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Byline: John Hill TRIBUNE REPORTER
City elections 97
The candidate has been in the public eye since the mid-1970s. He says he's battled for the public interest; some argue he's been less than fair. He says he's not only a crusader but can find a consensus.
Mayoral candidate Jim Baca had just finished lunch at the Barelas Coffee House and was headed for the door when some well-wishers hailed him.
Three of the four men at the table told Baca he had their votes. The fourth remained silent.
Baca pretended to be puzzled. "Are you from out of town?" he asked the holdout.
If the name Jim Baca is unfamiliar, you may very well be from out of town -- or at least be new to Albuquerque. Baca has been in public life since the mid-1970s, as a spokesman for Gov. Bruce King and Albuquerque Mayor Harry Kinney, state liquor director, state land commissioner and director of the Bureau of Land Management.
He also ran for Albuquerque mayor in 1985 and, later, for U.S. Congress and then governor.
Now, in his latest run for Albuquerque mayor, Baca is generally considered to be one of the three or four front-runners.
"Baca's definitely in the running," and can maximize his chances with a broadly based, positive message, said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc. in Albuquerque.
Baca has won high marks during the years as a principled reformer unafraid to take on vested interests -- from the liquor industry to ranchers and miners.
But holdouts like the one in Barelas may have reasons other than unfamiliarity for their reticence. The quality in Baca that supporters describe as "principled" has been denounced by others as "stubborn."
While earning those labels, Baca has made some impassioned enemies.
In 1985, for instance, the New Mexico Cattle Grower's Association gave him a tongue-in-cheek endorsement for mayor, saying it wanted Albuquerque to get "its fair share of this selfless politician."
"Sometime during his term as liquor director, he decided to build his political career on an image of a great reformer," the cattle grower's association wrote in a letter to newspapers. "This necessitated the attacks on every entity he has had authority over."
Baca says his combative image is partly the result of the kinds of jobs he has held. As liquor director, state land commissioner and BLM …