Friday, September 29, 2006
Madrid-Wilson Race Heats Up
By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
The congressional race that has already featured a dispute over who got the better spot in a parade now brings you a blazing controversy over an endorsement from a firefighters union.
The latest flare-up has Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., accusing Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid of cheating, and a union claim that a Wilson flier could mislead voters.
"This is desperate politics," Madrid spokeswoman Heather Brewer said of Wilson on Wednesday.
"We stand by the campaign materials," countered Wilson spokesman Enrique Carlos Knell though he did not provide specifics to back up the claim that the current state attorney general was a cheat.
The fanning of the political flames began in July, when the Albuquerque Area Firefighters Local 244 the union representing about 800 city and Bernalillo County firefighters met to endorse a candidate for the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District.
Union president John Garcia said firefighters who attended voted to support Madrid. Proxy votes from others who didn't attend would have swung the vote in favor of Wilson, but union board members at the meeting decided all firefighters weren't fully apprised of the proxy process.
Those board members decided to toss the proxy votes, Garcia said, so Madrid came out the winner.
Wilson, in a late-July fundraising letter, accused Madrid of playing a personal role in the vote issue.
"Patsy Madrid and her supporters blocked almost two dozen firefighters from voting in a union election to endorse me because they were on duty protecting us and couldn't be there in person to vote," Wilson wrote, adding, "Let's face it, she's willing to cheat to win."
Brewer said that claim is all smoke, no fire.
"There was no one in that meeting except for Albuquerque-area firefighters, and they made their choice," Brewer said.
Garcia said Madrid did show up outside the meeting to do some politicking, but he promptly asked her to leave.
A glossy flier from the Wilson camp includes glowing praise from fire union members John and Kelli Murtagh, and the flier refers to the couple as "Albuquerque-area firefighters." Garcia said that description could mislead some voters about which candidate the union actually endorsed.
"I don't like it," Garcia said.
John Murtagh said his fire agency prohibits him from using the name of the agency in such an endorsement.
Pro-Wilson firefighters have appealed the Madrid endorsement decision to the International Association of Firefighters. But Garcia said unless the local union hears otherwise, it's backing Madrid.
Wilson and Madrid this summer were involved in a dispute over who got the better spot in the State Fair parade. The Madrid camp denied a parade organizer's claim that it had complained "big time" about Wilson's traditional spot up front, while Wilson complained after being bumped to a spot farther down the line.