ABQ Mayoral Race 2021

Manny Throws in the Towel as Judge Sends Fate of Campaign Financing Back to Keller Clerk Who Denied It

Gonzales at an ethics hearing Friday // Original Photo: Mike Sandoval, ABQ Journal

A judge on Friday sent Manny Gonzales’ bid for public campaign financing back to the city clerk who originally denied the financing.

Gonzales, the Bernalillo County Sheriff, is running for mayor against fellow Democrat Tim Keller, the incumbent, and Republican Eddy Aragon.

The decision is bad news for Gonzales, whose access to more than $600,000 in public financing will be determined by the very same person who denied it in the first place. Only this time, the city clerk has to give Gonzales “due process” to address the ethics complaints filed against him.

“At the very least,” the judge said, according to The Albuquerque Journal, “the candidate needs to be informed of the allegations against him or her; the candidate needs to receive an adequate explanation of the evidence against him or her, and the candidate needs to have an adequate opportunity to explain his or her position. 

“The court understands none of that was afforded in this matter.”

If that sounds encouraging, it’s not — because in fact Gonzales was informed of the allegations against him, did receive an adequate explanation of the evidence, and did provide an explanation of his position.

All of this occurred during a seven-hour appeal following the city clerk’s decision, during which Gonzales’ attorney acknowledged that possibly hundreds of qualifying signatures were signed by campaign staff, not voters themselves. 

All the clerk has to do is provide evidence they already provided and give the Gonzales campaign an opportunity to respond, at which point the clerk can again deny the financing on the basis that Gonzales has already admitted that some signatures were fraudulent. If that’s not enough, the clerk can cite a separate ruling on Friday from Albuquerque’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices, which fined Gonzales $500 following allegations that his campaign offered to pay a registered voter’s $5 contribution to get Gonzales on the ballot. 

So what’s really going on?

At best the judge is throwing Manny a bone so he can save face with voters, continue to downplay the ethics allegations, and point to the judge’s reversal as proof that Keller is using his own city clerk to deny his opponent hundreds of thousands in campaign funding. 

At worst, the judge is kicking the proverbial can down the road, forcing Manny to focus his attention on a lost legal battle rather than continuing with his campaign.

The question is how Manny will interpret the decision. 

If he’s smart, he’ll hit the campaign trail and beat the drum of corruption, accusing Keller of playing politics and using the power of the city government to secure his re-election. 

If he’s weak, Manny will roll over and act like he’s hamstrung without public financing.

Based on the campaign’s response to the judge’s Friday ruling, Gonzales is rolling over.

“This would be no more than a political execution on our campaign at the hands of the Keller campaign,” Gonzales told KOAT News*. “Obviously, the city clerk is doing this on behalf of his boss and it’s just an abuse of power and privilege.”

“The Clerk has illegally delayed our funding for almost two months, essentially silencing our campaign and denying voters the right to hear from both candidates.” 

— Gonzales for Mayor Campaign Manager Shannan Calland

With the sheer amount of public protests and events happening around the city, there’s nothing keeping Manny from campaigning in spite of free public financing. Republican Eddy Aragon is running his campaign solely on private contributions, and he’s making waves despite starting the races four months after Manny and Keller.

If Manny won’t fight for his own campaign, how would he fight for the residents of Albuquerque.

STORY UPDATED August 30, 2021 with KOAT News quote.

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