Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rey is going strong on Campaign Trail

Candidates canvass for public funding

Signing up to be among the first publicly financed City Council candidates in the history of Albuquerque comes with a time-consuming chore: explaining just what the new system is all about.

That's what Rey Garduño discovered Monday as he took a break from ringing doorbells.

"It's not a matter of selling it. It's a matter of explaining what it is," he said.

Garduño, who is running for the District 6 seat now occupied by Martin Heinrich, is one of eight candidates trying to prove to voters they're worthy of a publicly funded campaign war chest.

Under the financing system that debuts this year, candidates are charged with gathering $5 contributions from 1 percent of the registered voters in their respective districts. That works out to about 300 contributions, depending on the district.

If candidates can pull it off, the city will give them campaign funding equal to $1 for every registered voter in their respective districts, or about $30,000.

And the clock is ticking. Candidates have a month - May 1-31 - to gather the donations, but some filed the initial paperwork as late as May 10.

Garduño is going door to door soliciting the donations and estimates that five minutes elapse by the time he introduces himself, gives a thumbnail sketch of the brand-new financing system, records the donation, and hands over a receipt.

"Seven minutes, if they need a little bit of background talk," he said. "It's still a process of people having some trepidation."

And while Garduño seems happy to spend the time explaining the city's new system, fellow District 6 candidate Joan Griffin wishes something could be done to help the education along.

"Somehow, we need to educate the public about how this works," she said. "People have no clue what this is, and people think it's a fund-raiser."

The donations go into a special city election fund, and not to the candidates themselves. The city also chips in to the fund. From there, the campaign money is disbursed to whomever qualifies.

Griffin estimated that she's halfway to the 271 signatures she needs. Garduño said he would turn in between 110 and 120 to the Office of the City Clerk today.

While the candidates report that people are receptive to the idea once they know the facts, coming up with the $5 can sometimes prove a big hurdle.

"I'm finding that in the poorer neighborhoods - like mine - it's actually a great disadvantage," said Feroza Jussawalla, who is also running for the District 6 seat, that represents the Southeast Heights.

When asking one potential constituent for a donation, "they said look at my roof," Jussawalla said. It was starting to cave in.

Other voters seem to be distracted by the other bits of political news swirling around the nation.

"Everyone is preoccupied with the presidentials," said Paulette déPascal, who is running for a seat held by incumbent Councilor Brad Winter.

Overall, the process of collecting signatures is proving to be a difficult and time-consuming affair. Joseph García, who was running in District 6, said it was a factor in his recent decision to drop out of the race.

"The process looks really tedious in terms of the public finance situation," he said. "The way this is set up is not fostering greater participation."

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