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Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez on Global Warming, Civil Liberties, and the Local Effects of the Iraq War

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Democracy Now!'s cross-country “Breaking the Sound Barrier Tour” takes us to New Mexico, where we're joined by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. He talks about Albuquerque’s global warming initiatives, civil liberties, and the local effects of the Iraq war. [includes rush transcript]

We are broadcasting from Santa Fe, New Mexico. As we look at the issue of global warming we turn to the neighboring city of Albuquerque which has been at the forefront of adopting policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. The city’s mayor, Martin Chavez, is expanding public transportation in Albuquerque and has persuaded other U.S. mayors to pledge to make their cities’ buildings carbon-neutral by 2030 to reduce their net carbon dioxide emissions to zero. Mayor Martin Chavez joins us from a studio in Albuquerque.

  • Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Martin Chavez now joins us on the line from Albuquerque. We welcome you to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about your response to what’s happened in California and what you’re doing here in New Mexico? You are in Albuquerque.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, I’m very pleased with what’s going on in California. I think, as everyone knows, the federal government has simply been a no-show on what I think is the single most important environmental issue confronting our generation. So what’s happened all across the country is that mayors are taking up the banner. Under the leadership of Greg Nichols, mayor of Seattle, and some other great mayors around the country, cities — over 260 cities — have now signed onto the Kyoto Protocol. And each city is adopting — doing their own baseline research and adopting their own strategies for coming into compliance, not just with Kyoto, because that’s only a very small beginning step, but to actually make us carbon neutral and reverse this horrific trend of global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us specifically what you’re doing in Albuquerque and what mayors, if you know, if you are joining together with mayors around the country on this issue, dealing at the most local levels?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, we’re doing a host of things. Here in Albuquerque, for example, I’ve signed an executive order: we’ll purchase no more vehicles for the city fleets that are not alternative fuel vehicles. I drive an ethanol vehicle.

All of our buildings are being revamped. We’re completely revamping our building code for the private sector so that we come into compliance with the 2030 plan to be carbon neutral by 2030, and that’s a plan that actually originated here in New Mexico with one of our local architects, and now it’s the national policy of the National Conference of Mayors, the American Institute of Architects.

And then, as well, we’re tapping our methane from our landfills, and these are huge contributors to greenhouse gases, and we use that methane as an energy source to power generators, which we now use to clean our water. We expect here in the next two years to actually be selling electricity back to the power grid.

AMY GOODMAN: What would it mean if the federal government joined you?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, I think eventually the federal government will, because we know all bad things pass, and we know that this current administration will pass. And it’s really important to have a partner in Washington, and not just to issue mandates, but also to help us with the basic research, to help us with some of the strategies, which are technologically quite complex, some of them. So I’m very hopeful. I think Congress is ready to move. I know our New Mexico delegation, our senators, are quite aggressive on this issue. And I think after the next presidential election, I think on this issue we’ll go back to the days when environmentalism was not a partisan issue.

AMY GOODMAN: On that issue of nonpartisanship, what do think of the fact in California it is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who signed off on this bill, a Republican?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, I’ve always preferred his movies, but on this one, I think he’s exactly right. And, of course, California, I think, is one of the — if you rate it among nations — is in the top 20 largest countries in the world, and so when they act, and particularly as aggressively as they have on this, everyone has to take notice. And I’m sure they’re watching in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Mayor Chavez, on another issue, as you talk about hopefully this administration being gone in Washington, your views on the war in Iraq and how that affects your community in Albuquerque.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, I’m just a mayor. I’m trying to make sure the garbage gets picked up and that my police are on the streets to keep us safe and our senior centers are open. I know that we have felt it here in New Mexico. We have a long history of service in the military, and we’re very proud of that. It’s a heartbreak to see our National Guardsmen, our police forces depleted, because we have people who served in the Guard, our firefighters are overseas, when they should be here protecting us. And so, my hope is that, you know, we’re going to bring some sanity to this situation. But I’m just a mayor. I’m a local guy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that issue, has it hurt you that the police, that firefighters, that National Guard are in Iraq?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, of course, it has. And we are a nation at war. Whether one agrees or disagrees with it, we’re a nation at war, and that changes everything. It colors every aspect of daily living. And so, when our police department is smaller than it needs to be, that hurts us here locally. But also on a very personal level, we have families that are broken up, and it’s very difficult to attend these funerals. I don’t want to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just in Salt Lake City, and we were interviewing your fellow mayor there, Rocky Anderson.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Very dear friend. Great mayor.

AMY GOODMAN: And he gave a major address on August 30th, when President Bush came to town. That speech was published in full in the newspaper of the U.S. Council of Mayors, which is almost unheard of. It was two pages. I wanted to play for you an excerpt of that speech. This is the Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.

MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: Our nation has engaged in a tragic unnecessary war, based upon categorically false justifications. More than 100,000 people have been killed. And many more have been seriously maimed, brain-damaged or rendered mentally ill. Our nation’s reputation throughout much of the world has been destroyed. We have many more enemies bent on our destruction than before our invasion of Iraq. And the hatred toward us has grown to the point that it will take many years, perhaps generations, to overcome the loathing created by our unjustified illegal invasion and occupation of a Muslim nation.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. Mayor Chavez, do you share Mayor Anderson’s views?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, I don’t know if I — and I love Rocky. I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I’ve got a great governor who is a former ambassador to the United Nations, Nobel Peace Prize nominee. I’m hopeful he’s going to run for president, and he’ll do the right thing when it comes to foreign affairs, and particularly, particularly, what’s going on in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, on the issue of dissent in this time of war, I know mayors around the country are dealing with protests, since the invasion, around that time. In Albuquerque, there was a protest right at the time of the invasion.


AMY GOODMAN: And the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Albuquerque Police Department for treatment of the Albuquerque protesters. Among the issues they were concerned about were protesters being beaten, protesters been arrested. And in the lawsuit, the ACLU deposed a detective, a detective named Gregory Gene Cunningham, and they asked him about the APD, the Albuquerque Police Department’s surveillance of antiwar groups. And he went on to talk about being undercover, going to a restaurant where an antiwar protest preparation meeting was taking place, identifying himself, I think it was, as Gilbert Martinez, and sitting in among the group, saying he was an antiwar protester, as well, or interested in the protest. What kind of activity is the police department involved in in surveillance of protesters?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, understand, Amy, I come from the Vietnam generation, and I participated in antiwar protests on the exact same streets that were involved with these demonstrations. And we had a handful, a very small handful, unfortunately, of folks come in from out of state that were bent on mischief, pure and simple. And so, I think our police acted entirely appropriately, particularly the first night, and then I got — because we had these folks in wearing masks, and we had incendiary devices thrown at the police lines, which was entirely inconsistent with what 99% of the folks out there were there for, and that was simply to express their opinions on the war.

And so, what we’ve done — and I’ve had the ACLU into the office — we totally revamped all of our ordinances and established a new protocol when there is a planned demonstration. Obviously, sometimes you have demonstrations that are not planned, and these issues can be so emotional and the passions can rise so high. So I think we’re doing very well in that regard, respecting the tradition — and it’s a great American tradition — of civil disobedience, but also ensuring public safety.

AMY GOODMAN: Are police going undercover and infiltrating peace groups?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: If — no peace groups, but if we have people coming to Albuquerque from elsewhere that are bent on violence, our police will be there, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: And is the Joint Terrorism Task Force also involved with this at the federal level?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: You know, I have very little interaction with those folks. I was one of the first mayors in the country, when Homeland Security wanted us to do random stops at our airport without reasonable grounds, probable cause, to say “No, we’re not going to do that.” And as a result, they revamped that policy. And so, it’s unfortunate, Amy, you have a real dichotomy between federal policy and what most mayors and governors know is the right thing to do. And so, we walk a very — it’s a very delicate balance we have to strike daily.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, are federal authorities working with the APD, the Albuquerque Police Department, in monitoring and surveilling peace activists?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Oh, I wouldn’t be aware of anything like that, but I am sure and I would hope that there’s good communication between the federal authorities, local public safety authorities. That’s important for keeping our neighborhoods safe.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for stations to identify themselves. I just want to ask you to stay a few more minutes. We are talking with the Mayor of Albuquerque, Martin Chavez. We’re broadcasting from the PBS studio in Santa Fe.


AMY GOODMAN: In Albuquerque, we’re joined in KNME’s studios by the Mayor of Albuquerque, Martin Chavez. You just signed into law Kendra’s bill. Can you tell us what that is?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, what it does is says for the very narrow, very small group of individuals who suffer from serious mental disorder, that when untreated manifest itself in violence, that they are required to take their medication. In this regard, Albuquerque is the first city to do it. We joined 42 other states around the country to have such a law.

AMY GOODMAN: The ACLU is very concerned about this bill, saying it could take people and force them to take drugs, who have not actually engaged in violent behavior, but you’re only predicting they’re engaging in violent behavior. Your response, Mayor?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, I guess they haven’t read this bill, because what this bill requires is a history of violence directly associated with not taking medication or not receiving treatment. You can’t do that just on a whim. They have to have an actual history of violence.

Here in Albuquerque, we’ve had a series of incidents. We had two police officers and three civilians slain by an individual who was, by most accounts, not a criminal, but seriously mentally ill. And then, two years ago we had another individual, well known in the mental health community, that actually assaulted one of our officers, took her pistol away from her, shot her in their head, proceeded up the main street of Albuquerque and attempted to shoot another police officer. And again, this was an individual that was not a criminal, but who was seriously mentally — had a serious mental disorder, who when treated was not a threat to public safety. So we’ve drafted it very, very narrowly, and it’s unfortunate that my good friends at the ACLU apparently did not read this bill before they commented.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just looking at a piece that appeared in the Albuquerque Tribune that was by Nancy Koenigsberg, legal director for the Protection and Advocacy System in Albuquerque. And she said, “In truth, the law would allow for the forced outpatient commitment of many individuals who pose no danger to anyone, and who are competent and have every right to make their own treatment choices.” She says, “Kendra’s Law as proposed in New Mexico, would allow for the forced medication and supervision of individuals who do not even come close to meeting the criteria for inpatient commitment.”

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, she stands in disagreement with mental health experts all across the state of New Mexico. She — I know exactly who she is. She is in a very small minority that have opposed. And again, this is very narrowly crafted legislation that requires a proof of history of violence associated with not receiving treatment.

Look, these folks need to go to the funerals of these police officers, these innocent people who have been murdered, and maybe they will have a different perspective. I went to the one-year anniversary just a few weeks ago of this last — of the five slayings that we had in Albuquerque, and I was there with a one-year-old baby, who was in the womb when his father was killed by a mentally disordered individual, never will get to know his dad. His dad never gets to know him. His dad was 19 years old, I believe, at the time. And so, I’m going to reach out and try to protect them. And Ms. Koenigsberg, and I respect her opinion, but she is just wrong on this one.

We actually went — we have a very sophisticated approach within our police department with dealing with mental disorders. We have what are called crisis intervention teams. They are really — have a national model, that folks are coming to Albuquerque to see how it’s done. They went and through the year '04 with Kendra's Law, as we’ve drafted it, and looked at what application it would have. Six individuals were all that were captured in the law. And these were individuals who had a proven history of violence associated with not taking their medications.

The number one communication that I get, particularly through email, is not from folks who are concerned with those individuals from a public safety perspective, but from family members who have struggled with their loved one who suffers from a serious mental disorder, and they’re saying, 'Thank God, Mayor. Thank God you're acting, because this is our loved one, and we want to help, and he won’t or she won’t accept help.’ So I’m very proud of this legislation, and I’m very hopeful that this next January our legislature will act and we will be the 43rd state.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Chavez, as we travel around the country we are talking to various people, grassroots activists, politicians, mayors like you and Mayor Rocky Anderson.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: I think I’m all three of those. I’m not Rocky, but I’m a good friend.

AMY GOODMAN: And looking at issues of crackdown of civil liberties, I noticed in one of your papers, it said that Albuquerque has spent something like half-a-million dollars dealing with ACLU lawsuits. But I was interested in another issue. When we were in California driving to Santa Barbara a few days ago to look at Arlington West on a pier.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: How fortunate you are.

AMY GOODMAN: But this was a place where there were 2,700 crosses in honor of the servicemen and women who died in Iraq.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Isn’t Santa Barbara one of the richest places in the world?

AMY GOODMAN: I don’t know, but it was very interesting to be there on the beach. But when we were driving in, there was a DWI checkpoint, and it announced it a sort of mile in advance, and then the police stopped every single car. And we noticed on the side there were certain cars that were pulled aside.

Now, in Albuquerque, I know that there has been a controversial law, the DWI law, and looking at a piece by Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU, he writes about this DWI law, and I wanted to get your response to it. He says, “This law empowers the city to take away a person’s automobile for a first-time DWI arrest, not a conviction, just an arrest.” And he says, “Recall that in this country the Constitution guarantees people the chance to prove their innocence in court before suffering the government’s punishment. Due process of law is not just a bureaucratic technicality, it’s the basis of our legal system.” And he says, “The ACLU doesn’t condone drunk driving, but neither does it agree with the city that everyone arrested for DWI is guilty of the charge without being tried.” Your response.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Well, you have to understand, and I’m an attorney. At least before I was a mayor, I was an attorney for some time. Actually I was in law school at the same time as Rocky in Washington. But understand that the ACLU in New Mexico is, unlike their counterparts in other states, is very much a political organization. And it’s unfortunate sometimes, because here again Peter apparently didn’t read the law. What we have done is said if you have a DWI and have been proven guilty — that is, you go to court, you put your case on, you are proven guilty, found guilty of the charge — you can have your vehicle taken away from you. We know that, roughly speaking, the stats show that for every time someone’s arrested for DWI and convicted of DWI, they have probably done it at least a hundred times before they’re actually captured by law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying that they have to be convicted.

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: Absolutely, have to be convicted. And so, we’ll just take — you know, an automobile driven by a drunk driver is a weapon of mass destruction. So we’re taking those weapons away from them.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, and that is the point you raised at the very beginning, putting this in a national context, the issue of every city now in a time of war, and you said you hope this administration will no longer be in power. And one of the things we hear around the country is whether the Democrats are offering an alternative on the most key, well, important issue of the day, a country going to war. Have you taken a clear stand on the issue of the war in Iraq, even if you are, at the local level, the mayor of Albuquerque?

MAYOR MARTIN CHAVEZ: No, I purposely not. I have very strong personal opinions, and I’ve articulated them locally. I have focused more on the things that I need to do as a mayor in my city, and I’m working very hard, and I’m very hopeful that Bill Richardson will run for president, when he’s reelected as governor. And in that manner, I want to effectuate the change in Washington. I am not a friend of the current administration. I’ve not supported them. But I also know, having worked so, so hard for Al Gore not long ago, the heartbreak of losing these elections and the consequences of losing these elections.

And so I have my personal opinion as to how we can be successful in retaking the White House this next election, and I don’t think it’s going to be from the far, far left. Otherwise, we’re just going to be sitting around for eight years and watching the real consequences. I don’t know why people are so shocked when George Bush said exactly what he was going to do and he’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do. The idea is to beat him and beat them at the election time, and that’s what I intend to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Martin Chavez, I want to thank you for being with us, the mayor of Albuquerque.

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