips to Japan, China and Mexico as part of the Sister Cities goodwill program.
    "All monies expended by ABQPAC regarding travel, phones and even campaign-loan reimbursement will be tallied and repaid by me personally," he said. "I will have no association financially with ABQPAC. Every single dime will be repaid."
    Chávez said his relationship with ABQPAC has been lawful, but he acknowledged that it has created an appearance of conflict of interest because ABQPAC raised money from people doing business with the city.
    He had asked ABQPAC to refund those donations, but the group announced Thursday that it would not do so. As a result, Chávez said, he will take no more money from ABQPAC and will give back the money he has received so far.
    Chavez said he would seek reimbursement from the city for some expenses, such as the cell phone he has used since becoming mayor and some of his travel expenses.
    He apologized for the controversy.
    "I allowed the appearance of conflict of interest to arise. It was my bad judgment. The people of Albuquerque deserve better than that. ... I am sorry that it happened, and if I could undo it I would. This is my best attempt," Chávez said.
    Some of his critics were unforgiving.
    "I'm more interested in having him removed from office than in having his contributors get their money back," said Councilor Hess Yntema.
    Yntema said he will continue pushing for an investigation into how the money was raised. He will ask city councilors on Monday to support a resolution calling for such an investigation through the Attorney General's Office.
    He and others filed a formal complaint Friday with the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices, saying Chávez violated City Charter provisions that ban the mayor from accepting money from people who have an interest in city business. The complaint was filed by Yntema along with Elizabeth Cook and Frank Bowden of Concerned Citizens, a local government watchdog group.
    Andres Valdez of New Mexico Vecinos United, who previously filed a similar complaint, said the mayor's announcement Friday was "shrewd" but he still should be removed.
    "He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and now he's giving the cookie back," Valdez said.
    A third complaint had been filed with the ethics board by Jack Taylor of Common Cause, but he had no comment Friday.
    At ABQPAC, treasurer C.M. Dziak said the group will respect the mayor's decision.
    "If the mayor feels this is what is appropriate, we stand with him," Dziak said.
    He said ABQPAC will continue operating. It will raise money to contribute to candidates, and it might try to encourage the city to set up a fund to help the mayor include his family on business trips, Dziak said.
    Chávez says he did not violate the City Charter because he did not receive money directly from people doing business with the city. He received funds from ABQPAC, not the original contributors, he says.
    He made his announcement Friday to a group of reporters in a conference room at the Mayor's Office.
    Chávez said all of the money he has received from ABQPAC was related to Mayor's Office business or political campaigns.
    He said he had hoped ABQPAC would cease taking money from people doing business with the city. Its decision to the contrary "places me at odds with my convictions as a public official," he said.
    "I believe elected officials should not only be free of conflict of interest but also free of even the appearance of conflict of interest. And therein lies the problem. ... I cannot, as mayor of Albuquerque, allow that to stand."
    Chávez said the assistance he received from ABQPAC will be carefully reviewed and tallied. He said he isn't sure how much it will total, but he expects it to exceed $30,000.
    In some cases, he will seek reimbursement from the city for expenses that had initially been covered by ABQPAC. For example, the group paid for the cell phone that Chávez has used as mayor. He will now ask the city to cover that expense, he said.
    "My personal travel on official business will be reimbursed by the city. My family's travel we will pay even though that travel was on official business and to promote the city of Albuquerque. ... We will pay those expenses," he said.
    The group has given Chávez $14,700 to reimburse him for losses related to a mayoral campaign nearly a decade ago. Chávez said Friday he has loaned his campaigns more than $20,000, and it would be normal for an official to hold fund-raisers to cover campaign debt. That's what he'll do now, and "we will fully disclose it according to every applicable law," he said.
    Chávez said the controversy over ABQPAC has been a distraction at a time when the city needs to deal with other matters, including water-supply problems and financial challenges.
    "I want to get back to business," he said.