An Albuquerque woman who says she was erroneously disqualified from the upcoming mayoral election is threatening a federal lawsuit, and has also asked city authorities to dismiss a protective order by the city against her. Albuquerque lawyer Blair Dunn filed a motion Wednesday evening to dismiss a protective order the city’s legal team filed on behalf of City Clerk Natalie Howard. The city filed the order after Howard alleged she was harassed by Vanessa Benavidez, the daughter of mayoral hopeful Stella Padilla. If approved by a judge, the city’s proposed order would prevent anyone associated with Padilla’s campaign from interacting with Howard.Now, Dunn said he is prepared to file a federal lawsuit against the city for violating Padilla and Benavidez’s right to free speech. In the latest filing, Dunn wrote that protective orders are only supposed to be used in the discovery process and banning anyone from interacting with a public official is a free speech violation.
The theatrics continued with a lawsuit from Stella Padilla, who wants to run for mayor, alleging Albuquerque’s city clerk failed to properly count petition signatures. The City of Albuquerque filed a protective order Monday against Stella Padilla’s daughter alleging the daughter twice harassed and tried to intimidate City Clerk Natalie Howard. Padilla originally sued Howard in her official capacity as city clerk, alleging her office improperly vetted campaign petition signatures. An affidavit outlines two encounters Howard had with Padilla’s daughter, Vanessa Benavidez, over the past two months. In the affidavit, which lists Benavidez’s last name as Padilla, Howard wrote that Benavidez arrived at the city clerk’s office to serve Howard with a copy of the original complaint.
The number of Albuquerque mayoral candidates dwindled by one person Friday afternoon. Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta ended her run in a press conference, citing her 86-year-old father’s health. “I have made the difficult decision to step out of the Albuquerque Mayor’s race,” Archuleta wrote in a press release. “My heart is heavy. I love this city and I love the people of Albuquerque.”
Archuleta is caretaking for her father while he recovers from surgery.
A ballot initiative that would require most Albuquerque employers to provide paid sick leave for employees will head to the City Council after the City Clerk’s office approved more than enough petitions signatures this week. Albuquerque City Clerk Natalie Howard confirmed with NM Political Report on Thursday that Healthy Workforce ABQ, a group of community advocates turned in at least 14,477 valid petition signatures. Howard said the group turned in more than 18,000 signatures but her office will likely not have to verify any more. Such campaigns typically turn in an excess of signatures in case some are thrown out for being invalid. Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney with the New Mexico Center for Law on Poverty, told NM Political Report that the signature confirmation is “definitely a success.”
“The next step is going to make sure the City Council and County Commission do the right thing,” Wagoner said.
With calls for Secretary of State Dianna Duran to resign growing by the day, the talk is already starting to shift to who will next fill one of the most important elected statewide offices. Duran is facing 64 counts of criminal charges filed last week by Attorney General Hector Balderas for using campaign money for personal use. On Wednesday night, Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said the State House members will explore impeachment proceedings even as many high-profile state Republicans, including Gov. Susana Martinez, are seemingly distancing themselves from Duran. New Mexico’s two largest newspapers also urged Duran to resign in editorials this week. As New Mexico Political Report previously reported, if Duran resigns or is impeached by the state Legislature, Martinez will have to appoint someone to fill the role.
Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry announced late last week his choice to be the next city clerk. On Friday afternoon, the city sent a press release announcing that Natalie Howard is his choice for new city clerk. The position requires a confirmation from the City Council. Last month, the City Council confirmed the nomination of Jessica Hernandez to the position of city attorney. Hernandez previously was the counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez.