Early this summer I met up with another Bareleña at the Red Ball Café
in the heart of Barelas. In the midst of updates about neighborhood politics, she mentioned that Richard Romero
, candidate for mayor of Albuquerque, was from Barelas. Minutes later, who should walk in but Mr. Romero himself! He walked straight up to our table and started chatting with my neighbor, who knows everyone
(this is not hyperbole) with any connection to Barelas, past and present.
I sat back and watched.
I’m certainly not an expert on politics, but shuffling between Albuquerque and Washington DC a few times a month means I get to spend a fair amount of time watching local politicians in transit. Some elected officials are arrogant, some are standoffish; some are unassuming, and some are even courteous and helpful.
You can learn quite a bit about a person by watching how they treat others, especially when they are not aware they are being watched. (It is easier to be unnoticed in the big pond of Washington than it is Albuquerque).
I liked what I saw in Richard Romero’s interaction with my neighbor. In fact, I liked it so much that I wrote to his campaign and asked if I could shadow him for a day. What follows are my observations of this day.
We kicked off the day early with a mayoral candidate forum sponsored by the Economic Forum
, an organization of business leaders. (You can listen and read more about the details here
.) Not surprisingly, the topic du jour was economics. Each of the candidates gave a nod to the current state of the economy (no surprise here) with RJ Berry and Martin Chavez focusing on growth (smart growth and just plain old growth). Early on Romero revealed his roots in education by expanding the dialogue to include the role of education in growth – it is easier to attract industry when you have an educated workforce.
In reviewing my notes from the candidate's forum, one question stood out for me: the issue of quality of life in Albuquerque. In general, I think the quality of life here in Albuquerque is pretty good, and facilities like city museums and parks have always enhanced my own quality of life. Two of the mayoral candidates spoke to this, and I found myself nodding in agreement with these points.
But my electronic ears perked up when Romero started talking about the connection between crime and quality of life.
I couldn’t help but listen. In the past 6 months, members of my household have twice been victims of crime – both times having our car windows smashed in by vandals/thieves – once while parked at a strip mall in the northeast heights, and once as part of a wee morning hours wilding
on our own street. Despite the bad press that Barelas gets from time to time, our only personal experience with crime was in 1996, when someone stole a potted plant from our front yard.
No question, there’s a connection between crime, quality of life, and the economy. I just thought it was interesting that the one to bring it up was not the candidate
most recently victimized by a crime, but Romero, whose background and upbringing is likely to make him more sensitive to this issue from the standpoint of those who may not have the luxury of insurance to cover these losses. Crime sucks for everyone - but it sucks even more for those who cannot afford insurance.
After the Economic Forum we headed over to campaign headquarters
in the North Valley. On entering the lobby I noticed two flags (American and New Mexican), a table with campaign literature and a sign-up sheet, a section of butcher paper with a Supplies Wish List, and most intriguing of all to me, a copy of the Economist
next to the chairs in the waiting area. (In this era of globalization, it is heartening to know that despite Sarah Palin
, some politicians and their campaigns do care about life beyond their own borders).
Romero was generous enough to give me some time to interview him between meetings and phone calls. I decided to ask about his biography because I wanted to be able to take something back to the kids in Barelas. Barelas has plenty of markers and monuments to neighborhood politicians
, but this is ancient history.
I wanted to bring home information that could inspire kids in this community now - what better way to do that than to talk about the candidate for mayor who once worked in the very same community center
where they are hanging out this summer? And who often went to work downtown with his mother, a cleaning lady, because they could not afford childcare? Despite encroaching gentrification
, there are still plenty of kids in Barelas who will see themselves in Romero's story.
Many folks know that Richard Romero spent his career in education, but did you know (like some other NM politicians
) that he harbored hopes of a professional baseball career? He played third base and pitcher. (Next time I see him I’ll find out what his best pitch was). His love of sports and kids lead him to coaching and teaching – one of his first jobs was head football coach at Polk Middle School
in the South Valley.
Shortly after he started teaching and coaching, he was activated as an Air National Guard reservist to serve with the Enchilada Air Force
in Korea during the Vietnam War era. On returning home he earned a masters degree in education courtesy of the GI Bill, and then worked his way up the APS
ladder, retiring as assistant superintendent.
In listening to Romero tell his story, I saw some themes emerge. One, he acknowledges those who have helped him along the way, even those who are long gone, such as former APS principal Levola Burgess, who supported him when he decided to take on a coach who wasn’t treating kids right, and who also championed his decision to move from teaching to administration.
This highlights another theme: Romero’s willingness to take on a system gone wrong
. Most know of his battle to challenge longtime NM Senate leader Manny Aragon; Romero (a Democrat) became Senate President Pro Tem after teaming up with Senate Republicans. We all know
where Manny is now
. Romero's support of clean elections
and decision to accept public financing also falls under this theme.
The day ended as it began, with another mayoral candidate forum, this one part of the Heart of the Heights
District 7 Town Hall forum series sponsored by city councilor Sally Mayer
. Unfortunately, only two of the three mayoral candidates showed up at this event – Richard Romero and RJ Berry.
Before opening up the forum, Councilor Mayer announced the reason for Martin Chavez’s decision not to appear. A few hours before the event, she received a phone call from Joanie Griffin
on behalf of the Chavez’s campaign stating that the mayor would not attend because an ethics complaint had been filed against Sally Mayer’s sponsorship of this forum. Mayer speculated that the issue at hand was using taxpayer dollars for a candidates forum – however, she was very clear to state that she was not campaigning herself (though her opponent in the race did attend and distributed campaign literature to audience members).
Politics as usual, right? Well, except for one little thing. At the close of the business day, no ethics complaint had been filed on this issue. And ten days later, there was still no complaint filed. As regular readers of my blog know, I teach ethics for a living, so my interest in this issue is both vocational and avocational
There’s just something unsettlingly ironic about a person lying about the existence of an ethics complaint, que no?
In the days after shadowing Richard Romero, I thought about the kind of mayor I wanted to see leading our city. For some reason, all of the buzz words I came up with (both positive and negative) started with the letter C: c
ouncil. But at the end of the day, the quality I most want to see in a leader is character
After watching Richard Romero for a day, and talking to friends and neighbors who have been around this city much longer than I have, I came to a conclusion.
One may disagree with his politics or his ideology, but when it comes to the issue of character, Richard Romero has earned his reputation.
And it’s a good one.