Time For Our Politicians To Pander And Pretend To Care
There’s nothing like an election campaign to give spineless politicians a small shot of sudden and misplaced courage.
Politicians who spend non-election years like slugs — doing nothing, taking no chances, speaking out on nothing, challenging nothing, ignoring their constituents and providing almost no useful service to citizens — suddenly rise from their ooze and pretend to be bold defenders of everything sacred when they’re up for re-election or running for another elected position.
But their sudden so-called courage is really nothing but pathetic pretense to mask their cowardice and incompetence.
You saw a stunning example of that election-year “courage” on display Monday night when the Albuquerque City Council overrode Mayor Richard Berry’s veto of their crazy and irresponsible FY 2018 city budget.
Berry and two councilors — Democrat Patrick Davis and Republican Brad Winter — had worked together to craft a new budget that still gave all city employees raises and kept the city’s spending in line with its income.
But that rational, responsible and bipartisan approach to the budget apparently was just too awful for five councilors who are in election mode to stomach. They just had to pander, this time to the Albuquerque police officers union, and pretend that after years of ignoring some of this city’s major problems, they suddenly care, and care deeply.
So the councilors — Ken Sanchez, Don Harris, Klarissa Peña, Dan Lewis and Diane Gibson — voted to override Berry’s veto of the council’s $534 million general fund budget. Their votes and the strange process can be explained by only one thing: they’re running for election.
First, Berry was right to have vetoed the council’s budget. It was goofy and irresponsible. It spent more money that the city has, and it funded reoccurring expenses, in this case, longevity bonuses for police officers, with one-time money.
The council’s budget made those bonuses contingent on the city meeting its quarterly revenue projections next year, which it is unlikely to do because of the lousy economy. The effect of that irresponsible language was to allow the council to tell the cops “no” to the longevity increases without actually having to blurt out the word. It was deceitful.
But they passed that flawed budget in an effort to show how much they support cops, and in doing so, they showed us just how disgusting election-year pandering can be.
And it is blatant and shameful pandering.
Sanchez and Harris have been the biggest offenders when it comes to pandering. They recently pushed for an amendment to the city charter to permanently set APD’s staffing level at around 1,200 officers. They wanted the staffing to be be fixed to so many officers per 10,000 citizens.
Never mind that for the past five or six years APD hasn’t been able to get up to even 1,000 officers, and won’t get up to full strength for years. Never mind that no professional law experts recommend that police departments be staffed on a per capita basis, meaning so many cops for 10,000 citizens.
Departments should be staffed based on workload, meaning how many calls for service the agency gets and how quickly they want officers to get to those calls.
But Sanchez and Harris, who are both facing multiple opponents in their re-election bids, had to pretend to be doing something. Sanchez has basically been crushed by his support of Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project, and Harris, who has never been any kind of a force on the council, had to make it look like he hasn’t been asleep for the past eight years.
Then there’s Dan Lewis, who is running for mayor and says he will shower us during the campaign with gobs of bold ideas. Lewis voted against the council’s budget, saying he thought it was irresponsible to fund police longevity pay with money that was contingent on revenue projections. Then he turned around and voted to override Berry’s veto.
Why the flip-flop from Lewis and the blatant pandering from the others?
Because they know that Berry has only a few months left in office, that his popularity is waning and that he is, basically, weak.
And we hear that the police union has been telling councilors that Berry is toast and that it will go after councilors who don’t support their constant demands for more and more money.
So these lions of Albuquerque decide to attack a weakened mayor in order to show how bold they are and impress their constituents with their new-found fearlessness, and cave to what some would call extortion by the union.
Berry’s spokesperson Rhiannon Samuel summed up the situation perfectly in her statement after last night’s veto override.
“For seven years the Berry Administration has worked on a bipartisan basis with the City Council to pass budgets that were balanced and common sense. Unfortunately, tonight that ended when six city councilors, five of whom are up for election, voted for a budget that they admitted is utterly broken. Chalk this one up to politics — not good government.”