By Robin Fornoff
CMI PROJECTS EDITOR
The March 4 municipal election ballot won’t include a recall question, a thorny political issue that has turned District 3 into a bitter battleground.
Recall leader Jose Griego missed the Tuesday deadline for submitting his petition in time to get the question on the ballot, according to City Clerk LeighAnn Melancon.
Melancon said there will have to be a special election later this year if Griego succeeds in getting the 88 signatures needed to force a recall against City Commissioner Robert Sandoval.
Griego said Wednesday he already has 84 signatures and expects to have about 200 when he submits the petition on a self-imposed deadline of Feb. 10. He actually has until Feb. 16 to submit the petition, according to Melancon.
In the interim, what started as a low-key recall campaign a few weeks ago has now escalated into full fledged accusations of political shenanigans from both sides.
Sandoval has threatened Griego with a lawsuit and forced the removal of four names from Griego’s petition before it is submitted.
Griego, who is also a candidate for City Commission in the March election, claims Sandoval is retaliating against him with political tricks in an effort to split the vote in his district.
Griego is up against Fidel Madrid and Gloria Wicker in the District 3 race. All districts have two city commissioners with staggered elections. Sandoval and Madrid are the incumbents in District 3, and it’s Madrid’s turn this year to face re-election.
Griego called Madrid and Sandoval political cronies, charging that Sandoval encouraged Wicker to jump into the race to split the vote and give Madrid an advantage.
Griego also said Madrid was trying to paint him as a tea party member to divide centrist and left-leaning Democrat voters in the non-partisan election.
Madrid has said he believes the High Plains Patriots and its President Carolyn Spence are behind Griego’s recall effort. Spence, who occasionally refers to the Patriots as the local tea party, says only that she assisted Griego in obtaining a legal recall petition by contacting the New Mexico secretary of state’s office.
Griego said he attends meetings of the Patriots because it is an opportunity to exchange political ideas that isn’t offered by the local Democrat Party.
“They’re trying to put me in the tea party corner and split the votes with local Democrats,” said Griego. “It ain’t going to work. You can’t take Hispanic votes for granted. We are more astute than that.”
Wicker bristled at the suggestion she was aligned with Sandoval “or anyone else.”
“Anybody who knows me,” said Wicker, “knows nobody could talk me into anything I didn’t want to do. I spent 30 years working the railroad. Nobody tells me what to do.”
Sandoval said Griego and his recall operatives are misleading voters to get them to sign the petition. Sandoval said he was approached last week by longtime friends in the district, who said they “helped” him by signing the petition.
“They were told they would help save my (commissioner) job if they signed,” said Sandoval. “When I told them it was to get me removed as a commissioner, they said they wanted their names removed.”
Sandoval collected affidavits from four voters stating they misunderstood the intent of the petition. Melancon confirmed after receiving the affidavits, she then emailed Griego on Monday telling him to remove the names of the four voters.
Sandoval also acknowledged he “promised” that he would sue Griego if he found out he was deliberately misleading voters about the intent of the recall petition. Griego said Sandoval called him by telephone with the threat on Jan. 6, the day before he was to register as a candidate for city commission.
“I said nothing,” Griego said, adding that he considered it intimidation by Sandoval for both the recall and to keep him from running for city office.