Analysis: Feud overshadows city election

By Robin Fornoff
CMI Projects Editor
rfornoff@cnjonline.com

Get ready to hear this a lot when candidates start knocking at your door or begin packing your mailbox with literature for the March 4 city election — “I’m for the city of Clovis.”

Ask any of the eight folks running for four non-partisan City Commission seats and almost to a one they will repeat this mantra again and again. It’s a nice way of avoiding the question overshadowing this contest some see critical to the future direction of the city: Do you support Mayor David Lansford or do you support former Mayor Gayla Brumfield?

The now long and still simmering political feud between Lansford and Brumfield — the woman he trounced in the 2012 mayoral election — is the great unspoken among candidates and many City Commission incumbents.

Few speak of it openly. Brumfield declined. Lansford didn’t return telephone calls.

It’s uncomfortably there, nonetheless — the piece of broccoli between the teeth; the elephant in the room.

“You know 10 years ago this wouldn’t have happened,” lamented Commissioner Robert Sandoval, target of a recall petition he believes can be linked at least at arm’s length to Lansford. “Now everybody hates everybody and you either like Gayla or you like David. That’s it.”

Commissioner Randy Crowder said he doesn’t agree.

Crowder thinks this election is more about the Beauty Health and Science Innovations debacle that cost the city $1.8 million. Voters will likely choose based on how they feel the commission handled the BHSI scandal, Crowder said, and those elected will have to deal with cleaning up the mess and making the necessary changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

As for the eight candidates, several are linked to Lansford — who says he supports the Constitution Party — or Brumfield, who describes herself as a moderate to conservative Democrat.

Sometimes the connections are oblique as in District 2. Political newcomer and candidate Gary Elliott said he consulted with Lansford.

“He didn’t really encourage me,” said Elliott, who has known Lansford and his family most of the half-century he’s operated an automotive repair business in the city. “I visited with him and he said he would be glad to have me aboard.”

District 2 incumbent Len Vohs and Brumfield have been friends since fifth grade. He says he supported Brumfield for the four years she was mayor and he supported Lansford in his previous 12 years as mayor “and I think there’s room for both of them…”

Elliott is a deacon in Vohs’ church. Vohs said he’s known Elliott for years “and I really do think he’s just someone who wants to get involved in city government,” and not a Lansford plant.

But sometimes the links are more obvious.

District 4 candidate and Taco Box owner Tom Martin was twice Brumfield’s campaign treasurer. “I know that I’m going to be associated with Gayla,” said Martin. “I’m not going to deny that. But I think my dedication to the city, my 45 years in business prove that I can be a good steward for the city of Clovis.”

As far as politics, Martin said he doesn’t often agree with Crowder or Commissioner Juan Garza, but he respects them as friends.

“I am not going in there on any kind of vendetta,” said Martin. “I am going in there because (Dan) Stoddard left his seat. I am pro-Clovis.”

Martin’s competition, insurance broker Jennifer Williams, said she has no connection to Brumfield or Lansford, “other than I use his pharmacy.” She did campaign for Sen. Pat Woods in a contentious election against Angie Spears that split the Republican Party across eastern new Mexico. Her father and owner of the Williams Insurance agency, David Williams, was Woods’ campaign treasurer.

Williams said because of BHSI and other issues, she believes it is time to get new blood on the City Commission. When Stoddard opted not to seek re-election, Williams said she saw it as a chance to serve the city.

District 3 candidate Jose Griego is the man circulating the recall petition against Sandoval, a Brumfield supporter who is not up for re-election. Griego attends meetings of the High Plains Patriots, the Clovis equivalent of the Tea Party.

No discussion of the Lansford-Brumfield political blood feud is complete without the Patriots. Supporters frequently back Lansford’s positions and are critical of Brumfield and City Commission incumbents they believe are still furthering the former mayor’s agenda in defiance of Lansford.

Patriots President Carolyn Spence helped Griego get the recall petition together. She is also a frequent and vocal Brumfield critic, saying the former mayor refuses to accept her part of the blame for the BHSI scandal.

“It isn’t really a personality issue,” said Spence. “But if you have someone who isn’t willing to accept the blame for her part in all this, you kind of want to support the person who wants to make the necessary changes.

“I’m just glad,” said Spence, “to see such a good selection of candidates out there.”

Griego said his decision to seek office had nothing to do with Lansford or Brumfield. He said he is a student of local politics, attending most city and county commission meetings the last few years. He now wants to take a more active part in government.

District 3 candidate Gloria Wicker, a former city commissioner, said she isn’t aligned with anyone.

“You won’t see me up there taking sides or voting for political reasons,” said Wicker. “That’s not how I do things. You’ll see me up there asking questions and getting to the bottom of things. I’m back in the saddle again.”

District 3 incumbent Fidel Madrid believes Griego’s association with the Patriots is evidence enough Griego is supporting Lansford.

“That’s why I hate all this bickering back and forth,” said Madrid. “It should be about who’s for the city. We work for the city. Not for Lansford. Not for Gayla.”

Madrid said he accepts blame for the BHSI debacle, noting,  “You can blame whoever you want. We were all equally guilty.

“The deal sounded so good for the city,” said Madrid. “It was like the (investigators’) report said. It was like a runaway train. It sounded so good we were sure, we convinced ourselves it was going to happen. We all messed up and we all need to do better.”

Here are candidates for the March 4 Clovis City Commission election:

District 1: Juan F. Garza (I)

District 2: Gary L. Elliott, Len A. Vohs (I)

District 3: Gloria Wicker, Fidel M. Madrid (I), Jose A. Griego

District 4: Thomas W. Martin III, Jennifer M. Williams