Developers throwing money into race for mayor

Crime makes headlines, but more pragmatic considerations may explain the money flowing into the Albuquerque mayoral race. While fundraising this election has lagged compared to prior campaign years, a significant chunk of the money reported has come from individuals and companies in the business of developing and selling land. Half of the money flowing into a political action committee (PAC) supporting Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales comes from development interests. And a quarter of the more than $500,000 he has personally raised since District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid upheld the Albuquerque City Clerk’s decision to deny him public financing comes from that industry. Big spenders supporting Gonzales have names like Daskalos, a family of developers who’ve funneled at least $27,000 into the race through various entities.

Sheriff goes to the dark side, lobbing grim attacks with no evidence

Back in 2017, I wrote “it doesn’t get much darker” than ominous television ads attacking mayoral candidate Tim Keller, who is now Albuquerque mayor. Well, it’s gotten darker, and again Keller is the target. 

Four years ago the television ads, followed by billboards, showed an image of Keller and quickly cut to a dark figure wearing a hoodie, a classic racist trope. “Sex offender” flashed in bold red letters on the screen before cutting to a backlit child riding a bike. Essentially, the ad sought to tap unconscious racist fears and smear Keller as a sex offender at the same time. Media outlets, including New Mexico In Depth, found no basis in the charge.

Housing shortage hampers community re-entry for prisoners

Statewide, there’s a shortage of available housing for offenders exiting prison.State lawmakers got the bad news Wednesday during a hearing of the Courts, Corrections and Justice legislative committee. There are many challenges to placing prisoners in communities, according to New Mexico corrections officials and a program manager for an Albuquerque transitional living center.Like many corrections systems, New Mexico has long struggled to keep offenders from bouncing back into incarceration, a cycle known as recidivism.In late 2019, the rate of offenders returning to behind bars — measured in the three years after a person gets out — stood at 57% “from a high of 60%”, but well above the department’s target of a 45% rate, the New Mexico Legislature’s budget arm noted in a recent report.The lack of housing increases the turnstile of recidivism. Having a stable place to live helps the chances of successful reentry for a formerly incarcerated person. Said another way, it lowers the likelihood a person will return to prison. I’ve learned over the years reading government reports and scholarly studies that housing, like education, has positive effects on a person’s life as they return to society. Don’t take my word for it.”Having a stable home is a fundamental part of reentering society, providing a place from which to orient oneself while beginning to search for employment, reestablish social networks, and get treatment.” That’s an excerpt from a December 2019 report by the Criminal Justice Policy Group of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.It might seem a bit esoteric, worrying about how many former prisoners go back to prison, but it affects all of us.  The person trying to escape the cycle and their families.

Pueblo map seeks to spread power, but Republicans fear loss of New Mexico House seat

New Mexico’s inaugural use of a nonpartisan committee in the once-a-decade political tradition that will reshape state elections for the next 10 years could mark a milestone Friday. The seven-member committee created by state lawmakers earlier this year is scheduled to select maps that would redraw the boundaries of  legislative and congressional political districts and send them on to New Mexico’s 112 state lawmakers. The process is undertaken after each U.S. Census to ensure political districts represent roughly the same number of people.New Mexico’s new Citizens Redistricting Committee’s recommendations are non-binding. State lawmakers will decide whether to accept or reject them and approve different plans when they meet in Santa Fe in December. But the committee’s monthslong process of collecting public input from hundreds of New Mexicans and disparate groups provides a window into choices before  the Legislature.

Publicly funded stadiums boost quality of life. But economy? Not so much.

Albuquerque voters will decide in November whether the city should foot the bill for a new soccer stadium. Unlike a proposal to build a downtown multi-use arena that percolated in the mid-2000s, this one could become reality. 

That’s because the city has a new professional soccer team that has proven popular. New Mexico United games in 2019, its first year, drew more than 12,000 fans on average to its Albuquerque matches in the city’s baseball stadium. Now, the team wants the city to build a stadium specifically for soccer, which, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the city, is required under United Soccer League (USL) rules after a team’s third year. 

But the payoff for Albuquerque in economic terms is far from certain, according to multiple economists who said publicly financed sports stadiums rarely justify the expense with new jobs or economic activity. And there are concerns among some residents about the impact of the stadium on surrounding neighborhoods, as well as how millions in public dollars could be better spent. 

Lisa Padilla, the president of the Barelas Neighborhood Association, said she has mixed feelings about the construction of the new soccer stadium.

Newly disclosed prisoner addresses show 30% in Albuquerque. Advocates want to exclude them from political maps.

While nearly a third of New Mexico’s state prisoners who disclosed where they were living prior to incarceration gave Albuquerque addresses, in the country’s once-a-decade census they’re counted as living in smaller towns and rural areas.Roughly a quarter of New Mexico’s population lives in Albuquerque, so it’s no surprise to find a prevalence of residents from New Mexico’s largest city in the corrections system.But corrections data obtained by New Mexico In Depth suggest the city’s voting power is diffused to smaller towns and rural areas where New Mexico’s prisons are, a practice criminal justice reform advocates refer to as “prison gerrymandering.” That’s where prison communities — often rural, and nationally, more white — benefit as prisoners from elsewhere increase their populations without being able to vote. Advocates are pushing New Mexico to end the practice in coming months as the state’s new Citizen Redistricting Committee, and state lawmakers, participate in a once-a-decade redistricting that will shape New Mexico’s political landscape for years to come. 

And at least one says the last addresses inmates give corrections officials as they enter prison could achieve that goal.The ideal solution would be for the Corrections Department to hand over the same records it gave to New Mexico In Depth to the Citizen Redistricting Committee, said Mario Jimenez, campaign director of Common Cause New Mexico. If the committee were to request those records, the Corrections Department “would absolutely share that with them,” spokesman Eric Harrison wrote in an email. 

Samantha Osaki, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said ending the practice of counting prisoners in the areas they’re imprisoned would create a more equitable redistricting process.“Bernalillo County residents who are already suffering from the loss of parents, friends and neighbors due to mass incarceration then doubly suffer from the loss of political representation,” Osaki said. New Mexico In Depth obtained the last addresses of 5,082 inmates after filing a records request. The Corrections Department initially refused to disclose the information but turned the records over after the New Mexico Attorney General’s office found the department had denied the request improperly.

Remembering 9/11 and the world it ushered in

On the morning of September 11, 2001, my wife and I and our two-year-old son were in the middle of our morning routine in a two-bedroom apartment in Connecticut 80 miles from New York City. 

We’d just returned from vacation in Pennsylvania — Lancaster County and Philadelphia — and as I readied for work I turned on the TV just in time to watch the first tower fall. After that everything is a blur, although I remember yelling to my wife in the back yard out the open window that one of the towers had tumbled in an explosion of dust and debris, a minute or so before an editor called to say I was needed in the newsroom immediately. For the next three months at my newspaper, daily life was a powerful mix of chaos and sadness as we  compiled during overly long days a running list of local people unaccounted for in Manhattan or counted as dead and attempted to tell their stories. In the middle of that grimness an elderly woman 10 miles from our apartment died of anthrax, one of five Americans to succumb to a weaponized version of a naturally occurring biological pathogen. Her death put everyone on greater edge than before, including me. 

Two decades on, I’ve made peace with the fact that 9/11 and the weeks and months afterward will stay with me the rest of my life. But as traumatic as those times were and as powerfully evocative as my memories of them are for me, time has widened my perspective on 9/11 and the world it helped create.If we are honest with ourselves, Americans should reflect on both the complicated story of 9/11 and  what unfolded as a result of it over the next 20 years.

New Mexico Early Childhood Trust Fund flush with new revenue

New Mexicans who care about child well being and the state’s newest agency — the Early Childhood Development and Care Department — woke up to good news Friday morning.As you might remember, the agency launched a year ago with a trust fund valued at more than $300 million to help pay its way. Expectations were for the fund to grow to $1 billion over 10 years, if lucky. (The agency won’t directly tap into the fund to pay for expenses. Instead, the interest earned by the trust fund will help to finance the department’s spending.) So much for the low-ball projection. Word came Friday morning that the Early Childhood Trust Fund, as it’s known, is about to double, to nearly $650 million, thanks to booming tax collections and a strong recovery in the oil and gas markets following the COVID-provoked collapse of 2020. Nearly $335 million in excess cash — basically, surplus dollars from what the state took in over what it spent during the state fiscal year that ended June 30th — will flow to the trust fund.

Boarding school history underpins Yazzie Martinez findings on Native education

On an afternoon in June, neighbors walked the grass loop of Albuquerque’s 4-H park as kids chased underneath a metal sculpture and stepped on a marker that hints of the unmarked grave site below for students at the old Albuquerque Indian School who died more than 100 years ago. Draped on a solitary tree nearby were orange tapestries, part of a community-built memorial dedicated to the gravesite near the former site of the Albuquerque Indian School. It went up after someone noticed a plaque missing that commemorated the cemetery for Zuni, Navajo and Apache students buried there between 1882 and 1933. How the plaque went missing is a mystery, and its absence might have escaped notice a few years ago. 

But a discovery in May of 215 unmarked graves at an Indian boarding school in southern British Columbia has sparked heightened awareness of the history and legacy of boarding schools in the United States. 

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in late June the agency would investigate the extent to which there was loss of human life in this country and the lasting consequences of boarding schools. The federal government, beginning in the late 1800s, took Indian children from their families in an effort to strip them of their cultures and language.

New Mexico drags feet on public health task force sought by lawmakers

In March, as the state scrambled to vaccinate New Mexicans after a surge in COVID-19 cases that overwhelmed hospitals nationwide, lawmakers passed legislation asking the health department to convene a task force to strengthen the state’s public health system. The panel would be one of the first of its kind in the U.S. and as other states look to do the same could serve as a model, according to American Public Health Association Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin. But five months later – and with less than four months remaining to prepare its recommendations for lawmakers – the task force has not met and it’s unclear when it will. 

“I’m worried,” said New Mexico Public Health Association President Shelley Mann-Lev. “We have not been given any explanation for the delay. …