Thursday, October 08, 2009
Republicans in City Hall may favor development, budget cuts
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
City Hall is about to take a turn for the conservative.
Albuquerque voters this week elected their first Republican mayor in 28 years, Richard Berry, and gave him a Republican majority on the City Council.
It could mean a City Hall that's more receptive to incentives for West Side growth, certain budget cuts and restructuring the system of development impact fees, city officials and observers say.
"I think we're going to see a lot of changes, but they're going to be incremental and slow," said City Councilor Don Harris, a Republican who won re-election Tuesday. "I don't see any of the Republicans elected or the ones there (already) as particularly hard ideologues or radicals in any way."
Lynne Andersen of NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association, said the new group at City Hall is hard to predict "like a whole new deck of cards."
But she said she thinks "there will be a different philosophy on the council in terms of business issues."
Berry said he campaigned on a theme of bringing common-sense leadership, and that's what people will see.
"Common sense isn't a partisan concept," he said.
Outgoing Mayor Martin Chávez pledged a smooth transition. He met Berry for lunch Wednesday, showed him around the mayor's office and made room for his transition team in the building.
Chávez said the new City Council is a good group with moderate personalities.
"I'm envious of this new council," Chávez said. "I think this is a much better council."
Councilor-elect Dan Lewis, a Republican who defeated incumbent Michael Cadigan, said he hopes to avoid the kind of animosity that council members have had in the past with the Mayor's Office.
"I'm going to work with the administration, the mayor, no matter who it is," he said. "I'm going to focus on what we can do together."
Here's a look at some potential changes:
n Chávez often pointed out that he had balanced the city budget in tough economic times without laying off employees. Now that he will be gone, some councilors said, the city may be inclined to at least consider furloughs or layoffs if city revenue continues to flag.
"We may be looking at furloughs," said Councilor Ken Sanchez, a Democrat. "We're struggling with gross receipts taxes."
A union leader said furloughs and layoffs are a trend around the state and nation for government employees.
Berry said he expects to be a "fiscal conservative," but that doesn't necessarily mean layoffs, which are a last resort. Budgeting decisions will be based on revenue projections, not the fact that he's a Republican, he said.
"I didn't run on layoffs," he said. "We'll look for efficiencies."
n Cadigan, an influential Democrat who lost his seat to Lewis, was a leading critic of approving tax incentives for SunCal's land on the far West Side. His absence could lead to a council that's more receptive to tax increment development districts on undeveloped land, several observers and officials said.
n The council may adopt a more friendly attitude toward growth and development on the West Side. City Council President Isaac Benton said he expects the council to take a look at its system of impact fees, perhaps by lowering the fees on the West Side for retail and job-producing developments. He said he would support such an effort.
Harris said there might be modifications to the city's "planned growth strategy," which encourages infill development and demands that growth at the fringe pay for itself. He said he expects councilors to still support those concepts, but there "might be some modifications."
Berry also said residents may see a change in City Hall's approach to growth and development. He said he favors creating "smart, sustainable growth. That may be somewhat different from the past."
n Berry has repeatedly said the Police Department should have more leeway to check the immigration status of suspects.
n Sources close to his campaign said Police Chief Ray Schultz's job might be in jeopardy, but Berry said he has made no decision on whether to retain the chief. He said he would review the department and interview several candidates.
Much of the work at City Hall is nonpartisan.
Benton, a Democrat, said he hopes sidewalks and small neighborhood projects sought by councilors will be get done sooner, rather than sitting on the "back burner" as he believes they do under the current administration.
"I'm optimistic because I've heard good things about Mr. Berry's ability to work across lines, and that's the way I've always worked," Benton said.
Former Mayor Jim Baca, a Democrat, said Berry and the new council will have to work together.
"They're not going to have a lot of time to be fighting. I really believe that," Baca said. "They're facing an unprecedented financial meltdown in the city."
Journal staff writer T.J. Wilham contributed to this report.