When City Council presented the assertive new mayor a tinfoil crown and proclaimed him "King David," he should have known there would be trouble later.
The $8,500 for a mule-drawn trolley ear downtown had caused hardly a stir. But the $100,000 the mayor wanted to simply give a developer to restore a vacant old downtown building sent some people into a rage. And the $202,000 liquor license he wants the city to buy - well, that was too much.
Now they's circulating petitions here to recall, after eight months in office, Mayor David Rusk. Dean's son.
"If you have no enemies, you probably aren't doing anything worthwhile." David Rusk said that in 1966, when he was a civil right activist with the Urban League in Washington and across town his father was Secretary of State.
The remark was so unlike his father, but it is as true today for David Rusk as it was then. And he is still so unlike his father.
For David Rusk, in a game of highrisk politics of challenge and change, of initiative and innovtion, is whirling and twirling his way through office with all the bold energy of drum major.
There he is patching a pothole. There he is calling for "an explosion of the human spirit" to make Albuquerque "a great city." There he is riding the bus to work, even serving beverages during a bus party to promote mass transit. And there he is cordoning off six blocks of this ghostly and ghastly downtown on Saturday night for a series of ethnic celebrations.
"Understand," says David Rusk, "that's hype."
Yet thousands of people, tens of thousands, came for the Saturday night fairs, many of them people who had never been to downtown Albuquerque in their lives. Ridership on the city bus system is up nearly 10 percent.
So maybe the "hype" is working.
Or maybe be it's the reality under the hype. With urban troubles typical of western cities, Albuquerque is being given what, for this part of the nation, is an untypical dose of medicine - a highly visible mayor boldly using local government's power and tax money in an attempt at change. The West is more attuned to anti-spending conservative politics, backroom negotiations and faith in the private sector.
Albuquerque and other cities, once merely crossroads in the desert, have decayed centers and sprawling, skipping parameters inhabited by automobile-department tract residents. Surrounding natural beauty is threatened with growth as downtowns are abandoned.
Great population shifts from East to West have ringed longtime residents - struggling in poverty, underemployment and unemployment - with affluent newcomers claiming most of the region's new jobs. But unlike the East, where suburbs generally grew in separate jurisdications from the central cities, the expansive western ciies hold political sway over suburbs and centers and thus have the problems of both: simultaneous growth and decay and constituencies competing for limited money.
"Shall we continue," Rusk asked in the ringing rhetoric of his inaugural address, "our path of becoming a huge town of sprawl, pollution, monotonous subdivisions and uninspiring shopping areas? Or shall we dare to become a great city . . .?"
Rusk, 37, says he settled here in 1971, first on loan to a manpower program from the Labor Department, because "Albuquerque is large enough (pop. 330,000) to have typical urban problems, but it is small enough to do something about them." Other offer a different view.
"The Republican Party expect him to run against Sen. Harrison Schmitt," says Garrey Carruthers, state GOP chairman. "He came to New Mexico specifically to establish himself politically."
Albuquerque has one-third of the state's voters, and Rusk's four-year term will expire 11 months before Schmitt, conservative Republican from Silver City, faces reelection in 1982.
But Rusk brushes all that aside, saying his political future is surviving the curret recall effort.
"Albuquerque cannot afford David Rusk and his wild spending spree," declares Dorothy Hykes, leader of the recall movement, which has until Friday to gather 8,805 signatures to force a vote. "We have basic, necessary city services that are inadequate - we've never had adequate police protection in this town, we do not have adequate fire protection and we do not have adequate emergency service . . ."
Hykes claims "a horde of irate taxpayers" lining up against Rusk, and it seems now that a recall election will be force but that Rusk should win it. Some see the entire episode turning to Rusk's benefit if he should win a recall vote handily, for he won election in an four-candidate race with only 47 percent of the vote.
Rusk is trying to stanch the costly, sprawly growth occurring on the city fringes while stimulating development downtown. As tourniquets he sees annexation (the city increased its size 10 percent in six years to 92 square miles), curbs on water lines and outright city purchases of vacant land.
Fringe growth requires city services to be extended way out - beyond vacant land; so the cost of services is high and the revenues low.
Indeed, the mayor and the council recently agreed to buy a 2,120-acre ranch west of town to forestall development there. Cost: $3 million. Other land may be annexed to gain control of it.
Downtown, Rusk has announced a $2.4 million redevelopment plan for three sites. The $202,000 liquor license - the city bought a $1,000 purchase option on it - is part of a challenge to restrictive state liquor licensing that thwarts new restaurants and entertainment spots downtown. And the $70,000 spent for the downtown Saturday night ethnic fairs was to prove to businessmen that people will come downtown.
The bus reorganization plan cost a million and raised ridership, but it was done so highhandedly that the council voted to fund it for only six months.
So, all told, how is Dean Rusk's son doing?
"Rather than the lackadisical atmosphere that prevailed in this city in recent years, Rusk is responsible for a new atmosphere that presents imaginative approaches toward solutions of tough problems," says the Albuquerque Journal. The paper had endorsed Rusk for election over incumbent Harry Kinney, a Republican it once supported.
"I give him a B-plus for effort and something less than that for execution," says City Council president Patrick Baca, generally a Rusk supporter and fellow Democrat (although municipal elections are nonpartisan).
"I like David's initiatives and some of his ideas and that he's trying to move forward," adds Councillor Sondra West, a Republican who has sometimes opposed the mayor, she presented him the tinfoil crown. "He's well intentioned, but sometimes . . ."
Even Carruthers, the state Republican chairman, says, "I've got to give credit where credit is due. Rusk is trying to be innovative - and it is going to cost him his political career. By the nature of Albuquerque politics, it is a difficult city to govern. You can't do too many things for one area without alienating some other one."
It is too soon to say whether Rusk is going to change Albuquerque - whether he is merely good and smart or among the best and the brightest. On the fringes, nearly two years' worth of new growth is too far along to stop. Downtown, two-thirds of the merchants have leases expiring within 18 months, and they say that if business doesn't pick up, they will.
Rusk's overall notion of revitalizing a downtown - not with retail outlets and department stores but with restaurants, artists' lofts and galleries, night spots and other commercial what-not - is untested. And City Council will review his bus plan before the year is out to evalute the costs.
One urban expert predicts that western cities will see that business and industry cannot solve all of their city problems and will turn more and more to using public power and money. So David Rusk's old-style liberalism may only be ahead of its time.
If it works.