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Council President Took Developer's Cash

By Jim Ludwick
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    City Council President Debbie O'Malley, who has sharply criticized the city administration for accepting money from developer Forest City Covington, accepted a political contribution from the company herself.
    A new city audit says Forest City Covington, developer of Mesa del Sol, contributed $80,000 to help the city cover cost overruns on the controversial Tricentennial Towers, which commemorate Albuquerque's 300th birthday and serve as a beacon to Old Town.
    O'Malley, who had been critical of cost overruns on the project, said the donation was inappropriate because Forest City Covington was seeking approvals from the city for financing related to Mesa del Sol.
    "We have a large developer in negotiations with us ... essentially bailing the city out of a quandary in terms of money. I don't think that's very good policy," O'Malley said.
    But a financial report filed with the City Clerk's Office shows that Forest City Covington recently gave O'Malley a political contribution of $450, which O'Malley says is the most that can be contributed to a council campaign. She's up for re-election this year and says she has been collecting money to cover old campaign debts.
    O'Malley said her taking money from Forest City Covington is different from the administration getting help from the same company.
    "There is a huge difference between the two things," she said. "I don't think I was bought and paid for by Forest City Covington."
    She said the help she received was a tiny amount compared with the $80,000 provided to the administration. In addition, she said, the donation to the administration was secretive and became public only because of auditors, but the money she received was revealed by O'Malley herself in a financial report she gave the city clerk.
    O'Malley said she behaved "within the confines of the law."
    Last month, O'Malley joined all other councilors in approving the diversion of 67 percent of future tax revenues from Mesa del Sol to pay for roads, sewers and other immediate costs there. Forest City Covington had asked for 75 percent.
    The financial report also shows O'Malley received a donation of $400 from Historic Hotel LLC, which has been seeking city approval of $8.9 million in industrial revenue bonds for a Downtown hotel renovation.
    Councilors approved the IRB proposal Wednesday night, but O'Malley left the room briefly and didn't cast a vote on the issue.
    O'Malley, in an interview, said she doesn't think the contribution presented a problem.
    "I get support from all over. ... I would not see it as a conflict," she said.