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Mayor Berry: From the Audacity of Fear to “Never Mind”

So, I’m not exactly complaining, but I AM wondering…what the heck is going on with Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and his campaign-era vow to eliminate Albuquerque’s status as a “sanctuary city?”

Berry made that claim last fall when he was locked in a three-way race for mayor with incumbent mayor Martin Chavez and fellow challenger Richard Romero.

Berry accused then-mayor Chavez of overseeing a policy that helped attract immigrant criminals to Albuquerque.  They came, Berry said, because Albuquerque police were not allowed to question a person about his or her immigration status unless the person was already arrested, or unless it was the officer’s opinion that the immigration status might be relevant to a criminal investigation.

Berry pledged to eliminate that policy and restore “common sense policy” to Albuquerque. Berry’s promise drew the ire of immigration rights activists and many other progressives – but apparently helped him win the votes of many conservatives.

However, now that he’s been elected mayor, Berry says he will hold off changing the policy until the city’s legal staff can review whether it can legally be done.

That’s interesting, given the fact that the New Mexico Independent and other news outlets noted before the election that the city was forced to adopt the so-called sanctuary policy in 2007 as part of the settlement of a 2005 lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The landmark suit alleged that the civil rights of three Del Norte High School students were violated when they were detained on campus until immigration officials could question them.

Last month, the Albuquerque Journal noted Berry’s announcement about his delay in making the policy change –  and gave Berry a pass for ditching his number one campaign plank.

From the Journal editorial:

So Berry is smart to tamp down the campaign rhetoric and have the city’s legal staff review possible options for revising the policy, and he’s right to engage advocacy groups in any reforms. It would have been better, of course, for him to educate himself on the issue before making it a campaign point, but it’s up to voters to decide the penalty that warrants.

Like I said, I’m not complaining about Berry’s apparent abandonment of his sanctuary city claim. Indeed, what he was proposing was probably unconstitutional and definitely motivated by the worst kind of fear.

But it’s worth asking why Berry made the promise in the first place. Why did he shovel out the demagogic red meat, as it were – and then, after becoming mayor, say, never mind?

Was it mere ineptitude, as in – “Oops, we didn’t look at the legal settlement/pay attention to news stories before we did our campaign messaging…sorry about that!”

Or was the sanctuary city messaging campaign just brilliant strategy?

Berry’s campaign team’s job was to bring the Republican vote home in a (technically non-partisan) race that featured two Democrats and one Republican.  In the past, Chavez was able to win over one third of the Republican vote. (In the 2005 mayoral election, Republican voters cast 39% of the vote…and Republican challenger Brad Winter got 25%).

Berry’s sanctuary message was red meat for Republican voters (who are conservative and overwhelmingly Anglo.) It played to their fears and it played to hate.

And it cut the heart out of Marty’s image — his strongest appeal to Republicans in the Northeast Heights — that he was the “tough on crime” mayor.  It worked. They bought it. Going in with just 32% of the registrations, Republicans cast 41% of the vote in October. Berry won with 44%.

In short, it worked.

But Berry’s number one campaign promise didn’t. I can’t help but wonder what his supporters – the ones who gobbled up that red meat message and gave him their vote – are thinking now.

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