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Three-Term Chávez Leaves Behind a Legacy

By Dan McKay
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Martin Chávez leaves office today with an unprecedented legacy.
        He's the only mayor under Albuquerque's modern City Charter to win consecutive terms, and he has spent more time in the Mayor's Office than anyone since World War II.
        Even casual observers have, no doubt, found "Mayor Marty" hard to ignore: His face is on everything from city billboards to the video that greets airport visitors.
        Critics, of course, grumble that he's publicity hungry — more style than substance — and difficult to work with. Supporters, on the other hand, tick off a long list of accomplishments that includes water conservation, road building and beautification efforts.
        "I think, when all is said and done, people will say Mayor Chávez got things done," Chávez said Friday in a telephone interview. "The city is dramatically different than it was, I believe, when we started."
        He added that he had help from city administrators: "I can't take full responsibility for everything."
        Chávez, a moderate Democrat, first won the Mayor's Office in 1993. After a four-year term, he ran for governor, losing to incumbent Gary Johnson.
        Chávez returned to City Hall three years later, in 2001, defeating then-Mayor Jim Baca. He won re-election easily in 2005, then lost the mayor's race this year. The victor, businessman Richard Berry, repeatedly hammered Chávez for how long he'd been in office.
        The mayor has kept a low profile since Election Day. He had lunch with Berry the day after and vowed to make his staff available for the transition.
        Chávez, a lawyer, lives in the North Valley. He hasn't said yet what he plans to do next.
        A key supporter, City Councilor Ken Sanchez, said Chávez's tenure will be remembered fondly.
        "He gave 12 years of his life to the city of Albuquerque," Sanchez said. "When we look back in history, Marty will go down as one of the great mayors of our city."
        City Councilor Brad Winter said that, despite his many disagreements with Chávez, he thinks he'll be remembered as a good mayor.
        "If you didn't believe his way, it was the highway," Winter said. "But overall, I think he did some good things for Albuquerque."
        Highlights from the Chávez years include:
        • The start of a water-conservation program that led to steady reductions in per-capita water use.
        • Construction of high-profile, controversial road projects, including Montaño Bridge and the Paseo del Norte extension at Petroglyph National Monument.
        • An upgraded credit rating for the city's bond debt.
        • Expansion of the police force to 1,100 officers.
        • Creation of new "Rapid Ride" bus routes and expanded transit hours.
        • Graffiti removal, Big I landscaping, the demolition of shady motels and other beautification efforts.
        There have been stumbles along the way, of course.
        Critics see him as a mayor who lashes out at enemies, and he certainly clashed at times with the City Council and other government agencies. County Commission Chairman Alan Armijo once accused Chávez of acting like a king, not a mayor.
        In 1999, prosecutors halted a grand jury investigation into construction of the airport observation deck — a project from Chávez's first term — after the city conceded it had broken purchasing rules. In 2003, an ethics board reprimanded the mayor for accepting money from ABQPAC, which raised money from city contractors and others. In 2005, problems in the police department's evidence room led to replacement of the police chief.
        And in just the last few weeks, Berry's transition office has criticized Chávez executives for signing open-ended agreements with city unions after the election.
        Chávez has been busy until the end. He said Friday that he plans to sign an affirmation on climate protection and an order improving health care benefits for domestic partners of city employees, making them eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act and COBRA continuing coverage.
        Chávez once described himself as a micromanager on projects he cares about. On Friday, he made it clear he views that as a positive thing.
        "I think I made this city administration work well for people," Chávez said. "... It's been the greatest professional honor of my life to be mayor of my hometown."

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