Bill Thompson and his supporters have made a calculated decision to invest heavily in the issue of Michael Bloomberg’s term-limits extension, which, for campaign purposes, is arguably the most problematic aspect of the mayor’s record.
Thompson has repeatedly stressed the issue, and now, one of his institutional supporters, the Communication Workers of America, is launching a second ad reminding people that it was the mayor who pushed for the term-limits extension, overriding two public referendums.
Will it be enough to get Thompson into a position to be competitive with Bloomberg (as in the scenario recently laid out by Steve Kornacki)?
The Thompson campaign seems to think so, and they’re looking at the recent mayor’s race in Albuquerque, where the mayor, Martin Chavez, was defeated after he successfully sued to throw out the law barring him from seeking another term.
Chavez’s weakness was first detected in a poll published 12 days before their October 6 election, and was conducted by Brian Sanderoff’s firm, Research & Polling Inc.
Sanderoff’s poll had “just about all the pundits and prognosticators with their pants down,” wrote New Mexico blogger Joe Monahan. Later, he said, “What was to have been a mayoral race that was nearly a foregone conclusion jumped to life.”
Another blogger, Jim Baca, wrote, “Go into any gathering of people who like politics and you will see everyone scratching their heads.”
Sanderoff’s findings were controversial.
“I hadn’t taken this much heat in 20 years,” Sanderoff told me.
When the results were in, the criticism turned to praise. His poll had the eventual winner, R.J. Berry, ahead of Chavez and a third candidate, Richard Romero: 31, 26 and 24, respectively. Berry wound up beating Chavez and Romero 44, 35 and 21.
So was term limits secretly the most powerful factor in ousting Chavez?
“I think it was one of the factors,” Sanderoff told me. “I’m not even sure the average voter was up on the issue of term limits. It wasn’t a prime issue.”
But term limits was the underpinning of the broader criticism of Chavez; namely, that he overstayed his welcome.
“Martin Chavez did not lose his election because he participated in a lawsuit to throw out the constitutionality of term limits,” said Sanderoff. “He did lose for a related reason: People thought it was time for a change, but they weren’t punishing him for attempting to change the rules of the game. It came up in the debates,” which, Sanderoff complained, “no one watches.”
But, he said, “Did anyone make tv messages out of it? No. Did anyone do direct mail on it? No.”
“It was a contributing factor but not the only factor nor the main one,” Mr. Berry’s campaign manger, Dana Feldman, wrote in an email to The Observer. “We heard from a lot of voters regarding this issue. Mostly confusion … voters did not understand why the current mayor was running again when they thought he had served the limit.”
“The issue of term limits was only part of a bigger picture that included mayoral arrogance, perceived corruption, and Marty-fatigue,” the editor of the anonymous political blog, Eye on Albuquerque, explained in an email last week. “Term limits as an issue didn’t galvanize the public, but a term limit for Chavez certainly did.”
Three days after Chavez’s defeat, a reporter asked Bloomberg if he was afraid the same thing would happen to him. Bloomberg, standing in his campaign headquarters with the term-limited mayor of Miami, Manny Diaz, said he wasn’t, because “the politics there are different than the politics here.”
In Albuquerque, there were three candidates.
In Albuquerque, the third candidate in the race was a Democrat, like the incumbent. One siphoned votes from the other while the Republican candidate, Berry, consolidated his base. Also, both Berry and the other challenger, Romero, focused their attacks on Chavez.
In Albuquerque, the election was nonpartisan.
And most notably, in Albuquerque, all the candidates participated in a public financing program that capped their spending.